Bret’s Table welcomes The Cake Diva

The latest attempt of Kevin, Jen and me making French Macarons couldn’t have gotten any better.  The lovely and very talented Janan Juliff, The Cake Diva herself, shared the afternoon with us at Bret’s Table.  Not only did Janan give us some excellent tips on making the elusive French macaron, but her husband David also came bearing gifts of imported cheeses, a delicious wine, and homemade lavash on which we snacked during the afternoon.

French MacaronsOur discussions went far and wide, but one that pertained to macarons was our determination that the almond flour from LA Burdick was almost as good as that which we brought back from Paris. I know; call me crazy. Some even say I’m obsessed when I set my mind to something.  In this case, wanting the use the best and at the same time minimizing the potential for failure as much as possible.

Bob’s Red Mill is an acceptable alternative; however if using their product one needs to run it through a medium sieve and/or give it a few turns (with some of the powdered sugar from the recipe) in the food processor, then run it through the sieve. Adding the powdered sugar helps prevent the flour from turning into almond butter, which is not what you want for this application.  Using fine almond flour from the start prevents having to bother with this step.  However, not doing it will result in a macaron with a texture more along the lines of a Pecan Sandie.  Don’t let me stand in the way, though, if you decide to skip this step.  You may come up with the next big idea:  Crunchy French Macarons. For myself, I will continue to bring back the almond flour from Paris and, on the next trip, find pistachio flour as well.

We also decided that from henceforth we will cook the egg whites in the style of an Italian meringue.  This is the way to go!  It makes for a more stable batter and greater success than attempting to use raw egg whites, which would be the French meringue method.  And speaking of egg whites, we discussed the pros and cons of “ageing” the whites.  This is accomplished by leaving them sit in a bowl on the counter for as long as two days covered lightly with food film.  This is said to assist in the evaporation of some of the water in the whites.  My guess however, is that the food safety police would frown on this practice.  I remain neutral on this subject.  For myself, I keep egg whites in the freezer, thaw them in the refrigerator and leave them on the counter to just come to room temperature.

It would also be safe to say that Janan “manhandled” the batter as she was stirring it. However, paying close attention to how the batter fell off the spatula:  stopping at the precise moment that it became “lava-like” as it puddled back into the bowl.

A ½ inch plain pastry tip makes piping the macaron batter much easier.  And, we discovered that leaving them sit on the sheet pan uncovered for a little a 15 minutes works as well as having them rest for an hour.  Jen also discovered a website that suggested baking them right away for shiniest tops.

French MacaronsThis is the most success that we have had since our first foray into this crazy idea of making macarons.  Most importantly, however, is that it becomes clearer each time we spend a day in the kitchen that making macarons is as much an art as it is a craft. Plus, we have a greater appreciation when we pay $3 or more in France for some of the exotic flavors. I myself prefer an exquisitely-produced artisanal confection over a king size candy bar any day.

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