Monday, August 24, 2009
first, let's clear up one thing: is it macaron or macaroon?
my pal kristen has been telling me about the manna-like confections from bouchon bakery* forever. the first time she told me about them, extolling them with all the passion that someone would have for their all-time favorite puppy, all i could do is listen and think, "the dessicated coconut styrofoam balls? seriously? i mean i think thomas keller is a genius and all, but why is he even messing with that crap?"
to myself i said this. to kristen, i nodded and smiled.
fast forward to my last trip to nyc, and kristen says, "youHAVEtogotobouchonandgetaparisanmacaron!!!!!!!!" i nodded, and deep down, thought it was possible i might. just to see what the fuss was. i went to bouchon, and looked for them, didn't see any and got an almond-raspberry croissant instead. and i was ok with that, because i still didn't really want the coconut thing.
so, anyway, kristen is very good about baking for the office on the event of anyone's birthday, and i have benefited from that fact more than once. so i try to make sure her birthday is properly noted with baked goods. and when she brought up the macarons again a couple of months ago, i decided that was what she was getting for her birthday. i have keller's bouchon cookbook, and they are in there.
cooking keller kind of intimidates me. not because its hard, but because it is so precise. i like to look at a recipe and figure out how to adapt it to something i would make. but cooking keller, i feel compelled to go to the letter, because, sort of, what's the point of trying to recreate something on that level if you don't do it as intended?
reading the recipe, i learned a key fact: this cookie doesn't even have coconut in it. i'm not sure why they have such similar names. they are not remotely similar. what this is is a sandwich cookie. two almond-meringue cookies, with a slather of buttercream in the middle.
i'm not going step by step with this, but here are some highlights:
shopping: with the exception of almond flour, the ingredient list was all stuff i have in the house at any given time. the only shortcut i took was i used vanilla extract instead of beans. i have extract, and it's good extract, so i didn't see any reason to buy almost $30 worth of vanilla beans. had to go to whole foods for the almond flour, thus it was not cheap either, but not too bad.
set up: before you do any actual cooking, the recipe tells you to cut four pieces of parchment to fit your sheet pans and draw 18 circles on each. the idea is you turn over the paper, and can see the circles through, then you use the circles as a template for the cookies. i did this on one sheet of paper and immediately realized, well, i can see through the paper, so i can just put this one under another sheet and fill in the circles, then slide the template out and use it again on the next one. this move was so brilliant and saved so much time, i'm stunned that i didn't wait until after i had drawn all the sheets to think of it.
cookies. the recipe was foolproof. went stunningly fast. even piping the cookies was simple, tho some admittedly looked like huge commas instead of rounds. oh well. i was unconvinced when i piped them that they were coming out right. they looked flat. but when they baked they poofed up and looked perfect. oh, and the recipe said it would make 3 dozen finished cookies (72 cookies that you needed two of to make a sandwich.) i got 96. so 4 dozen. i swear, to the letter i made this recipe. i NEVER end up with more than i'm supposed to get. never.
filling: this perplexed me for awhile. the recipe calls for four eggs. i have made buttercream before, but only a simple kind that is butter and sugar. i knew that real buttercream called for egg, but i really thought they called for just egg whites. this said egg. i thought that the whole game was getting the volume from the beaten egg white, then adding the butter and sugar. but it said just eggs. so i beat them until they gained some volume and were very creamy. also, the sugar was supposed to go in in the form of a 248-degree syrup, and that was the only cooking the eggs would get. i am totally willing to eat raw egg, but i won't serve it to the general populace, so i watched the temperature of the eggs as i added the syrup. sure enough, the temperature got to over 150 degrees, so i shrugged and started adding the butter. the finished product tasted almost custard-y. which is not surprising considering the egg in there. but i am remain unconvinced that it wasn't supposed to just be egg white.
assembly: went very fast. the book says to pipe the cream onto a cookie, but i decided to get real. since it was just going to get smooshed under another cookie, i spooned it on. i was generous with the filling, and despite the fact that i had an extra dozen to make, i still only used half the filling. weird.
result: i never end up with a final product that looks like the picture in the book. these looked like the picture in the book! i mean, totally. and they tasted awesome, too. next time i am near a bouchon, i definitely want to get one, too see how true to the real thing i was. but there is a photo of mine at the top. and click here to see a photo of the macarons at bouchon. go ahead. i'll wait. ... see?
as far as macaron vs. macaroon, the cookbook says macaroon, and the bouchon web site says macaron. so i have no idea.
anyway, i will make these again, and probably play with different flavors.
* bouchon bakery, for those that don't know, is a bakery under the banner of thomas keller, he of the french laundry. there are bouchon bistro and bakeries in yountville, calif., new york city and las vegas. if you don't know about thomas keller or the french laundry, you don't really listen when i talk, do you? but you can catch up with my history with chef keller with these links: french laundry blog post, bouchon blog post, stalking with laura times story.