Macarons – the real, French kind – have been on my to-bake list for a long time.  I imagined it would be an all-day process, and I just kept putting it off.

Until I got a dinner invitation, and I offered to bring dessert, and nothing in my recipes looked good.  I did have all day to work on them, so I pulled up the Definitive Macaron Guide and got started.

This will all make sense if you follow along in the guide. 

I started by marking circles on parchment to pipe them into.  I didn’t have a 1.5 inch cookie cutter, and the closest round thing I did have was a give-away champagne glass that lurks in the pack of my cupboard.  So I used it.  The important note here is that you must remember to flip the paper over before you start piping onto and, and also that blue sharpie is a pain to get off your good cookie sheets.  A pen would have been a better choice.

Macarons

Next, the measuring:  4 ounces of almond flour and 8 ounces of powdered sugar.  I actually had almond flour in the fridge from an almond cake recipe I made earlier this year, so that made this part simple.  Macarons

Then the eggs.  I really did weigh the eggs.  It came out to about 5 eggs for me, but I get farm-type eggs which cannot be restricted by labels like "large" or "extra-large".  I followed her instructions exactly – 3 minutes on medium, 3 minutes on medium-high, and 3 minutes on high.  And they looked perfectly meringue-y to me:

Macarons

Then the folding.  All the dry ingredients get folded into the egg whites.  This is where I deviated, and I should not have.  She said about 40 strokes was right – I stopped at 30, because I was afraid they were getting too runny.  The result was that I had an awful lot of big bubbles in my shells, instead of many more little bubbles.  I won’t make that mistake again!

Macarons

Next, piping.  I should have knocked down those little points on top before I baked them, because with the points, they don’t lay flat on the table so you can fill them.

 Macarons Then, off to the oven for 18 minutes.  Mine took closer to 20 minutes, but I suspect my oven thermostat is drifting.  Perhaps the next time I buy an oven thermometer, I’ll actually remember to remove it before I run the self-cleaning cycle?  No, probably not.

Macarons

I was genuinely impressed.  They weren’t perfect, but they were very close, especially for a first try.  While they cooled, I whipped up a batch of vanilla buttercream to fill them with.  I piped in the buttercream…

Macarons

…and then we went out to dinner.  Everyone loved them, even if they could have been a bit flatter and less airy.  My impression was that they weren’t nearly as hard as everyone says they are, and they were well worth the trouble.  I can see myself making a huge batch, with different colors and fillings, for a party.  I’m thinking cherry shells with a chocolate ganache, to start with…

( see the recipe )

Last weekend, I made cupcakes.  I didn’t make cupcakes because I wanted cupcakes, though – I made cupcakes because I’ve been craving really good frosting.  And as tempting as it was to just make a batch of frosting and eat it with a spoon, I decided I should at least pretend to have some level of decorum.

So, the cupcakes.  I used the first likely-looking vanilla cupcake recipe from Food Network, which turned out to be Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes.  They were perfectly good cupcakes.  Nothing to write home about, but a nice, basic, vanilla cupcake. 

While they were cooling, I started on the frosting.  I’ve been looking for a not-terribly-sweet cooked buttercream, so when I saw this one on Baking Bites, I had to try it.  It wasn’t that hard, really – beat the eggs, and then “cook” them with a simple syrup to stabilize the frosting.  Once all the simple syrup was in, it looked really good and stable – then I started added an entire pound of very soft butter.

I’ll admit, it started looking scary a few times.  It was hard to find the patience to not add more butter until the previous pat was entirely integrated, and a couple time it looked like it was going to break.  After all the butter was in, I watched it nervously for a few minutes, then turned my back for just one minute to finish loading the dishwasher.

And when I looked back, it was perfect

Vanila Bean Buttercream

It was light and fluffy, flecked with vanilla bean bits, and amazingly rich.  It was just sweet enough to be “frosting”, but not that awful cloying sweetness of grocery-store-bakery frosting.  It was exactly the frosting I’d been fantasizing about.

So I put it on the cupcakes.  All the cool kids these days seem to be piping frosting on top of the cupcakes instead of frosting them with a knife, so I did the same thing:

P1040212

The only problem was it made 36 cupcakes, and there was no way we could eat them fast enough, so the exposed tops got stale very quickly.  Next time, I’ll spread a thin coat of frosting to just cover and protect the top of the cupcake, then pipe the rest. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a little bit of frosting left in a bowl in the fridge, and I have a spoon…

( see the recipe )