Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paris Je t'aime! Day 3 & 4 Highlights (Or, my attempt at Ginger Pumpkin Macarons)

*With Mere away at work, I hang out at the flat waiting for our friend Christa to arrive. I find myself caught up watching (1) the Fiji v. Samoa Rugby World Cup game and (2) Le Destin de Lisa, which is like Ugly Betty, except it's German and I'm engrossed in French-dubbed version for close to 2 hours. (Seriously, it's riveting stuff.)

*The apartment manager arrives to fix the washing machine and mentions passing a blonde girl with a suitcase on the stairs. Turns out Christa's here!

(Christa's shoes, which she insists smell like puppies. I think the jetlag got to her.)

*Christa and I engage in lunch eating and people-watching. She teaches me how to ask for the check in French. Which it seems I have been doing really, really, really wrong.

*My goal for the day is to check out one of the big flea markets in the City, Les Puces in Clignancourt. Thanks to extensive directions courtesy of Jordan at Oh Happy Day, we manage to make it past the UBER-sketch vendor vans and find ourselves exploring one of the largest open-air markets I've ever seen. This place is MASSIVE. It takes several hours to explore all of it, and I'm still not convinced that we did. Both Christa and I manage to score some unique buys for home, friends, and family.

*We head back to the apartment to wait for Mere. No dice. Homegirl texts to say she's been kidnapped by her co-workers for dinner and drinks after work. (She's eventually able to escape around 2:30am.)

*Since Christa and I are on our own we decide to walk around Montmarte for dinner and drinks. Thank God Parisians like to eat late, because it's after 10pm before we manage to sit down.

*The next day we all wake up to the sound of screaming teenagers and rolling garbage bins. What the hell?



*It's apparently some kind of protest taking place at a nearby school, the Lycée Turgo. Despite Christa's investigations, we never do figure out what was going on that morning, except that the bins were stacked up against the protesters' target building. (We later discover that it has something to do with pension reform.) Christa does, however, return with a pain au chocolate for me, earning my most sincere admiration for all eternity.


*Mere is back at work with a hangover, so Christa and I are once again the Dynamic Duo for the day. Armed with the book
Parisian Chic (recommended by fellow blogger Shannon over at The Simply Luxurious Life), we decide to do some shopping. Unfortunately, there's a typo in the book and as a result we walk for friggin MILES with no luck.

*We eventually stumble upon the Hôtel de Ville...





*More importantly, we stumble upon one of the shops mentioned in my book: BHV or Bazaar de l'Hôtel de Ville, one of Paris' most iconic department stores. What is it with the French and their super-sized shopping centers? This place is at least 7 floors of merchandise. By the time we make it through 3 floors' worth of shopping, we're about to crash from low blood sugar. Time to eat!

*Lunch is followed by the one museum I'm actually geeked to check out: the Musée Rodin. It turns out that the musée costs 10€ to check out, but the jardin costs 0€. No brainer there. Besides, the jardin is home to some of Rodin's most famous pieces: 






*Part of our view of the jardin is blocked by a massive white tent. Christa and I ponder just how much you have to shell out to have your wedding amongst Rodin's artwork. We check out the museum giftshop, where I buy a pen that comes with a moving figure of  the Thinker on one end. Classy.

*The kids are still protesting, albeit more silently, in front of the Turgot.

*We, of course, couldn't care less, as Christa has a sudden hankering for macarons. We find some at a local boulangerie - a 6-pack of mini-rainbow-colored delights. Christa is semi-elated, since she's not convinced these were made in-house. Not that this stops her from generously sharing.



*It's a bust. Christa explains how a proper macaron will melt in your mouth, both crispy and creamy at the same time. The search will have to continue. But first: a nap! Followed by dinner at a lovely vegetarian bistro called Soya. I mistakenly order a carafe of rosé instead of a glass. Or did I?

And now, for your recipe......


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This fuss over macarons piqued my interest. I mean, how good could they really be?

Pretty f'ing amazing, as it turns out. (But more about that later.) After returning home, I decided to give making macarons a try.

Unfortunately, an online search for macarons will turn up cooking instructions that put baking these crispy treats on par with neurosurgery. Turns out macarons are temperamental little f*ckers: one misstep and you end up with cracked shells, hollow meringues and broken dreams.

Tasty broken dreams, of course, but fractured nonetheless.

I scoped out a few different bloggers and came up with an amended recipe for Pumpkin Ginger Macarons.




How did they turn out?

Meh.

They were DELICIOUS, granted, but I think I fudged the macronage stage (when you mix the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites). There's a test you can use to see if you've under-mixed the batter, which I've included in the recipe.

Godspeed to you, fellow bakers. And as per usual, enjoy!


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Ginger-Pumpkin Macarons

(Adapted from Bravetart.com)

(NOTE: I STRONGLY suggest you check out Bravetart.com's macaron Myths and Commandments postings. They'll make you a stronger baker, promise.)

INGREDIENTS:
4 oz (115g) almond flour (Red Mill makes a decent one)
8 oz (230g) powdered sugar
5 oz egg whites (144g)
2 1/2 oz (72g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (2g) salt
1/4 tsp (2g) pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp (2g) ground ginger (powdered form, please!)

a few drops of orange food coloring (optional)


DIRECTIONS:

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper (or with a silicone baking mat). Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F/148°C. Sift the flour with the powdered sugar and set that mess aside. (You can go ahead and toss any clump or lumps that wouldn't sift.)

Place the egg whites into the bowl of your standing mixer (you can use a hand mixer here, but be prepared to do some work). Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes, until the egg whites start to look frothy. Add the granulated sugar, the scraped vanilla bean or vanilla extract, and salt. Mix on medium-high speed for another 3-4 minutes. Your egg whites should begin to form soft peaks. Add the pumpkin pie spice and the powdered ginger. Mix at high speed for another 3-4 minutes. Add the food coloring (if using) and whip for another minute. Your egg whites should form nice, shiny white peaks. Go ahead and pick up the bowl. Turn it upside down. If the egg whites stay in place, well done! If not, shower and try again.

Now here's the part where I miffed up a bit. You need to incorporate the dry ingredients into your egg whites. Sounds easy right?

Not so much. This stage, the macronage as it's been called, is where you can make or break your macarons. (Kitchen Musings has some great explanations for this.) Using a rubber spatula, fold in your dry ingredients into the egg whites (break the contents of the bowl into 2 halves to make mixing the dry ingredients a bit easier). Your goal here is to completely incorporate the flour/sugar combo. That means you need to SCRAPE THE SIDES while you're working the batter.

There's no need to sweat with panic, as there's an easy test to check if your batter is done. Every 5 - 10 stirs, spoon a little bit of the mixture onto a plate, making a small puddle of batter. If the puddle has a peak that won't dissolve, you need to keep stirring. If the peak does dissolve quickly (i.e., your batter flows like lava) then you're good to go! Check out Dulce Delight's clip on YouTube for a visual reference.

Spoon your batter into a piping bag. (No bag? No biggie! Just clip the corner off of a quart-sized ziplock bag and be sure to watch your pressure.) Pipe the batter into 1 1/2in discs on the baking sheets, keeping them approx 1-in apart. (Seriously, the batter spreads while cooking, and no one wants a double-macaron. Or DO they???) Rap the pans against the counter a few times to work out any air bubbles and them let them rest for 15 minutes or so (feel free to go longer if you like).

Place the baking sheet in the oven for 12 - 18 minutes. Why the huge time range? Well, basically ovens are like finger prints - no two are the same. (That is to say, some have hot spots while others can maintain a consistent temperature.) To accommodate for this , you'll want to check in on your macarons at the 12 minute mark. Try to pop off a meringue. It should stick a bit to the pan without separating entirely. You can also go ahead and tap one sucker in the middle. If it's super gooey, you need to cook them a bit longer. Close the oven door and check on them every 2 minutes until done. Completely cools the cookies in the pan.

The filling is considerably easier to assemble: Simply blend together 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (aka, canned pumpkin), 4 oz (or half a box) of cream cheese, 2 tbsp powdered sugar (or more to taste), and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

Pipe or spoon a quarter-sized dollop onto a cooled macaron shell and sandwich together with an unfrosted half.

Now for the hard part: HANDS OFF. No, seriously - macarons need time to "ripen." So stick those suckers in an air-tight container and sit on your hands for a night before snacking.

Even if your first attempt is a bit of a fiasco, I promise that they'll be the best tasting mistake you've ever made. Paula Deen suggested turning failed macarons into a trifle, and that sounds like a better plan than crying over cracked cookies anyday.

Let me know if you need a tissue. Good luck!

2 comments:

Tasha said...

Jealous of your trip to Paris... I miss you guys!
I tried to make lemon macarons with chocolate filling (last January for the superbowl) and failed. Must try again soon!

Adj said...

Lemon and chocolate? That is GENIUS!