Saturday, August 28, 2010

Espresso Macarons with Caramel Buttercream Filling

I remember tasting my first French macaron. It was the mid-1980’s, and I was a poor cooking school student attending La Varenne École de Cuisine in Paris. At Christmas I visited the home of some French friends, and after dinner my indulgent host offered a plate of assorted macarons from Fauchon. I chose a hazelnut macaron with a chocolate ganache filling. Never before had I had something so light, yet so satisfyingly rich and flavorful. A crisp, 

slightly chewy shell paired with a creamy, rich filling—genius! Well, it’s taken over twenty years, but macarons have finally begun to catch on here in the U.S. Yesterday I saw a beautiful assortment of extra-large macarons at a pastry shop called Financier in Grand Central station, and there’s a small shop near my office called 

Macaron Café. They have a huge selection of macarons—everything from Caramel Fleur de Sel to Cassis to Raisin Rum (they got that one backwards, but, hey, who’s to quibble).  My friend Florian Bellanger, formerly pastry chef of Fauchon NYC, opened MadMac a few years ago, a business entirely devoted to 

madeleines (Mad) and macarons (Mac). They are excellent, and actually ship well, owing to his strategically designed packaging. Making macarons at home can be a bit tricky, but is relatively easy if you follow the directions to the letter. If you are a fly-by-the-cuff sort of cook, I suggest you stick to something less demanding in the detail department. 

Chocolate chip cookies, for example. Macarons require your complete attention, a dry environment, and a bit of patience. After all, if they were easy to make, everyone would be whipping up batches at home, and they probably wouldn’t taste so heavenly, right?

P.S.: If you want to bump up the espresso flavor, add 1 teaspoon of espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons of hot water to the buttercream along with the vanilla.

 Espresso Macarons with Caramel Buttercream

(Macaron recipe adapted from the Basic Macaron Batter in I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita; Caramel Buttercream adapted from the Caramel Espresso Buttercream recipe in The Cake Book.)

Makes about 24 macarons

Espresso Macarons:
2/3 cup (85 g) almond flour or meal (available at health food stores)
1 ½ cups (150 g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/3 cup (66 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel Buttercream Filling:
2/3 cup (160 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) heavy cream
1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks/227 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the macarons:
1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, process the almonds with the confectioners’ sugar and espresso powder until well blended. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy. Very gradually add the granulated sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla and beat until blended.
4. Add half of the sifted almond mixture and fold it in with a spatula. Add the remaining almond mixture and mix it in a light circular motion. Press and spread out the batter against the side of the bowl. Scoop the batter from the bottom of the bowl and turn it upside down. Repeat this motion about 15 times. When the batter becomes nicely firm and drips slowly as you scoop it with the spatula, it is ready to be piped.
5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Fit a pastry bag with a .4-inch plain tip (Ateco #4). Scrape the batter into the bag. Pipe out 1-inch rounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them ½ inch apart. Rap the baking sheet firmly against the counter to remove air bubbles. Dry the batter at room temperature, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The batter circles should not stick to your finger when you touch them. If they do, let them dry a little longer.
6. Stack the baking sheet with the macarons on it on another baking sheet. Place both sheets, stacked, in the oven and bake the macarons for 15-18 minutes, until slightly crisp (they will crisp more upon cooling). Cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the buttercream:
7. In medium saucepan, combine the sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and increase the heat to high.
8. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the eggs at medium speed while the syrup cooks to the correct temperature. When the sugar syrup reaches 225°F on a candy thermometer, increase the speed of the mixer to high. Continue to cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.
9. At medium speed, beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture. Add the vanilla extract, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the buttercream until it is smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes. (The buttercream must be used at room temperature.)

Assemble the macarons:
10. Scrape the buttercream into a pastry bag fitted with a .4 inch plain tip (about the same size as you used to pipe the macarons).  Pipe a grape-sized dollop of buttercream onto the underside of a macaron. Gently press the underside of another macaron against the buttercream until it spreads almost to the edge. Repeat with the remaining macarons and buttercream. Store the macarons in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 4 days (in summer, you’ll have to refrigerate them).