French Macarons

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I decided to share my recipe for making French Macarons. I actually learned how to make macarons last Valentine’s Day, almost exactly one year ago. I took a class and went through the motions, without realizing how difficult it really is to make beautiful macarons! It seems easy when they’ve got everything pre-measured and walk you through it step by step, but there is a sort of intuition that is required to make them successfully. Like bread baking, it isn’t about numbers and timing, but rather, knowing how the texture is supposed to feel and how the consistency is supposed to look. Either way, it took me about 40 failed attempts before I could consistently produce good batches of macarons. With each attempt, I scribbled down notes on oven temperature, timing, texture, consistency, amounts of each ingredient weighed out to the tenth of a decimal in grams. It was a real process. It required multiple taste tests and trials, some of which ended in tears. Each batch takes approximately 3 hours to make, from beginning to end. Little did I know I was going to repeat the process again with bread making, which takes more than 12 hours from beginning to end. But maybe I am purposefully attracted to such processes – for the scientific approach, as well as for the greater reward.

It isn’t easy to do and it may take just as many trials as I to get this right. Don’t give up, because at the end, you can make 40 at a time, instead of spending $2 a piece (or more). Life hack: I made macarons as a side hustle after I graduated dental school. I still do take orders for parties, but mostly from family and friends. Try it as a Valentine’s Day activity with your loved one, or make a batch as a surprise gift!

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French Macarons

The Ingredients:

***Each ingredient has to be measured precisely with a weighing scale. I cannot stress enough the exactness required with this recipe.

  • 7 oz powdered sugar
  • 4 oz almond flour
  • 4.25 oz egg whites at room temperature.
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 3.5 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp Grand Marnier (or alternative alcohol flavoring you’d like to use …. Baileys, Banana Cream Rum… )
  • Food coloring (I use liquid food coloring, amount of drops depending on the color I want to achieve)
  • Any dry powder flavoring you want to add to give the macarons flavor. I usually make it without additional flavoring, but some ideas would be cocoa powder, teas, and coffee. ***If adding additional dry powder flavorings, please mix with almond flour when you pulse through the processor on step #3. 

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The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. (Every oven is different. Mine in particular is usually cooler than it says on the display. Originally, when I started this recipe, I was told to do 280 degrees F. However, the macarons kept coming out undercooked, so I finally found the temperature that works for me. Also, as a side note, the trays have to be in the center of my oven. The heat from my oven comes from the top, so if the trays are too close to the top, they will burn and end up being crunchier than I would like. Lastly, the difference between conventional ovens versus convectional ovens do matter too. My oven operates with the heat coming from the top, and a fan in the back of the oven distributing air. It may take a few tries, but find what temperature works for your oven. Don’t be afraid to change these numbers to suit your particular situation.)
  2. Prepare parchment paper to line the baking sheets/trays. You can buy a template, or you can make one yourself. I draw 1 inch circles spaced 1/2 an inch apart on a piece of parchment paper to use as a template. (Do not be greedy by trying to make larger macarons when you start. The larger the macarons, the more difficult it is to maintain their shape, therefore, the more likely that you will end up with flat, non-fluffy macarons. Try this size first, and when you feel confident enough, then go bigger and bigger.) This template paper lies underneath the parchment paper where I lay my macarons on. Parchment paper is thin enough to see through. It is not sufficient to replace parchment paper with wax paper, learned the hard way. ***Important note – the parchment paper must lay flat on the tray and not roll up at all. This may require cutting a piece of paper to exactly fit your tray. The macarons are very light and airy, so when they are pipetted onto the parchment paper, they will be influenced by the paper’s shape if it rolls up on the ends or what have you.
  3. Pulse powdered sugar and almond flour in food processor 3 times at 10 seconds each. After pulsing, sift the mixture through a metal strainer into a large bowl.
  4. In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk whites, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed until frothy and foamy. Return the speed to 2. Gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg mixture. By gradual, I mean REALLY gradual. I would let the sugar sprinkle in at a constant rate. After adding all the sugar, keep at setting 2 for two minutes. Increase to setting 4, mixing for two minutes, and then setting 6 and mix for two minutes. Go all the way to setting 10, after which, stop the mixer and lift the head. There should be stiff white peaks when you lift the whisk attachment from the mixture. If that is the case, add the alcohol and food coloring, and whisk for 20 seconds more at speed 8. When I first started, this particular step gave me some trouble. It took me a while to discover the 2 minute intervals as the timing that worked for me. Just be aware not to rush the process. Time the 2 minutes with a timer or stop watch. And don’t overdo it either, lest the mixture completely deflates. DSC02815 DSC02819
  5. Sift almond sugar mixture (1/3rd at a time) into the egg sugar mixture. Fold the almond sugar mixture into the egg sugar mixture gently. The folding technique is quite difficult to explain. I use a soft rubber spatula, and I scrape the sides of the bowl twice, then scoop under. I continue to do this until the almond sugar mixture is completely folded in (until you can’t see it anymore). I repeat for the rest of the 1/3rd portions. Total, you may only want to fold 40 times. The best way to check if the consistency is right is to do the ribbon test. Take the spatula, scoop the mixture, and see if you can drip the mixture enough to do a figure 8 shape, without having a break in the dripping. If not, then it isn’t runny enough. You want to fold just enough to be able to do this, otherwise, fold too much and your macarons will be too runny and won’t hold their shape. DSC02822
  6. Transfer batter to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch round tip, and pipe onto baking sheets, making sure to stay within the confines of your one inch circles. You want the pipette tip to be about 1/2 inch from the tray. The closer the better. You want to start pipetting in the center of the circle, holding it still and letting the macaron expand around the pipette. Do not move the pipette around. To stop pipetting, pull the pipette straight up. Avoid trapping air bubbles as much as you can. DSC02827
  7. Rap the bottom of the baking sheet on the counter to release any air bubbles. By rap, I actually mean, drop onto the counter from 6 inches above, causing a loud BANG! You will see the bubbles rise to the surface as they are released. Bubbles can ruin your macarons when they rise. I bang them on the counters about 3-4 times, just to be sure that I’ve rid the sweets of all trapped air. Just make sure you drop it evenly, to avoid toppling all your hard work onto the ground.
  8. Let dry at room temperature for 15-25 minutes. You will know that they are ready to bake when you can touch the surface of the macaron lightly with a finger and it doesn’t stick.
  9. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees F for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake at 250 degrees F. Remove from oven and place parchment paper on a baking rack to cool. Macarons must cool completely prior to removal from parchment paper. If the macarons are not cool or are undercooked, they will stick to the parchment paper. If that is the case, then you know that you will need extra time to cook the macarons. Maybe you can try lowering the temperature to 200 degrees F after the 16 minutes, and allow to cook for a few minutes more. Just make sure you don’t burn the tops. DSC02833
  10. Once cool, you can use a dough scraper to separate the macarons from the tray. If they are cooked correctly, they may even lift from the parchment paper on their own, without any prying.

Macaron Berry Jam Filling

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*** You can use anything to fill your beautiful macarons with. For me, I am impartial to boysenberry jam, but substitute marmalade or strawberry jam and you’ll be just as happy. Or you can opt for chocolate ganache, in which case, scroll ahead to the chocolate alternative.

The Ingredients:

  • 4 oz unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
  • 9 oz powdered sugar
  • 3-4 oz jam or marmalade

The Process

  1. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth and fluffy (at Speed 2).
  2. Gradually add sifted powdered sugar.
  3. Add berry jam.
  4. Beat until just blended.
  5. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hr to allow it to stiffen up. I prefer this method because I like to spread them onto the macaron with a knife. If you would prefer to pipette, you can pipette onto a macaron right away. Note, if it is too runny, you can always add a bit more powdered sugar.

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Chocolate Ganache

The Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 oz white or dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 oz unsalted butter (softened)

The Process:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat to a simmer. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour hot cream over it. Let stand one minute.
  2. Slowly stir chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula to combine.
  3. Add butter and stir mixture until smooth.
  4. Let cool, stirring every ten minutes. Once ganache cools, pipe onto a macaron, and use a second macaron to gently spread the filling.

***One final tip! The trick with the filling is to put a very thin layer, so as to avoid detracting from the yumminess of a macaron. Macarons are light in flavor, and adding too much jam or chocolate can turn the macaron into a fruit-flavored or chocolate-flavored crabby patty. I add the thinnest layer I can muster with a bread-knife on the back of one macaron, and skip adding filling to the second side. This is just my personal preference, so go ahead and play around with it, and tell me what you end up liking best! 

Overnight Oats

A late night post about a quick and easy early morning breakfast, just in case you are still in need of ideas at this hour. Overnight oats are one of the staple breakfasts that frequently grace our refrigerator doors. First discovered in an effort to keep wellness in mind, we have been consistently making them ever since. As with most other recipes, it was not created by yours truly in avant-garde fashion by any means, and in order to give credit where credit is due, I will refer you to Minimal Wellness’s blog, where you can also find the nutritional benefits of said recipe.

I’d like to say I’m not partial to it because of the mason jars, but that wouldn’t exactly be the whole truth. Either way, aesthetics aside, the taste itself is fabulous, a mixture of oatmeal with milk, but sweeter. Typically, I am not a fan of oatmeal unless there’s a lot of sugar involved, but I love this recipe, and I daresay it’s a bit healthier since I’m not adding sugar by the spoonful.

Additionally, it is so easy to make and requires very little planning. You literally throw all ingredients in a jar, top with a lid, shake to mix, and toss it in the fridge to allow the oats to soak up the liquid overnight. This recipe even works when prepared two hours prior to eating. Once made, you can top it off with anything, such as blueberries (our favorite) or peanut butter and banana. Below, you will find the recipe, with some of our preferences substituted, differing slightly from the original.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup gluten free rolled oats
  • ⅔ cup Strauss 2% Lowfat milk
  • ⅓ cup Saint Benoit Creamery Organic Jersey Cow French Vanilla Yogurt
  • 1 Tbl chia seeds
  • 2 Tbl shredded unsweetened coconut
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup frozen berry of choice (Blueberries, typically. We try to only use these when we can buy them from a farmer’s market, without the plastic container. Otherwise, we opt for banana and peanut butter.)

The Process:

  1. Place all ingredients until the cinnamon in the mason jar.
  2. Put the lid on and shake to mix all ingredients thoroughly.
  3. Once ingredients are mixed, pour the frozen blue berries (if using) on top and replace the lid.
  4. Place jar into the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, stir the berries into the oat mixture and enjoy.
  5. (If you are using Peanut Butter and banana, top with a healthy scoop (or two) of peanut butter and a sliced banana.)

If I’ve solved your late night meal planning problem, well, you’ve only got Minimal Wellness to thank! The recipe is too good not to share.

Mike’s House Potatoes with Sam’s Omelets

It’s Sunday, and you know what that means. Brunch! Well, for a bunch of millennials, that is. Sunday brunch is the hip thing to do, and there are many ways to pull off a successful one.

With a group of friends, or as an early morning date with your significant other.

With mimosas in hand, or over much needed cups of Joe.

With baby in tow, or your favorite furry friend by your side.

At a neighborhood café, or the next new restaurant in town.

Breakfast burritos, or croissants and parfaits.

Dressed up in your Sunday best, or dressed down in loungewear sweats.

After church, or after your morning jog.

And many more.

I know, because Sunday brunch used to be what we did best. For me, it was all about going out with a group of friends, mimosas in hand, eating breakfast burritos at the next new restaurant in town dressed up in my Sunday best. Alternatively, it was early morning coffee dates with Mike at the neighborhood café over croissants after our morning jog, in our loungewear sweats. Either way you spin it, it ended in Instagram posts of photos of our food, staged to perfection, taken from the most perfect angle. It ended in “just one more round” of drinks for everyone. It was appetizers and dessert, too. There was a perceived “grown up” eloquence that came with the beautifully plated dishes, but isn’t it just another social status symbol? It’s not that we didn’t enjoy the time with our friends, or the taste of the food itself. But wasn’t it more about being able to say that you ate at the newly acclaimed chef’s restaurant? Or to one up each other in how many drinks you downed at the bar last night. Or to compete in who took the best Instagram photo? Sometimes I wonder which came first, the popularity of brunch itself, or the aspiration to be Sunday chic.

At some point, Mike and I stopped brunching. I think it was an effort to live more frugally, coinciding with the time we decided to eat out less and cook more. Eventually, we discovered simple breakfast recipes of our own, and made them in ways that were more appealing to us. No longer is it the time of $8 avocado toasts. Do people realize how much an avocado costs? A slice of bread? Do they realize that a single avocado can be split between two toasts, sometimes three depending on the size of the avocado in question? Add lime, salt, pepper, or pickled red onions, and you’ve got something much more gourmet. Likely saved yourself $5 (each) too!

Recently, we were feeling lazy and stepped out to grab sandwiches at a corner bakery next to our house. We both ordered sandwiches and soup, and decided that the soup was too salty, the bread too greasy. We looked down at our meal, which cost $20, and confirmed that we could make this way better ourselves. That’s the funny thing. You go back to eating out and realize that it’s not even worth it, most times. The money goes towards the experience and the convenience, more than anything. We aren’t the greatest cooks by any means, but we’ve gotten to the point where we know how to make most dishes, well, better. And cheaper. And healthier.

So in addition to the list above, Sunday brunch, two ways. Out and in. Here are two simple recipes that could cost you $10-15 a plate, if you choose to go out. Possibly $5 total, if you choose to stay in. It’s Mike’s House Potatoes, and Sam’s Omelets. Honestly, everyone has their own way of making these, and ours is considerably much simpler than others. The great thing is, you really can’t mess this up too bad. It’s easy.

Mike’s House Potatoes

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Ingredients:

-1 potato, diced into small cubes

– ¼ small onion, diced

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1/4 tsp parsley

-1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

-Salt and pepper, to taste

-Teensy amount of vegetable oil

The process:

  1. Fry the potatoes in the smallest amount of vegetable needed until they’re brown and soft.
  2. Throw in onions and garlic around halfway through (7-8 minutes in).
  3. Add spices, and voila.

Sam’s Omelets

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Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ roma tomato, diced (optional)
  • Cheese of choice (optional)
  • Avocado (to top)

NOTE: You can literally put anything you want in omelets, so do what you will. Last week it was cheese and spinach for me. This week, it was no tomatoes for Mike. So make do with what you already have or add whatever your heart desires.

The process:

  1. Mix eggs in a bowl with a whisk (or fork).
  2. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil on the frying pan.
  3. Pour eggs into the center of the oil.
  4. Sprinkle the top with whatever ingredients you like.
  5. Wait for the bottom to fully cook before folding half of the omelet onto itself.
  6. Cook for another minute, then flip.
  7. Plate after complete cooking of the egg, to your discretion. Top with avocado.

Part of the purpose of the food section in my blog is to share recipes that are simple in nature, and not at all difficult to make. We kill two birds with one stone by realizing that its saves money, too. Plus, it’s kind of fun when you share the responsibility, and work around each other, in sync, to music, using shared ingredients. And if you miss eating with friends, then why don’t you invite them over too?