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! 

Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Before we get the nay-sayers out there screaming that this is a fake holiday, let me just say that yes, maybe it is.  It doesn’t mean I like celebrating it any less, all the same. Despite the commercialization of this (and every other) holiday, I believe there are ways for us to celebrate, mindfully. And while this may seem like my excuse to be a romantic, if only for a day, I’d like to plead my case and convince you otherwise, that this is in the interest of getting away from the commercialization and coming a step closer to the actual deal, which is to celebrate love. In other words, hopeless romantic on the loose.

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While the advertising companies are spending billions of dollars trying to convince the world of the different ways one needs to show love, I’m over here singing a song of a different tune. I view Valentine’s Day as another opportunity to celebrate without getting carried away with the spending and the accumulating. And while some may bitterly feel a bit left out this holiday, why don’t we just gravitate a little further away from the traditional Couple’s-Only Club, since we’re already uprooting conventional observances of Cupid’s holiday anyway? Here are my ways to spend Valentine’s Day, frugally, and with less waste.

Frugally  – To Do List for the 5 Love Languages

Quality Time – Avoid the crowds and stay in. We all know the cliche of spending “quality time” with your loved ones by going out for a lovely candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant, or getting some concert tickets to your favorite band, or watching a movie at the theatres, thanks to movies toting these very things. But might I say that all of these require spending? It may be the inner introvert in me, finding every excuse to avoid large congregations of people, but it’s also the super frugal Fran inside of me, dreading dropping hard-earned pay for something so trivial. So instead of dashing out the front door to spending time driving and waiting in long lines, why not just spend real quality time with each other, by substituting with a home-made dinner for two (left-overs abound!), the playing of your favorite records, or Netflix and chill. Likewise, if you must go out, get outdoors and play.

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Acts of Service – Skip the buying of gifts, substitute acts of service. So I know this isn’t for everyone. There are five love languages, gifting being one of them. Some people just really appreciate gifts. This one just happens to be easy for Mike and I, because we both fall under acts of service. Because of that, we have an easier time letting go of the gifts. Last Christmas, in an effort to disconnect from gifting and everything it brings, I substituted some the present of actions rather than things. I went to the local library and borrowed books on coffee so we may learn about it together. I YouTubed a way to pickle red onions, Mike’s favorite condiment for tacos. I stitched new Velcro onto Mike’s 3 years old motorcycle gloves, so that the latches stick again. A $5 cost instead of a $200 cost. My hands were sore from sewing through stiff leather with an easily bendable needle, but he was pretty stoked. For this Valentine’s Day, I asked for a particular gift from Mike. That is, to remove the rust from the bottom of our cast iron pans, simply because I’ve been too lazy to do it myself. If this style of loving just isn’t for you, then read on ahead for the gift list, below.

Words of Affirmation – Memorize a poem, nix the card. I like words, there’s no doubt about that. My clinical notes in the office are jokingly referred to as essays, and birthday cards just never have enough space. But I have a confliction with buying cards in general. It is undoubtedly much more aesthetic to add a store-bought card to any occasion, and I do have an achilles heel for all things presentable. However, the cost of the fancier stuff run north of $5, sometimes even going so far as to cost more than $10! Additionally, layers of paper that pop up from these gorgeous cards are drool-worthy, but also a bit gut wrenching. Drama aside, I’ve tried to avoid buying cards lately, and have substituted either a small handwritten note, or just a verbal  expression of emotions. For the Whitmans out there, why not memorize a poem? For those who just can’t do without a card, try the card alternative below.

Physical touch – Let your imagination run wild. Not much needs to be said with this one. Probably the most frugal of the five, good old fashioned loving is all it takes. Skip the expensive spa dates and learn massage techniques together. Find ways to get in touch throughout the day, by phone, via text, in a game of tag. Its quite obvious which love language I speak the least. Ending all awkwardness here and now. You just be creative.

Receiving Gifts – Welp! This one can’t be helped. If acts of service did not make the cut, then may I suggest a few thoughtful gift ideas, that won’t break the proverbial piggy bank, and would be loving to the planet at the same time?

Less Waste – The Gift List

This is what my Valentine’s Day wishlist would look like if ever I had one. Unfortunately, I used my wish on the de-rusting of an aforementioned Lodge pan. That was enough for me, but if you are in need of other gift ideas, have at it.

A haircut. I actually asked for this for Christmas last year. I hardly get haircuts. As in, once every 2 years, or once every year and a half. I would love to get them more frequently, but honestly, it gets to be too much for me. Hair is one of those things I used to obsess about as a tween, but it’s all been-there, done-that. I chop it off shoulder length, then just let it grow to the small of my back. On repeat, since college. I also attend one of those generic Fantastic Sam’s places where I pay $20 to chop off most of my hair. Although I did find a location in San Diego once that had happy hour, where the haircut only cost $8 between 5 and 6pm. Score!

A tree instead of flowers. In the U.S.A., about $2 billion worth of cut flowers are bought each Valentine’s Day. While flowers are a compostable gift, and not entirely bad for the environment, what if we try gifting plants itself. A plant can stay alive for a really long time, care-taker depending. These can range drastically, from a $5 succulent from Home Depot, to a $200 tree. Pick what works for your price range. For me, I’ve got my beautiful fiddle leaf, pretty as can be.

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A plantable cardSooooo, after my long spiel about my issue with cards, I did come across these plantable versions. You read right. These cards are made from seed paper, which is 100% compostable. Alternatively, when planted in the ground, these cards claim to grow wildflowers (!!). Which conveniently goes in line with my thinking above.

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Self-Care Products. As I grow older, I embrace this concept of self-care a lot more. There are plenty of self-care products out there that are paving the way by being environmentally friendly, cruelty free, and all natural. Ranging from luscious bars of soap, to shampoo, to beard balm, you name it. These are products that we would use on the daily anyway, so why not gift them something they need?

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A collection of Recipes. Better yet, your recipe collection, attached to a tin can of home-made cookies (or bread, what have you).

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Valentine Celebrations with Everyone

Galentines Day –  popularized by single ladies all over the world, this is now being celebrated by besties everywhere, regardless of the relationship status. Ways to celebrate? Do activities together, such as a yoga class in someone’s living room, or a cooking session in one’s kitchen. Just make sure not to fight over who gets clean up duties.

Dudes’ Hangout – pretty standard kick back, commonplace among Mike and his friends. Pizza and video games? Or have everyone bring a six pack of different brews, and do a beer tasting at home. Coffee cupping sesh also an alternative.

Hosting for Friends and Family – I love to host. Gathering twelve people around our table just makes my heart sing. Why not invite the entire family or crew over and use this holiday as an excuse to eat, drink. and be merry? Cheers!

A Little Bit of Self Love

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  • Early morning meditation.
  • A cup of coffee, made the slow way.
  • Find the time to relax in the middle of the work day.
  • Skip work all together, and spend time at home with family.
  • A decluttering session, mid-February.
  • A candle lit bubble bath for one, music optional.
  • Cuddling up with a book and a blanket.
  • Go to bed at an early hour.

Honestly, the self-love category is my favorite list.

Happy heart week!