The days leading up to Christmas are the best! I have always loved how festive it feels – and smells! One of my favorite times to be in the kitchen and baking, is at Christmas. In addition to the list of cookies I would normally bake, I would always try to pick out a new cookie, or two, to add in to my holiday baking collection. These cookies, when completed, would then be wrapped in a really festive way, complete with ribbons, bows and ornaments. They are then hand delivered, or mailed, to family and friends. It is always such a good feeling to be able to do something you are proud of, and be able to share that with the people you care for.
MOST of the time, my cookies and the finished product, turn out just like I had hoped they would.
There are times, however, that not every recipe does what I expect it to. When this happens, I usually toss it away, and start over – either with the same recipe (making little adjustments), or a new one altogether. In fact, a lot of recipes that I have, are ones that took a lot of trial and error to get them how I liked them.
This year I decided to try to make a cookie that I have NEVER tried to make before…
For anyone who has never had a French Macaron (not to be confused with a macaroon – which I do know how to make), you are definitely missing out!! They are delicious little meringue rounds made of egg white and sugar, flavored and baked to perfection. I never understood why, for such a little cookie, made mostly of air, they had to cost so much – between two and four dollars each, depending on where you buy them!
I no longer wonder why. I know now.
I decided to make Macarons for my “new” Christmas cookie that I would try this year. How hard can it be? It’s meringue. I have made meringue pie before. This was going to be easy and quick, and just think of all the Macaron cookies I would end up with, for a fraction of the cost! I was excited to do this! Not only was I going to make Macarons, I was going to take it just a little further, and, being Christmas, I would make Snowman Macarons!! And not just Snowman Macarons – Eggnog Snowman Macarons!! These were going to be so cute! I decided before I even bought my ingredients, that I was going to blog about them! I couldn’t wait to get started!
A quick trip to the grocery store to get the ingredients, and, $150 dollars later, I had everything I needed! This total may have included 6 bottles of wine as well, but even so, some quick math, and the cost of ingredients could have gotten me close to three dozen store bought Macarons. I figured my recipe should yield me at least 4 dozen! Not to mention, how cute I would make them. This was going to be fun!
To get started, I spent the night before, reading and comparing different recipes – which, for the most part, they are all pretty similar. I watched a few videos, and read websites that offered tips on making Macarons. By morning I was going to be ready to get started!
To start, I had to combine Almond flour and confectioner sugar in a food processor. Once it was well combined, it had to be sifted – 4 times. This step was pretty time consuming, as well as just a little messy (my work space was a little dusted in powder sugar flour). A quick clean up and I will be back on track.
Next, I needed superfine sugar. I had no idea what superfine sugar was, other than super fine. I had to google if there was a difference between using superfine and regular sugar. Turns out there is – when making Macarons anyway. So. the next step was to put my regular sugar into the food processor, and make my own superfine sugar. Just one small, extra step that I wasn’t counting on, but that’s okay – this is still fun!
Once the sugar has been turned into superfine sugar (the finer it is, the faster it dissolves), it is time to beat the egg whites. This is one of my favorite steps actually. I have always been told to keep my egg whites cold when whipping them. I would even chill my stainless steel bowl before beginning – just to keep them extra cold during the process. Everything I read though for Macarons, said to use room temperature egg whites. So what was the point in chilling my bowl? I figured there wasn’t. So, I didn’t.
Normally, I would separate my eggs in a separate bowl from the one I am using. This is to prevent getting yolk in with all of the whites – if one yolk breaks, it doesn’t ruin the rest of them that didn’t break. Since I usually never break the yolks anyway, I opted to just use the one main bowl for the whites, and a separate bowl for the yolks. I needed four eggs. On my fourth one, the yolk broke! I was able to catch most of it, and the rest that did find its way into the whites, I was able to carefully scoop out. It was a little frustrating, but, everything else would be fine.
I whipped the whites on low until soft peaks formed. I added the superfine sugar, and whipped on high until stiff peaks formed. It was going to take a few minutes for the stiff peaks to actually form, so I could use this time to prepare the oven, my pans and the piping bags.
I turned the oven to 375 degrees. I found my piping bags and tips for piping out my snowman circles. I would use parchment paper on the baking sheets, so that the meringue snowmen wouldn’t stick after they were done. By the time I got everything organized, the egg whites were nice and stiff.
Next, I added the flour mixture into the egg whites, and folded it in. And folded. And folded. It needed to be shiny and almost a lava-type texture. It took longer than I thought it would, and my arm was a little tired, but eventually I had a bowl of shiny, lava like, egg white batter. Time for the other fun part now! Making the snowmen!
Yep, time to stuff that sticky, gooey batter, into this not-always-user-friendly piping bag.
Well, this is annoying…I’ll be happier when I am actually piping those cute little snowmen.
At this point in my Snowman Macaron baking creation, you will just have to take my word for it, that I piped those snowmen onto my baking sheet. I piped eight. They were a pain to pipe. The batter is thick, and did NOT want to come out of the tip easily. By the eighth one (which is all that fit on the sheet anyway), I had tossed the bag aside, took a little scoop of batter and formed a snowman “head”. I took a slightly larger scoop and made his “body”.
VOI-LA!!! There they were! Eight little meringue snowmen. Looking at them, I knew why it was recommended to draw a template onto the parchment paper… My little snowmen were not the most uniform. They were not smooth like pictures I had looked at. That eighth one, was pretty sad looking – he had “peaks”. I slammed my cookie sheet on the counter – because it is supposed to get air bubbles out – not because I was mad. Though my frustration may have caused me to slam it again. I needed to let it sit and dry a little before it went into the oven.
While the first pan was drying out a little, I decided that eight snowmen was about eight more than I should have even attempted. Maybe the rest of the batter should just be used for regular, round Macarons. I was afraid my snowmen were just going to turn into something altogether different (and unidentifiable) in the oven, and they had used a lot more batter than I had expected they would.
I separated the batter that was left. In one bowl, I added almond extract, and in the other bowl, I added peppermint extract and a little red food coloring. I took the metal tip off of the piping bag, and tossed it into the sink. Right into the garbage disposal. But…the Macaron rounds piped so much easier this way. I looked over my shoulder at the eight little snowmen, and wished I had piped without a tip when I did them. Too late now, it was time to put them in the oven. I lowered the oven temp to 325 degrees, and put them in!!
Look at them! There may be hope that they are going to bake up pretty perfect after all! I would make more, except I have already run out of batter. I was able to get about a dozen almond rounds and a dozen peppermint rounds onto two separate baking sheets, before I ran out of batter. Since Macarons are sandwich cookies, I’m only looking at about 16 cookies total, and that is if they ALL turn out good! That is a little disappointing.
Not as disappointing however, as how they turned out….
ALL of them did this! I am not entirely sure where I went wrong. Maybe it was when I thought I could make Macarons. This was NOT what I had pictured my cookies would look like. Maybe I could salvage them a little…
I carefully trimmed the “edges” off of all of the cookies. Some of them slid a little further while I was trimming. Some of them decided to just lose their entire bottom portion. This was not going as planned.
I almost just threw them all into the trash. There was no way these were going to be worth finishing, let alone blogging about. I had already spent almost 4 hours at this point, and this was NOT what I had imagined them looking like.
And then we tasted the trimmed edges. What they lacked in appearance, they more than made up for in taste!! I decided I wanted to finish them. We could keep them for ourselves, and no one would ever have to know what they looked like. Or that I had even thought for a moment this was a cookie I could conquer.
I made three different buttercream fillings. For the snowmen, I made the eggnog filling like I had planned. I made an almond filling and a red peppermint filling for the rounds. I got them all filled and “sandwiched”.
I used some crushed candy cane to roll the edges of the Peppermint Macarons in. For the Almond Macarons, I sprinkled a little gold edible glitter. I made royal icing in white, red. orange and black for the snowmen.
Over 5 hours after I first started to make them, my Christmas Macarons were complete. They were not the best to look at, and certainly not how I had hoped they would turn out, but they taste good. They will not make it into any Christmas baskets this year, but I decided they could at least make it onto the blog. At least they didn’t make it into the trash, which is where they almost ended up.
I have decided not to bother posting the recipe, as I am still currently blaming the recipe for the way they turned out – not my technique. I do plan on making Macarons again – nothing fancy and all Frosty the Snowman-like, but just a basic Macaron recipe, until I can master this cookie that they charge $4 a cookie for…and now I know why.
I will post a recipe, when I have made a Macaron that turns out the way they are meant to turn out.
For now, some of the lessons I have learned and am taking away from this cookie debacle are:
*Don’t make Christmas the time to try a cookie recipe that most people are afraid of EVER trying
*If something says “use a template”, use a darn template
*Do NOT throw your baking tips into the sink if there is a garbage disposal – someone has to fish that out of there….
*It would have been cheaper to just buy a couple dozen Macarons.
As someone once said-
“Without failure, there is no sweetness in success.”