Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Culinary Bucket List

Like many people that have crossed the invisible threshold that separates thinking you'll live forever from reality of yes, I am going to die one day too, I have a bucket-list, but mine is somewhat different to the average person who writes down everything they want to do before they kick the bucket. Mine is populated only with food, therefore I call it my Culinary bucket list.

My culinary bucket list is more of a dream catcher than a pressure-laden to-do-list, at least that is what I tell myself. It's rife with classics like koeksisters, perfecting croissants, baked Alaska cake, a gigantic croquembouche, wedding cakes and of course to perfect that little macaron! And no, not the coconut confections you often see dipped in chocolate - the macaroons. I'm referring to the macarons, the single "o" meringue sandwich cookies that nearly every baking and pastry blog has an entry for. Adding to the confusion surrounding these equally delicious, sweet treats is that the English translation for French macaron, is, you guessed it, macaroon.

The first time I made macarons, was when I was the pastry chef at La Colombe in my 3rd year of Culinary school. Every table would receive a platter of petit fours after their meal. We usually made Turkish delight, chocolate fudge and chocolate salted caramel  truffles. Avoiding the monotonous routine, I decided to include pistachio macorons to the list. My first batch was not as successful until Chef Luke advised me to rest them for 15 minutes before baking. The second batch was perfect, they had all the characteristics of a great macaron. I was so chuffed with myself.

With only a few, simple ingredients and endless options for flavourings and fillings, these dainty confections are right up my alley. For every lovely photo of "The Perfect Macaron" you can find on the Internet, you can find a horror story of macarons gone wrong. Every time I have baked a batch it came out perfect, only until I returned from London, and my mom asked me to show her how to bake them. To my detriment, I also now have empathy with those who told their stories of "Macarons gone wrong". At first I blamed the oven, then the almond flour, but when I ran out of things to blame, I realised mybe I had lost my perfect baking ability.

So now I am on my quest to perfect the macaron. I have collected recipes, methods and techniques as if I was working on a thesis. I bought a pastry nozzle just for the macaron making. I have saved egg whites. These are for macarons I'd boldly announce as I stashed them in the back of the fridge. All the while, I continued bookmarking food magazines and stuffing my macaron file with pictures and recipes.

So today, I picked up the container of egg whites in the fridge so I could get at my tub of yogurt. I held the little covered bowl in the palm of my hand and stared at it. What if I could let go of the perfect macaron. And just make the damn thing. A voice in my head cried, "Just do it!" I set the container on the counter and instinctively reached for my folder. Operation Macaron was officially underway. I spread the papers out in front of me creating a sea of  "stiff-peaks, firm peaks, 160 C, 180 C, let them rest for 10-15 minutes, let them rest for a hour, bake them as soon as you pipe them, don't make them when it rains, age the egg whites, use only room temperature eggs, no wait use them cold..." My head was spinning. I didn't want to synthesise best practises. I wanted to bake. And I wanted to bake macarons, perfect or otherwise.

I put the folder back on the bookcase and pulled down one of my faithful baking books from Culinary school. I turned right to the macaron page. I grabbed my Silpats and preheated the oven to 160C. Allow Operation macaron to commence. Ninety minutes later I hovered over my macarons, beaming with pride. Mine looked nothing like the ones I have stared at in patisseries in France, but they were indeed wonderfully tasty. Bucket list in hand, I took the cap off my black marker and smugly put a bold line through "macarons".

Peanut butter & Chocolate macarons:

60 g ground almonds
125 g icing sugar
60 g egg whites
25g granulated sugar
2.5 ml vanilla extract

30 ml peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
100 g dark chocolate, finely chopped
125 ml cream

Process the almonds and icing sugar in a food processor for 5 minutes. Sift into a bowl. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar gradually and whip to stiff, glossy peaks. Fold in the dry ingredients and the vanilla into the egg whites, adding the dry ingredients a third at a time. Using a plain tip, deposit the mix on parchment paper or Silpats in mounds the size of a R5. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. Bake at 160C until golden and well risen. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Remove from the paper and sandwich with the peanut butter and chocolate filling.
For the filling: Heat the cream until boiling point. Pour over the chopped chocolate adn mix in the peanut butter. Mix well together and chill in refrigerator.

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