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Archive of ‘Cookies’ category

I’m so mad at macarons!

empty hollow macaron shell

Hollow and empty, just like my fragile heart after my 4th failed attempt at making macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Eff you, macarons!  I mean, really. What the hell’s your problem?

I tried undermixing the batter and you went all lumpy on me. So then I might’ve slightly overmixed the batter and you got all flat and footless.

I tried two recipes, various cooking times and four attempts now. I was patient and understanding, and you cracked or got all hollow and empty inside. Don’t even get me started on your inconsistency issues. I’ve tried my best, but you’re a high-maintenance pain in my ass! And now you got me feeling all hollow and empty inside, too. It’s contagious. You see?

There. I said it.

Because I’m stubborn as a mule,  a glutton for punishment?, persistent and totally NOT a quitter, I might give you another try.  Annabelle and Rose told me not to give up on you. Yah, that’s right. The girls and I have been talking. Rose called you “tough buggers” but if you keep up this trouble with me, I’ll have other, less-than-ladylike adjectives to describe you, macarons.

Yes, we seriously need to spend some time apart.

I’m hanging up my apron now and will calm down with a glass of wine and an episode of Big Brother.

You can sit on the cooling rack and think about what you’ve done. Don’t even look at me.

 

 

 

My third failed attempt to make macarons

I really hoped the third time I made macarons, I’d have learned from my mistakes and mastered the French dessert, no problem. Sadly, that was not the case.

I was close to getting it right this time, but cracking and cooking time were big bullies.

I used Martha Stewart’s Parisian Macarons recipe again. I figured that it’s better to stick to a familiar recipe and gain experience with it rather than trying a new one. Everything was going so well.

The egg whites were nice and foamy…

Foamy egg whites, beaten

Foamy egg whites. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The egg whites and sugar whipped to a stiff peak stage like this…

stiff peak meringue

Stiff peak stage. Stop here. Photo by Jennifer Melo

But then I doubted myself and thought I needed to keep beating the meringue so I think I took it past stiff-peak stage…

overbeaten meringue

Mixture is just starting to separate. Photo by Jennifer Melo

So I stopped here (uh oh! Did I go too far?) and then I folded in the dry ingredients until the batter mixed to a soft oatmeal consistency, like this…

Macaron batter consistency

Soft oatmeal consistency Photo by Jennifer Melo

When I piped shells, I thought I had achieved the right batter consistency. It was soft enough to lose any peaks and settle into an even circle after tapping the cookie sheet on the counter a few times.

piping green macarons

Piping green macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo

But the drying time took WAY longer than expected. The recipe suggested leaving the macarons out to dry for about 15 minutes. But after three hours on a humid summer day, my macarons were still wet and they didn’t pass the “touch test”.

The touch test is when you lightly touch the macaron — if the batter doesn’t stick to your finger, the macarons are dry and ready for the oven.

So I left them out to dry  overnight and baked them the next day. I lined one cookie sheet with parchment paper and the other with a silicone baking mat.

piped macarons on a baking mat

Dry macarons on a baking mat. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Dry macarons on parchment paper. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Dry macarons on parchment paper. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I saw better cooking results with the baking mat but those macarons cracked. The macarons on the parchment paper didn’t crack but they were overcooked, flat and footless.

The bottom of a macaron should have a ruffled edge, called “feet.”

The recipe calls for a baking time of 15 minutes. Because I piped the macarons a little larger this time, I experimented with cooking time, leaving the parchment-paper-lined sheet in the oven for 17 minutes and the baking-mat-lined sheet baked for exactly 15 minutes.

Cracked macarons with three intact macaroons

Cracked macarons with three survivors. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I got decent results with the 15 minute-cooking time but I think some shells were undercooked because they stuck to the mat.

17 minutes was a tad too long because the macarons on the parchment paper were slightly overcooked.

macaron baked on parchment paper vs. baking mat

Parchment paper (left) vs. baking mat (right). Photo by Jennifer Melo

But both were cooked through. See?

Macaron cooking time test

Macaron cooking time tested. Photo by Jennifer Melo

So once again, this batch of macarons was plagued with inconsistent results. There were a few good shells but the rest were cracked or flat and footless. Boo! Hiss.

Remember when I mentioned in my last post that this recipe instructs to leave your oven door ajar? Here’s how “ajar” my oven door was while baking and now I think it’s probably too wide open. The hinge on my oven door doesn’t stop short of this width on its own.  A recipe reviewer mentioned using a mixing spoon to prop the door open just a crack. I hadn’t thought of that. But maybe that would’ve been just the trick I needed to keep the macarons from sticking to the baking mat.

Oven jar too ajar

Oven jar too ajar for this recipe? Photo by Jennifer Melo

I’m thinking of jumping back over to the original recipe I started my macaron-making adventures with. I seemed to be closer to achieving good results with it and now that I’ve gained experience and learned some lessons, I just might master macaron-making next time. Wishful thinking?

My second failed attempt at making macarons — another Martha recipe this time

After my first failed attempt to make macarons, I tried another macaron recipe from Martha Stewart. You see, I have faith that she knows what she’s doing — and I clearly do not.

baked mini macarons undermixed batter plate

Results from my first macaron-making attempt. Photo by Jennifer Melo

The last time, I followed the recipe as directed and ended up with poor results so this time, I tried another Martha recipe and made a few adjustments.

I’ve worked with recipe developers in my time and, understandably, they get really annoyed when someone complains about bad results but they didn’t follow the recipe exactly. But nothing irritates a baker more than following a recipe exactly as instructed and ending up with crappy cookies. Harrumph! (Arms crossed. Brows furrowed. Foot stomped.)

So this time, I veered from the recipe and made a big mistake that led to my doom. So not Martha’s fault.

This batch turned out worse than the first one, but I’m learning some great lessons along the way.

About the macaron recipe

I used Martha’s recipe for Parisian Macarons for my second macaron-making adventure. Calling it an adventure takes the sting out of making another bad batch.

I noticed this recipe calls for piping 1″ macarons so I thought that might correct my issue with the mini macarons I ended up with last time. So I made  a new macaron-piping template with 1″ circles to help guide me with sizing and spacing.

I also thought I’d mix the batter enough to make the mixture a bit more runny so it’d spread out more. But I ended up overmixing it this time.

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Piped macaron shells, overmixed batter. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Then I did more research and found a video that suggested I could bake two cookie sheets at once. I’m a sucker for time management, so I thought I’d try that. Bad call. BIG mistake.

This is what happened when I tried to bake two cookie sheets at once, alternating sheets on racks about halfway through baking time: Very inconsistent cooking results.

Making macarons: My results

– Inconsistent baking. Most of these macarons were plagued with problems. Some cookies were undercooked and others were overcooked on the bottom but not-so cooked on top.

-This recipe directs you to leave your oven door “slightly ajar” when baking. Hmm… maybe my definition of slightly ajar is different than Martha’s.

-I ended up with several cracked macarons and/or sunken middles. What the heck’s going on here?

green macaron shells

The two shells at front seem fine. Photo by Jennifer Melo

I had just a few good, camera-ready ones to show you (see?)

Photo by Jennifer Melo

Photo by Jennifer Melo

…But looks can be deceiving because these were raw in the middle.

green undercooked macaron

Undercooked macaron shells. Photo by Jennifer Melo

-Macaron size was still smaller than I’d like. The batter spread some, but very little, after piping.

-Several clung to the parchment paper and cracked when I tried to remove them, a common problem with undercooked macarons, I learned. So I cooked the white ones longer than the green ones but they fell flat rather than puffing up.

White, hopelessly flat macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo

White, hopelessly flat macarons. Photo by Jennifer Melo

So it’s back to the drawing board for me. Here’s hoping third time’s a charm.

Biggest lesson learned: Don’t bake more than one sheet at a time.

And we learn from our mistakes. Right? Right!

 

My first failed attempt to make macarons – Martha’s easy recipe flops

They’re so cute, they’re so sweet, they’re so… freaking hard to make!

Macarons are light and airy cookies that sandwich a sweet filling like buttercream, chocolate ganache or even Nutella. Yum! I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making these pretty sweets so I jumped right in with minimal research. Not my best idea.

I later learned that macarons are known in some baking circles as the hardest cookies to make. And now I know why.

macaron template and ingredients

Tools and ingredients for macaron-making. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Martha Stewart macaroon recipe review

I wasn’t about to mess around with a random recipe so I turned to the domestic goddess herself, Martha Stewart for support. And by that, I mean I went to her website in search of a recipe (nice website redesign, by the way, Bravo to Martha’s web team!)

First I tried this recipe: French macarons

The recipe is simple and straightforward. But Martha, girl. You failed me.

I needed more instructions so I’d give it a three out of five in satisfaction rating. Specifically, I think the recipe needs more explanation when it comes to batter consistency.

piped macarons dry undermixed batter

Note: This is what undermixed batter looks like. Photo by Jennifer Melo

It could also use direction on working in food colouring because this green batter turned out a few shades lighter once baked …

piped macarons dry undermixed green batter

Note: Slightly undermixed batter looks like this. Photo by Jennifer Melo

…and more details about drying time in various conditions would be helpful too, please.

baked macarons, white, undermixed

Lumpy, bumpy, grainy macaron batter, dry, before baking. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Results:

  • The cookies cooked nicely overall, but they turned out too small for my liking. I thought the batter might spread (it didn’t) and maybe even expand after baking — it didn’t.  If this recipe was called “Mini Macaroons,” I would’ve been almost completely satisfied but I envisioned a bigger macaroon of maybe 1.5-2” in diameter. Mine were piped at 3/4” as the recipe directed and a three-quarters of an inch is where they stayed. That’s probably because I didn’t mix the batter long enough, so I’m partly responsible for this fail.
mini macarons undermixed batter

How many macarons can I fit in the palm of my hand? 4! Photo (shot one-handed) by Jennifer Melo

  • The colour lightened and browned a lot after baking. What started as a fresh apple-minty green batter turned into a dull, light khaki green after cooking. Reptilian, almost. Weird, definitely. This food-colour-fading effect is well-documented so I would’ve avoided this if I researched more.
  • Inconsistent macaron texture. Some of the macaron tops were rough, lumpy and grainy so I learned I should mix the batter a bit more next time and not mess around with the batter.
  • These macaroons tasted fantastic! Thank you, Martha. Yes, we can be friends again. 😉 I gave up on making macaron filling from scratch after I saw the cookies didn’t turn out so pretty. But waste not! I filled them with some delicious raspberry curd I got from a recent trip to the U.S. Want to hear all about it? Read me! > 10 great reasons to visit Norfolk, Virginia.
baked mini macarons undermixed batter plate

Forget the pretty presentation and just eat. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Learn from my mistakes

I went rogue by splitting the batter in half. I wanted to add food colouring to half of the batch and keep the other batch white but that was a bad idea. Don’t do that.

Macaron batter is sensitive and you need to pipe it promptly after folding the mixture. So I learned that if I want to make a batch in another colour, it’s best to start fresh by making the recipe all over again. Yes, even if that’s a whole lotta kitchen cleanup for one day.

macaron-mini-inside-view

Cooked through, with a crunchy shell and a chewy center. Photo by Jennifer Melo

So now I’m brushing myself off and starting again. In the meantime, please feel free to share stories of your macaroon flops or successes. I’d love to hear ’em. Ready, set, go!

Cute Easter bunny cookies

Easter-bunny-face-cookiesAfter struggling with several royal icing issues, I was happy to have a few bunny cookies with relatively smooth surfaces. Their faces are so cute, they distract you from my decorating mistakes.

You didn’t notice them at first, did you?

I learned that I should’ve used  a “boo-boo stick” to push down peaks and smooth the icing while it was wet. What the heck’s a boo-boo stick, you ask? First, you should know that I didn’t just make up this device. It really exists! You can buy a boo-boo stick at karenscookies.net. Or you can use a toothpick, a scribe or another modelling tool.

The pink icing I used to pipe the ears and nose was too thick. The ears, in particular, could’ve really used some work with a boo-boo stick.

Royal icing tests my patience. And I failed the test.

I set the cookies to dry overnight but I had places to go, people to see, and cookies to decorate, so after about 14 hours of drying time, I tried to draw on a cookie with an edible-ink marker and I learned something new.

What happens if you try to decorate cookies before royal icing dries completely? You crack the smooth surface and your marker sinks into the icing like this…

Oops! I poked a hole in the icing. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Oops! I poked a hole in the icing. Photo by Jennifer Melo

Womp, womp.

breeding-bunny-cookies

Lessons learned

  1. Use a boo-boo-stick to smooth any lumps, bumps and peaks while the royal icing is wet.
  2. Wait at least 24 hours before trying to decorate. The humidity in your decorating environment, royal icing consistency and how thick you layer on the icing can influence drying time. My cookies needed about 32 hours to dry completely.
  3. Use a light touch if you’re using food colouring markers in case the icing isn’t as dry as you suspect it is. The top layers may appear dry to the touch but a little pressure can reveal soft royal icing below the surface.
  4. Get your royal icing consistency right.

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