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From the food editor: For Valentine's Day, I tried making macarons at home

French macarons. (TNS)

French macarons. (TNS)

There are a couple of different ways to approach your Valentine's Day food plan.

You can keep things low-key, even pointedly cheap. (For 50 of the best affordable spots in Tampa Bay, check out tampabay.com/top50restaurants.) Or the holiday of love (or eye-rolling, depending on how cynical you are) can be a time to think about extravagant foods, items you wouldn't normally eat or cook but that can help woo a special someone.

An informal poll on my social media accounts and with my friends and family in real life revealed that most people who can hack it in the kitchen have cooked something indulgent for or with their loved ones: panna cotta, the puddinglike Italian dessert that's made with gelatin in a mold; lobster bisque; biscuits and gravy; pot pie with short rib.

Most people said different versions of the same thing: It took a lot of work, but it was worth it.

In that vein, I urged myself to tackle a cooking project I never have before: macarons. I'd heard horror stories from friends who have tried to whip up the French pastry, which is essentially a fancy cookie sandwich: two delicate shells held together by a thin layer of filling. (Macarons aren't to be confused with macaroons — note the extra "o" — clusters of coconut flakes and sugar and egg.)

The dessert is multipart, meaning you have to perfect the cookiemaking process and the assembly. A signature of the macaron is that the cookie shells have a precise texture — crisp and crackly on the surface, chewy on the inside — that can be difficult to produce. But I am a macaron nut, someone who can't pass up ordering one whenever they're available, and so the result was indeed worth a few frustrations.

One tip I had heard was to let your egg whites get to room temperature before working with them. For the first batch, I didn't take this tip far enough. You should really be letting your eggs sit on the counter for a couple of hours to ensure the correct temperature.

Another thing, and this one requires a bit of technique: Instead of stirring the cookie batter, you need to fold it, gently turning it over and over until all is incorporated. This allows the macarons to be airy instead of flat and more brittle.

I did not have a pastry bag, so I used the classic trick of cutting a small (start small and cut a larger hole only if you need to) corner off a large zip-top bag and using that to pipe the macaron dough onto the baking sheet. It worked, but I may invest in a proper pastry bag next time.

Using the detailed recipe below, I was able to produce a respectable batch. As expected, they delivered more in the flavor department than in the looks department. They were flatter and less perfectly circular than other macarons I've had, but they were a delightful shade of pink and, filled with a homemade buttercream frosting, had just the right amount of sweetness to serve as a dreamy dessert come Valentine's Day.

medium

Valentine's Day Macarons

Ingredients

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 ⅓ cups finely ground blanched almond meal
  • 3 to 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 to 6 drops red food coloring
  • ½ to ¾ cup filling, such as Nutella or raspberry jam

Instructions

  1. Cut 3 sheets of parchment paper to fit 2 baking sheets. With a marker and template (such as a large spool of thread) draw on 1 parchment 24 to 28 circles measuring about 1 ¼-inch across, leaving an inch between each. Place on baking sheet overlaid with a second piece of parchment. You should be able to see the circles through the paper.
  2. Combine the powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Then pass the mixture through a sifter or medium-coarse sieve to lighten it. Discard any almond bits left behind, if any.
  3. In a clear measuring cup, add enough egg whites to reach halfway between the ⅓ and ½ cup marks . Transfer to a large bowl and add cream of tartar. With a stand or hand mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they form soft peaks when beaters are lifted. Add the food coloring. Resume beating, now at high speed while gradually adding the granulated sugar. Beat until the mixture forms stiff, but not dry, peaks when the beaters are lifted. A peak of egg white should stand straight up.
  4. Pour one-third of the almond mixture over the egg whites and, with a large rubber spatula, fold into the egg whites to lighten them. Add the remaining dry ingredients and continue folding until fully incorporated. The batter should look moist and glossy and slowly slide from the spatula.
  5. Using a pastry bag (or a large zip-top bag with one of the corners cut off) fitted with a ½-inch tip, pipe disks of batter onto each circle. Tap the sheet several times on the counter to pop any lurking air bubbles and flatten any peaks. Remove template and repeat with remaining baking sheet, parchment and batter.
  6. Let the macarons rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the surface of the disks is slightly dry .
  7. Place an oven rack in the center position and preheat to 400 degrees.
  8. When macarons are ready, slide 1 pan into the oven and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Macarons are done when they are barely starting to color. Remove pan from oven and set the pan to cool on a wire rack. Return heat to 400 degrees. Bake second pan in the same way, remembering to reduce heat to 300 degrees.
  9. When the cookies are cool, lift a corner of the parchment and carefully peel the liner away from each disk. Lifting the cookies from the parchment may cause them to break.
  10. Spread ½ to 1 teaspoon of filling on the flat side of a cookie and top with a cookie of matching size. They remain good for about 5 days. Makes 24 to 28 sandwiches.
Tribune News Services

From the food editor: For Valentine's Day, I tried making macarons at home 02/06/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 3, 2017 5:02pm]
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