Joshua Pramis planned to celebrate his 40th birthday with his favorite indulgence — melt-in-your-mouth salted caramel cafe mocha macarons.
The chocolate shells are filled with mocha buttercream and salted caramel and drizzled with chocolate sauce and flakes of sea salt. They look like they came from the finest patisserie in Paris. But no, Pramis creates and cooks the French treats in his St. Petersburg kitchen.
The origin of the macaron is a bit fuzzy, but legend has it they were introduced to France by an Italian baker. No matter the roots, it’s the results that matter to Pramis.
This month, he’s busy developing holiday-inspired versions of the meringue sandwich cookies with flavors of peppermint and gingerbread for his family, friends and co-workers at The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website based in St. Petersburg. Last Christmas, his ornament-shaped macarons and red-and-white swirled peppermint confections were a hit.
But he didn’t stop there, making macarons shaped like Easter eggs and bunnies. He created architectural toppings with, of all things, popular cereals. He’s really just starting his creative journey.
Pramis writes The Penny Hoarder’s email newsletter by day. On weekends and evenings, he tests recipes and tempers chocolates and sugars. A fan of the “The Great British Baking Show,” he began baking on a whim about four years ago, starting with banana bread and progressing to cookies and cupcakes. Macarons — not to be confused with chewy coconut macaroons — were the next challenge.
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Two years ago, Pramis baked his first batch and they turned out perfectly. With great confidence, he offered to bring macarons to his family’s upcoming Thanksgiving gathering.
“I had a little bit of beginner’s luck,” he said. “The first batch wasn’t perfectly smooth but they actually looked decent and I was like, ‘What is everybody talking about, these aren’t that bad.’”
The day before Thanksgiving he started baking, only to toss out batch after batch of cracked or too-flat meringues, which made him reevaluate his baking prowess. “I almost called it quits — but that fourth, winning batch came out and I just had that feeling that I wanted to keep doing this,” he said.
He kept making macarons, whipping egg whites and slowly adding sugar and cream of tartar and tossing out as many duds as keepers. “It took a little while to get the hang of it and I was bouncing around between recipes,” he said.
Then a friend suggested he check out Brazilian blogger Camila Hurst’s website, Pies and Tacos, for baking tips. She uses the Swiss method of making macarons, mixing the sugar and egg whites together and heating the ingredients over a double boiler before adding a bit of syrup and whipping the mixture. Success!
Patience is the key ingredient, Pramis said. You have to get the meringue right before sifting in confectioners’ sugar and almond flour.
“It’s weird because I’m not a very patient person in general and this is a dessert that requires tons of patience,” he said. “In a way it has helped to reel me in overall, in all aspects of my life. If you want to get the winning macaron you have to keep going and going. And you don’t ever know until they come out of the oven.”
Pramis posted photos of his best batches on social media and started getting requests from friends. He has a devoted following at @themaczaddy on Instagram and a side business that keeps elevating his creativity. He started with plain cookies filled with chocolate or vanilla butter cream, what he refers to as “the basic macaron.”
He experimented with adding pumpkin spice and later added jams and fruit flavors. Recently he baked yellow, lemon butter cream-filled macarons and blue sandwich cookies filled with blueberry jam for a lemon-and-blue-themed bridal shower.
When a friend who loved Cap’n Crunch cereal was celebrating a birthday, he made a macaron filled with the same flavors and topped with candied bits of the cereal. Using milk soaked in the cereal is one trick he uses to infuse flavors. Friends also enjoy his Fruity Pebbles and Pop-Tarts versions.
“I started going from one cereal to the next and then I became obsessed with these ostentatious toppings, and who doesn’t like more sugar on their sugar cereal,” he said. “It’s an adult version of your childhood favorite.”
As a rule, macarons are gluten-free, and Pramis uses only brown sugar in his recipes. “Measurement-wise, it’s an equal swap,’' he said, “but I find the brown sugar just adds this extra depth and rich flavor to the shells. They take a little longer to rest after piping because brown sugar retains moisture a bit more, but they’re so worth it.”
One challenge he has yet to perfect is a vegan version of his cookies. He can substitute the egg whites and create the same flavors, but texture is still a work in progress. Humidity in Florida doesn’t help. He has to make sure the humidity in his kitchen is under 50%.
While Pramis can legally sell his macarons through the state of Florida’s cottage industry regulations about home-based businesses, he works hard to balance his hobby and free time. His immediate goal is to publish a cookbook of his creations. And, if he moves to a home with a bigger kitchen, he might offer cooking classes.
“I worry about the joy being taken out of it,” he said. “This is the thing that is fun and has brought me joy in my free time. I don’t want it to become a commitment.”
Follow Joshua Pramis at instagram.com/joshuapramis or twitter.com/joshuapramis.