Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Macaroons with Buttercream Filling

First off, I'd like to say that "February Carb Month" (as I declared it) has to end early or it will be the end of my waistline. One cool thing about these cookies though, as sugary and calorie-rich as they are, they are totally gluten-free for all of my "glutarded" friends out there.

The inspiration for these macaroons was a trip to the well-appointed Ginger Elizabeth here in Sacramento. This teeny weeny boutique has delicious hot chocolate and other goodies including lovely little French Macarons. They are deliciously crispy and chewy little sandwich cookies that could become quite a habit, but at $1.75 per tiny cookie, it's an addiction I can't afford all of the time. After looking at a few recipes on the internet, I decided that, even with the high cost of almond flour I could enjoy these for much less.

For the macaroons:

1 16 oz. bag of Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour
2 tablespoons regular granulated sugar
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted if the bag has been opened
5 large egg whites (save three of the egg yolks for the filling)
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat the egg whites. When they are frothy-looking, add the cream of tartar, and then whip them on high until you get stiff peaks, adding the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar slowly as you whip. If you haven't done this in a while, stiff peaks means that when you turn the beater upside down, the peak of white fluff doesn't fall over.

Next, with a big spatula, gently fold in the almond flour and powdered sugar one cup at a time, alternating them, and anytime in there put the 2 teaspoons of vanilla in as well. 

Now here's where it gets tricky. You need two cookie sheets and they must be non-stick OR you need to use parchment paper, but you must ALSO grease them well. Don't miss a spot. These cookies will stick to a pan like nobody's business. To dispense your goopy dough, you either need a pastry bag with a wide-mouth tip, OR you can be a like me and shove it all in a gallon Zip-loc freezer bag and cut one of the corners off with your scissors to make your own pastry bag. 

Dispense dough in 2 inch blobs, more or less, into even rows. I believe I fit about 20-24 cookies per large cookie sheet. Afterwards, wet your hands in cold water and use them to pat each blob until they are smooth on top and evenly round. Now the deal is, you are supposed to let the cookies sit for quite a while, an hour or even two, before baking. The reason for this is that you want a dry crust to form on the top which will give your cookies and even look and more importantly, an even crispy outer crust. If you pop them in the oven straight away, they taste just as nice, but they will have cracks on top and have uneven texture. IS that a big deal? Not really. If you don't care, then who else will? They're your cookies, you can do what you want.

Bake them, one pan at a time, on the  middle rack in a 325 degree oven for twenty minutes each. Transfer to wire racks to cool, or just lay them on wax paper or lint-free towels or a board or something if you don't have racks. Even with my greased non-stick pan I had to use  my super thin metal spatula to get them up easily, that's how sticky these babies are!

Let them cool completely before you make the little sandwiches, but they cool in half the time you might expect.

For the buttercream:

3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (or other flavoring you like, lemon zest is great)
2 sticks of room temperature butter (not too warm though)

Beat the heck out of the egg yolks. I'm talking at least four or five minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Then melt the sugar and corn syrup over medium heat in a small pot, and stir around until the sugar looks like it's dissolved into the corn syrup well. This takes, oh, about three to five minutes. Now you grab the pot handle in one hand and the egg beater with the other hand, and slowly stream the syrup into the egg yolks, beating (on high) the syrup into the yolks as you go. 

God help you if you are using a stand mixer. The problem with a stand mixer is that the syrup is supposed to not hit the side of the bowl or the metal egg beaters. If it does, it gets hard like candy and won't mix into the eggs! SO, if all you have is a stand mixer, I recommend you just use that arm muscle and go with a whisk for this part.

 Once you have the syrup all incorporated in, keep beating the heck out of it for another five minutes (go back to the mixer if you did the syrup part by hand!). The egg yolks will turn very pale in color and the mixture will start to cool. Add the butter at this point, one chunk at a time and beat for another five minutes until it looks creamy and pretty. This is a good time to beat in the vanilla, or other flavoring, and food coloring if you want a color.

If you frost these cookies, you pretty much have to serve them over the next day or two. Otherwise you will want to refrigerate everything. I would refrigerate the cookies and frosting separately, if for example you are making them on Wednesday to serve on Saturday. You can also assemble them and freeze, then pull them out an hour before serving.