Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Making Macarons with Less Sugar

Right off the bat I will say that my experience with making macarons (NOT Macaroons, the coconuty sticky cookies) nearly made me swear off of them forever. The one and only time I tried eating them was not favorable, despite their inimitable cuteness factor. They are tiny, darling little sandwich cookies, generally shown in all sorts of improbable colors of the rainbow and I bought a few from our local "patisserie." They were so cloyingly sweet that I had a very hard time even swallowing, and could not make myself take another bite. Do not misunderstand! I have a severe sweet tooth. But those little macarons were so sweet it made my teeth hurt and my throat close.
Less Sugar Chocolate Macarons
Less Sugar Chocolate Macarons

So the reason I decided to try making them was all about this upcoming "Renaissance Festival," (formerly Winefest Renaissance). One of the wines I chose was Stella Rosa 'Black.'  It is a slightly sweet, slightly sparkling red wine, quite similar to Banfi's Rosa Regale, and at about half the price. I didn't know what it would be like; sometimes how a thing is described is not exactly what it turns out to be. With the description, however, I felt it would be enough like the Rosa Regale, which we have been drinking for many, many years now, to at least make something and try it out. 

Banfi's Rosa Regale & Stella Rosa 'Black'
Banfi's Rosa Regale & Stella Rosa 'Black'
My usual dish that I make and serve the Rosa Regale is Brie in Phyllo with Raspberry Sauce. I have never set the recipe out on either blog or website, just because it is a bit complicated. While I have made it countless times, I have yet, ever, to have it bake and not leak cheese out of the pouches of phyllo. Maybe I should put the recipe out here anyway, because let me say - it is fabulous, flavor-wise. And the Rosa Regale could not pair any better. 

The thing that the Rosa Regale and this new (for me) Stella Rosa 'Black' have in common is the "Brachetto" grape. Both wines have a strong leaning to raspberry flavors, though the descriptions include strawberry or even cherry. Brachetto is a red grape, sometimes described as a "black" grape. The flavors described in the wine world are things like:
"Strawberry, Raspberry, Rose Petal, Fruity, Tree Bark, Tar,
Clove, Flowers, Violet, Damp Forest."

Some of these might sound strange, when describing a semi-sweet red wine, but though I may not have thought of these adjectives on my own, I can most certainly identify with the descriptors. 

All this is by way of saying why I served the wine with Brie in Phyllo with Raspberry Sauce, and why it went so well. There are those elements that would seem to describe a non-sweet wine. But in fact, the very first time we tried the Rosa Regale (then it was called "Brachetto d'Acqui), was at a wine tasting, and the food pairing was a dessert of chocolate gelato with fresh raspberries. Since I loved that pairing as well, I was thinking along the lines of something that would have chocolate, somehow. Hazelnuts were something also mentioned in things that pair with the Brachetto wines, and my thought was Hazelnut Macarons.

AHA! We Finally Get to the Crux of the Matter

Less Sweet Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
Less Sweet Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
All right then, back to the little macarons. I wanted something with chocolate and hazelnut. And I wanted something not so cloyingly sweet as those I had previously tasted. I looked up recipes for macarons, and specifically hazelnut macarons. That search led me to lots of places, and also to places with less sugar types. What I gleaned from all the searching and researching, is that to obtain the particular texture and such, that is equated with macarons, too much tinkering with the recipe will ruin the little cookies. A tiny bit of leeway is possible, but beyond that - watch out!

Add to that the sheer persnikety-ness of making them. If it's too humid, they won't come out. If you make the French meringue method, it is prone to work great one day and terribly the next. The preferred method is using Italian Meringue. Crap. I really hate making Italian Meringue. Some places say it is best to sift the almond meal (or hazelnut meal, in my case) at least three separate times, placing it into the food processor with confectioners' sugar to try and make the nut particles small enough to pass through the sifter. Then there is the thought floating around that is is best if you sieve the egg whites before using them.

Have any of you, ever, tried sieving egg whites? Great heavens, it takes FOREVER! 

Ultimately, my study led me to a couple of concepts for less-sweet macarons. 

  1. You can substitute ⅒th of the confectioners' sugar with rice flour. More, and you ruin the texture.
  2. Substituting 1 tablespoon of the nut meal with 1 tablespoon of cocoa will also reduce the sweetness, as cocoa is bitter on its own. 
Add to that a less-sweet filling, and I felt this would result in an overall less sweet macaron that could pair well with the Stella Rosa 'Black' wine. 

And Then, I Made Them . . . 

After 5½ hours, I was hot, tired and ready to throw in the towel. And all I had were 30 cookies. And if I was making these for the Renaissance Festival (Wine Event), I would need a minimum of 150. Double that, if they were really small. No way. No way AT ALL. I tried one recipe with the Italian Meringue. I still hate making Italian Meringue. And really, after all that work, they didn't really come out that well. The French meringue version (just beat the egg whites with sugar to glossy stiff peaks) worked far better, came out smoother.

I never even tried making the ganache, because I knew I was not going to make this recipe for the event. I had some leftover icing in a container, and just piped that into the cookies to make the little sandwiches, and my husband and I ate them for dessert over the next few days. Actually, until the last day there were any left, it was only my husband eating them. I was unable to make myself eat them. Plus, that icing in the middle was way too sweet. But when I found a bottle of the Stella Rosa 'Black' in our grocery, I bought it, chilled it and opened it to try with the cookies, sweetness notwithstanding. 

And it was Like a Miracle!

I swear, angels sang!

The little macarons, despite that too-sweet icing inside, were absolutely fabulous with the Stella Rosa 'Black.' I couldn't believe it! It just couldn't have been a better pairing. Despite all this, I still will not use these for the Renaissance Festival!

Ultimately, since I couldn't find any hazelnut meal locally, I used almond meal, which is what these little cookies are supposed to be made with anyway. Ultimately, I never got around to buying the Nutella to add to the chocolate ganache, either. So these turned out to be just Less-Sweet Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling.

I had saved most of the French meringue batch in the freezer/ Yesterday I filled them with chocolate ganache. I used about ¾ 65% bittersweet chocolate and ¼ 85% chocolate. The ganache was lovely, perfect, and really not very sweet at all. Perfect. I filled the little cookies and they are resting, since they are really best after about 3 days. I expect to taste these with the remainder of the bottle of Stella Rosa 'Black' and be thrilled. So here is the preferred recipe I ultimately created with the French meringue method.  It is absolutely best to weigh the ingredients, so this is how I set out the recipe.

Less Sweet Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling

Makes about 32 sandwich cookies
Less Sweet Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
Less Sweet Chocolate Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling

7.2 ounces confectioners' sugar
0.8 ounce rice flour
4.4 ounces almond meal
0.2 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder (1 tablespoon)
3.75 ounces egg whites (3 - 4 egg whites), at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ cup whipping cream
2 ounces 65% bittersweet chocolate
1 ounce 85% dark chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 

Cut sheets of parchment to fit at least 3 large baking sheets. On the reverse side of the parchment, trace around some item that is approximately 1¼-inch diameter (a bottle cap, or a large icing tip), making circles spaced 1-inch apart. Make even numbers of the circles, as they will all need to be paired when filled. Make circles on the reverse of a second sheet. Set the parchment with the drawn circles facing the baking sheet, so none of the lead or ink gets on the cookies. Set aside.

Combine the confectioners' sugar, rice flour, almond meal and cocoa powder in a bowl. Stir, then pass the mixture through a sifter or sieve with medium holes (not a colander with large holes). A very fine-holed sieve will not work. If any of the nut mixture will not pass through the sifter, place the remainder in a food processor to attempt making the nuts into much smaller bits. Pass these through the sifter. Repeat as needed, until all the mixture has been passed through the sifter. Then, re-sift the whole mixture again, and then again. And once more, if there is any nut mixture remaining in the sifter, process it over again until fine. Set the sifted mixture aside.

Place the room temperature egg whites into a squeaky-clean bowl with the cream of tartar and with a hand mixer with equally clean beaters, beat the whites at medium speed until they form soft peaks. Increase to high speed and slowly add in the granulated sugar, beating until the mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks (the peaks should stand strait up, without drooping at all).

Sift about a third of the almond mixture over the egg whites and with a rubber spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients. Sift another third of the almond mixture over and fold it in gently, then repeat with the remaining third of the almond mixture. The egg whites will deflate quite a bit, due to the oils in the nuts, but this is expected. The mixture should be nicely glossy and slowly slide off a spoon, something like lava flowing.

A piping bag is the best and easiest to use to create the little circles on the parchment, but it is possible to just drop the mixture from a spoon if need be.

Make as many little cookies as possible, filling the circles drawn on the parchment (clearly visible through the paper). Once done with one sheet, lift the sheet and drop it onto the counter about three times (from a height of about 6 inches), to release any air bubbles. Set the sheet of cookies aside to rest and firm up for a minimum of 30 minutes, or up to an hour or so. The cookies should be able to be touched gently with no stickiness. Repeat with the next sheet and parchment as needed.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Once the macarons have rested, set them on a center rack in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Bake them for 14 or 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cookies should barely color, and the characteristic ruffled "feet" should have appeared. Once done, remove the pan from the oven and slide the parchment with the cookies onto a rack to cool. 

Return the oven to 400 degrees before placing the next batch into the oven, then repeat the process: lower heat to 300 degrees, bake, turning halfway, then remove to rack to cool.

Once cooled, remove the cookies from the parchment very gently, using the parchment itself to push the cookies off, rather than try and lift the cookie. 

The cookies may be filled immediately, though they are best eaten after 2 or 3 days. Unfilled, they may be frozen for up to 3 weeks, wrapped very well. Then, simply thaw, fill and set aside for 2 - 3 days before eating.

GANACHE: Chop the chocolate(s) very fine and place in a bowl. Heat the cream to just under boiling and pour over the chocolate. Stir with a silicone spatula until all the chocolate has melted. Add in the butter and stir until all the butter has dissolved and dispersed. Set the ganache aside to cool to room temperature before using. 

Pipe a thin layer of ganache onto one half of a cookie, then place another on top to form the little sandwiches.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.