My Bucket List and Salted Caramel and Peanut Macarons
Like many people that have crossed the invisible threshold that separates thinking you’ll live forever from the reality of yes, I’m going to die one day too, I have a bucket list–you know, that sheet of paper where you write down everything you want to do, experience, or attempt before you, er, kick the bucket. Unlike most people who keep these lists, mine is populated only with food. Yes, there are far away places I dream of visiting, mountains to be climbed, that Grand Canyon that everyone raves about, and so on. I don’t put that kind of stuff on a list–it’s too much pressure. I prefer, instead, to simply see where life takes me.
My culinary bucket list feels more like a dream catcher than a pressure-laden to-do list, at least that’s what I would tell the therapist that made me stop making to-do lists. It’s rife with classics like yule logs, doughnuts, croissants, and cinnamon rolls with a few basics like yogurt thrown in for good measure. And until yesterday, my long list also included macarons. No, not the double “o”, coconut confections you often see dipped in chocolate–the macarOOns. I’m talking about macarOns, the single “o” meringue sandwich cookies that nearly every baking and pastry blog has an entry for. Adding to the confusion surrounding these equally delicious, sweet treats is that the English translation for French macaron, is, you guessed it, macaroon.
Macarons have been on my list since day one. With only a few, simple ingredients and endless options for flavorings and fillings, these dainty confections are right up my alley. Still, I hesitated…for years. For every lovely photo of “The Perfect Macaron” you can find on the Internet, you can find a horror story of macarons gone wrong. Instead of just baking them already, I collected recipes, methods, and techniques as if I were working on a thesis. I bought a pastry tip just for my macaron making, which in short order made its way to the back of my baking drawer where it snuggled up next to my unused doughnut cutter. I saved egg whites. These are for macarons I’d boldly announce as I stashed them in the fridge. Only to turn them into an omelet on Sunday morning. All the while, I continued bookmarking blog posts and stuffing my macaron folder with pictures and recipes–oh yah, I even have a macaron folder. When I finally got down to the business of making macarons, I would be ready.
Yesterday, I picked up the container of egg whites in the fridge so I could get at my tub of store-bought yogurt. I held the little covered bowl in the palm of my hand and stared at it. What if I could let go of the perfect macaron. And just make a damn macaron. A voice in my head cried, “Just do it!” I set the container on the counter and instinctively reached for my folder. Operation Macaron was officially underway. I spread the papers out in front of me creating a sea of “stiff peaks, firm peaks, wet peaks, 350°F, 300°F, let them rest, bake them as soon as you pipe them, don’t make them when it rains, age the egg whites, don’t bother aging the egg whites, but use them cold, wait, no, room temperature….” My head was spinning. I didn’t want to synthesize best practices. I wanted to bake. And I wanted to bake macarons, perfect or otherwise.
I put the folder back on the bookcase and pulled down one of my favorite cookbooks, Ottolenghi, The Cookbook. I turned right to the macaron page, guided by the neon green tab I’d stuck to it years ago. My spirits lifted as I read the headnote, “Our macaroons are ‘homely’…but they are still wonderfully tasty.” (Note the British “oo” spelling.) That was just the nugget of encouragement Operation Macaron needed. I grabbed my Silpats and preheated the oven to 325°F. Ninety minutes later I hovered over my first-ever macarons, beaming with pride. Mine looked nothing like the ones I’d marveled at in patisseries, but they were indeed “wonderfully tasty.” And they were mine. Bucket list in hand, I took the cap off my Sharpie marker and smugly put a bold line through “macarons.”
Do you have a culinary bucket list? I’d love to hear what’s on it.
Salted Caramel and Peanut Macarons
Adapted from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi. Legends and lore regarding the making of the perfect macaron abound. Check out Brave Tart‘s Macaron Myths and Ten Commandments of Macarons to learn more. Now, about those grams below. If you’ve got a scale, use it, but don’t let the grams keep you from trying your first-ever macarons.
105 grams (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) powdered sugar
60 grams (2/3 cup) almond meal or finely ground almonds
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
2 egg whites
50 grams (1/4 cup) superfine sugar (If you can’t find superfine or caster sugar, run granulated sugar through the food processor.)
2 tablespoons salted and roasted peanuts, halved (optional)
flaky sea salt (optional)
3 tablespoons salted and roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1/3 cup milk jam or dulce de leche
1/4-1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
- Combine the first three ingredients in a food processor or blender and grind until no lumps remain, the finer the texture, the better.
- Whisk the egg whites and superfine sugar until very stiff and firm, but not too dry.
- Fold in half the almond sugar mixture. When thoroughly combined, fold in the remaining half. Stop folding when the batter is smooth and no streaks of egg white remain. Scrape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain tip (I used a 1/2-inch tip.) or a plastic storage bag with a 1/2-inch opening cut into the corner.
- Pipe the batter on the lined baking sheets in 1-1/4-inch circles, spaced 1-inch apart. Rap the tray against the counter several times to flatten the meringue mounds. Place half a peanut in the center of half of the mounds and follow with a few flakes of sea salt. Let dry at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.
- Bake for 10-14 minutes, until you can lift them cleanly off the baking sheet. You don’t want them to brown. Cool completely on the pan.
- To make the filling, combine the chopped peanuts with the caramel and salt. You want a fair amount of salt to balance the sweetness.
- Spread a generous amount of filling on the inside of a plain meringue disc. Top with a salty peanut meringue.
- Unlike most cookies and confections these improve with age. Refrigerate them in an air-tight container. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
Makes about 2 dozen.