Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Absinthe Macarons

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I wanted to make something green. Call me crazy, but I didn't really care what it was I made. It could have been just about anything, as long as it was bright green and festive-looking. I wanted to show my Irish spirit! And since I have been wanting to give macarons a second go (I attempted them for the first time back in July, with great success), I decided to kill two birds with one stone recently and make green macarons.

My husband is a fan of absinthe, or green fairy. It's a French liqueur, strong in fragrance and potent in its licorice-like flavor, known for supposedly causing hallucinations in people (such as artists) to enhance creativity. I don't care for it at all myself, but the hubby definitely has acquired a taste for it. He made a not-so-subtle request not long ago, telling me he would like me to create a dessert for him that incorporated absinthe as an ingredient. He did a bit of Internet research and found that somebody had made Absinthe Macarons.

The blog post he found about this, on Baker of Brighton, describes absinthe well and gives a bit of history on it. The recipe follows at the end of her post. I think she created the macaron recipe herself, and it's a great recipe. She utilizes ground anise seed in her macaron shells, for the abinsthe flavor (since both absinthe and anise have that distinctive licorice flavor). Then, she uses matcha powder (green tea powder) for the green absinthe color. For the filling, she whips up an absinthe swiss meringue buttercream, tinted green with food coloring.

I was very happy with the way my first tray of macaron shells turned out. I did everything exactly as I had before (with the exception of using pre-ground almond flour I bought from the store, rather than grinding my own almonds like I did last time). I folded my ingredients carefully and got the proper consistency. I allowed my shells to sit, unbaked, for over an hour to help develop their firm exterior. When I removed them from the oven, they looked gorgeous and I was thrilled with them. The problems really began when I baked my second full baking sheet. With those, the baking sheet was much larger and could hold many shells. I piped about 2 dozen macarons onto that sheet. When I went to check on them in the oven, they seemed to be taking a lot longer to bake. I was nervous and did not want to overbake, so I ended up taking them out of the oven too soon.

About 15 minutes later, I attempted to peel them off the parchment, and disaster struck. They wouldn't budge. The bottom part, or belly, of the shell was firmly stuck on the parchment. When I went to remove each one, the top of the shell would crack and basically crumble apart. They were so fragile, so delicate, that there really wasn't anything I could think to do to save them. In the end, I managed to salvage nearly 2 dozen shells total, which allowed me to make a dozen sandwich cookies. Not a total failure, but it left a lot to be desired. Fortunately, we didn't really want a huge batch of these lying around because Andy is the only one who would be eating them.

There's a few things I think I may have done wrong. The first and biggest is overloading the baking sheet. I read somewhere that this can create too much humidity in the oven. It could have been avoided by leaving the oven cracked while they baked, but I didn't know that beforehand. The next problem was that I tried to remove them from the parchment without giving them time to really, fully dry out. Because they were underbaked, it would have been helpful to leave them sitting out, undisturbed, overnight and then attempt to peel them from the parchment the next day. And finally, raising the oven's temperature a few degrees or allowing them to bake a few minutes longer might have salvaged things, too.

Now that I've troubleshooted (or is it troubleshot? I never know) what may have gone wrong, I'm eager to try again. I hope the third time I make macarons is a charm! But at least this time I did manage to put together enough macarons to make Andy happy. He loved them. He couldn't believe how much they really did taste like his favorite liqueur. The absinthe buttercream was pretty amazing, even if I did put a smidge too much green food coloring into it. It's justified, though. You can never have too much green on St. Patty's!

I like to use Tartelette's guide to macarons, which can be found here. The Baker of Brighton's take on Absinthe Macarons can be found here.

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