I don’t try to follow a trend. I have my own little path. – Sarah Brightman
I am anti-trend. Yes, I have worked in the arts in New York. And fashion in Milan. And food in Paris. How much trendier, how much under the influence can one get than art, fashion and food? Yet I recoil from trends, fads and crazes with a knee-jerk reaction, like being faced with the plague.
It’s rather quite simple, my aversion to trends. Never one to easily fit in, I found that no matter how I tried to wear the latest styles or act like the others I looked little more than a misfit, a silly goon, so why even bother? While others were oohing and ahhing over the fascinating new artiste du jour, the David Salle or Julian Schnabel or whoever was being promoted as the hottest, the latest, the absolute must, I was too much of a naturally born skeptic to follow the crowd blindly, analyzing, over-analyzing, and doubting the sincerity of this one or that. I always preferred the out of the ordinary. Too much is made over a film, a book or an exciting new gadget? I steer clear. I may purchase something – a cool pair of shoes, a lovely skirt, all the rage – but then I will safely tuck it away in the back of the closet only to pull it out 5 or 10 years later when the fad has passed and happily slip it on, pairing it with the most unlikely things. I may deign to discover a book or a film several years down the line, but first impressions and doubts tend to stick and I have been known to regret the money spent, close the book with disgust and give it away without having read further than the first chapter. Cell phone? Had to have one forced on me when I began working outside of the house. Iphone? How long did I own one before I used it for anything other than just… phoning?
And food. Once one is plugged into the world of food blogging and food writing, one has a front row seat to all the newest trends and crazes, watching the hottest, the coolest, the funkiest scroll by with a flick of the wrist: cupcakes, macarons and cake pops, bacon or pork belly, kale chips and green smoothies, this new restaurant or cookbook. Everyone on the bandwagon. Mini this or fried that, edible dirt, molecular and foam, had absolutely no charm for me, classed in the same category as the over-rated artist and the over-hyped film. If you must tack the word gourmet, heirloom, redefined or gastro- onto the name of whatever you are selling, then count me out. Farmer’s markets and eating more leafy, green vegetables, eating local and seasonal…wait a minute? Well, we’ve been doing this for years! I wouldn’t call these trends as much as I would call them simply the way we live.
Wait just a minute. Did I just mention macarons? Ah, the trendiest of food trends, that lovely little French confection, that wisp of powdered sugar and almonds, that mouthful of delicate, feminine froth. Since these tiny, colorful treats took the world by storm, shops spreading like wildfire across the globe, one pastry chef creating even more eye-popping, astonishing flavor combination after the next, I have tasted exactly five store-bought macaron selections even though I live in France: Ladurée (much too gooey and sweet), Fortnum & Mason (a tad dry, a tad bland), Pierre Hermé (luscious! Some I could have passed over but his cassis-chocolat and caramel au beurre salé are exquisite) and Vincent Guerlais in Nantes and Sucré in New Orleans (my favorites, beautiful flavors, perfect shell-filling balance and not overly sweet, simply suggestive, seductive), but I have always and still do prefer purchasing a box of handmade chocolates to macarons any day.
Macarons for a treat, a snack, a dessert were simply never my thing. There had long been little attraction and, quite possibly, the fact that everyone seemed to go wild over them, everyone dreams of nibbling on a chocolate-truffle macaron by PH or is willing to spend hours queuing on the sidewalk in front of Ladurée, so many have elevated this tiny sweet to such dizzying heights, had me simply turned off from the get go. Just another trend. And I am so not interested.
Until my friend Deeba, the incredibly talented baker behind the blog Passionate About Baking, teased me, challenged me, urged me to try my hand at making macarons myself. So many bloggers by the dozens had already been making macarons and I simply had never wanted to join another blogging fad, become one of a crowd.
At that time, and this was back in 2009, I considered myself a rather competent home baker and knew my way around a whisk, a measuring cup, and a spatula, yet that macaron had until then alluded me, partly because I refused anything that smacked of trend and partly, maybe just maybe, I wondered if I could master such a delicate, fussy, temperamental French pastry.
But I did. The challenge gave me courage and, I must admit, I desired little more than proving to myself that I could master what others had if I put my mind to it, just as I had mastered puff pastry and pâte à choux. And I did.
And much like my jam making today, once the tedious exactitude, the scientific precision is understood and becomes somewhat second nature, the fun is all in the flavors, in playing around and creating and recreating new and unusual combinations and results. And this out-of-the-ordinary savory sweet vegetable macaron with chocolate chili ganache is my very anti-trend macaron. All me.
For World Macaron Day.
- 7.4 oz (210 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
- 4 oz (115 g) ground blanched almonds
- 3 large egg whites (about 3.8 – 4 oz/ 110 – 112 g) see note
- 1 oz (30 g) white granulated sugar
- 2 Tbs dried mixed vegetables in powder form
- ½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
- 4 ¼ oz (120 g) Lindt Excellence 70% Chili Dark Chocolate
- Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 – inch diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip.
- Sift the powdered sugar and the ground almonds together into a large mixing bowl. Add the dried powdered mixed vegetables and stir with a whisk or fork until blended. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you continue to whip the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue and all of the sugar has been beaten in. The meringue will be very stiff (turn the bowl upside down over your head and they shouldn’t move) and be dense like marshmallow.
- Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again. You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.
- Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!
- Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
- Allow the macarons to sit out for 45 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched and not stick to your skin). Bake the shells for 15 – 25 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute.) I turn the trays back to front a little more than halfway through the baking. These macarons took about 5 minutes more than my macarons usually do, but they were perfectly baked, peeling off of the parchment paper immediately.
- Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop.
- Allow to cool completely before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a metal cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up or by peeling the parchment paper from the back of the shells. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
- When the macaron shells are cool, pair the shells up evenly, each with a partner. Pipe a dollop, about a teaspoon, of ganache filling onto half of the shells, the bottom shell in each pair. Carefully sandwich the shells together.
- Chop the chocolate and put in a pyrex (heatproof) bowl.
- Heat the cream in a saucepan gently until it comes just to the boil. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until all of the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and luxurious.
- Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. It should thicken to a spreading/piping consistency. If you need to, speed up the process by placing in the refrigerator until desired spreading/piping consistency, stirring occasionally.
I used a bar of chili-infused dark chocolate in order to add another spice to the mix, but feel free to use any good quality dark chocolate.
These macarons would be perfect filled with a cream cheese filling, maybe whipped with a tad more of the dried mixed vegetables or with slivers of sundried tomatoes and served as an appetizer.