25 December 2010

Merry Macarons to you!

Parmesan Pancetta Rosemary Macarons

This holiday season has been a busy one for me, but I am not complaining. It's incredibly flattering to have people hire you to do baking for them. This means, prior to leaving for vacation, most of my nights have been spent happily up to my elbows in sugar and flour and butter and eggs... and almonds. Yes, I made quite a few macarons this month, and even spent an evening with my friend Shannon, "teaching" her how to make these finicky french cookies, or rather, teaching her how not to. The evening led to the discovery that macarons are *not* one of those kids-can-help recipes. Shannon's adorable 4 year old son, who loves to cook, and 6 year old daughter, who loves chocolate mousse, were excited to help out in any way he could. But sadly, this is what our macaron shells turned out like that night. It's not pretty, but at least we had fun.

Major macaron fail... NOT a kid-friendly recipe

Well, back in my kitchen, I was back at the mixer, fingers crossed that I could finally get feet on my little macs. Shells of various colours and flavours were prepared, and {whew} batch after batch turned out as hoped - feet and all. And what better time to bake up my MacTweets Challenge macs... Savory Sweet Holiday Macs!

It's true that there are limitless flavour combinations that can be made in a macaron. The delicate flavour of almonds makes them compatible with just about everything under the sun. From tomatoes to pork to fish to olives, almonds can be accompaniment to any of them, though not necessarily in a sweet application. Contemplating the possibilities, and flipping through Pierre Hermé's Macron, I finally settled on Parmesan Pancetta Rosemary Chocolate Macarons.

Festive red macarons with Pancetta, a sprinkling of Parmesan and Rosemary infused ganache

Hubby and I attended a wine and chocolate tasting evening several months back, and one of the treats that was better than we expected was Pancetta and melted chocolate. Yes, bacon seems to be popping up in all kinds of dessert applications, but pancetta is bacon with the flavour volume turned way up - and it really works with the tannic bitter undertones of dark chocolate. One thing I was not prepared for, when baking my macaron shells, is the effect that a sprinkling of parmegiano reggiano cheese would have on them. Baked on the same sheet and from the same batch of regular macaron shells, the parmesan shells somehow "erupted" and cracked, while the regular shells were perfectly shaped and domed. I'm not sure just what it is about the addition of cheese that causes this, but that's the only variable that can be the cause.

The mystery of the erupting parmesan mac shells

So, with my less-than-perfect Parmesan mac shells, I made a simple chocolate ganache, first infusing the cream with a bit of fresh rosemary. With the addition of some finely minced pancetta, and topped it off with a larger ruffle of the cured Italian bacon. The result? While it's not my favourite flavour of mac, it is definitely a good one. The salty and sweet mix of chocolate, almonds and pancetta, and the earthy flavour of the rosemary, made for a nice combination.

Parmesan Pancetta Rosemary Macarons
makes approximately 36 cookies, but is easily doubled
adapted from Pierre Hermé Macarons

100g almond flour
150g confectioners sugar
55g egg whites
150g granulated sugar
37g water
55g egg whites (yes, another 55g of egg whites in a separate bowl)
1/2 tsp food colouring
2 Tbsp grated Parmegiano Reggiano cheese

Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift the almond flour and confectioners sugar together into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix the food colouring with the first 55g of egg whites. Stir the coloured eggs into the almond sugar mixture until well combined and set aside.
In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the second bowl of plain egg whites until they are foamy but do not yet hold a peak. Turn off the mixer and prepare the syrup:
Pour the water into a small saucepan, and pour the sugar into a mound the centre of the pot, but do not stir.
Place the pan over medium high heat, and keep your thermometer handy.
As the sugar begins to dissolve, gently and carefully swirl the mixture around to distribute any sugar that has not yet melted.
Once the syrup begins to boil, periodically check the temperature until it reaches 115˚C (239˚F).
Remove the pan from heat and check the temperature again - the syrup will continue to cook.
When the mixture reaches 118˚C (244˚F), turn the mixer up to medium speed and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.
Once all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for another 2 minutes until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
Using your thermometer, check the temperature of the Italian meringue - it should register about 50˚C (122˚F) or slightly cooler.
Fold the meringue into the coloured almond mixture until no white streaks remain, and has a consistency similar to cake batter.
Fill a piping bag with the macaron batter and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.  Sprinkle a small amount of cheese onto each of the macaron shells while they are still wet.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and place rack in the centre of the oven.
Allow the piped cookies to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to form a dry "skin" while the oven comes to temperature.
To make sure the cookies are ready to bake, gently touch one with your finger, if any batter sticks to your finger, they are still too wet. You should be able to lightly press your finger to the top and have it come up clean.
Bake one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes. You should have nice puffy macaron shells with the loveliest feet you have ever seen. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

Rosemary Infused Chocolate Ganache with Pancetta

120ml (1/2 Cup) heavy cream
2 stalks fresh rosemary
120g (1/2 Cup) dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
50g thinly sliced pancetta

Pour the cream into a small saucepan.  Using your hands, firmly bend and "bruise" the rosemary, to help release the fragrant oils.  Add the rosemary to the cream, and gently heat the cream until it is steaming but not boiling.  
Place the chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl.
Remove the rosemary from the cream and pour the mixture over the chocolate, and allow it to sit for 3-4 minutes.
Gently whisk the chocolate and cream together until it is thick and silky, but be careful not to incorporate any air into the ganache.
Set the bowl aside and allow the ganache to cool to room temperature.

Set a few layers of paper towels over a shallow bowl or plate and set it near the stove.  In a frying pan or skillet, quickly fry the pancetta until it is ruffled and crispy.  Pancetta has a much lover smoke point than regular bacon, and also cooks much much faster, so there's no time to turn your back.  As soon as the pancetta is ruffly and shrunken, remove it to the paper towel to drain.  

Once the ganache has cooled to room temperature, fill a piping bag with the ganache and pipe a generous amount onto the underside of 1/2 of the macaron shells.  Place a small piece of pancetta on top of the ganache, and then add another small dot of ganache and top them all with the remaining macaron shells.
Refrigerate the macarons for at least 24 hours.  Remove the macarons from the fridge about 2 hours before serving so they can warm slightly.



Jamie said...

I would love to taste these! I really think they would be fabulous with a glass of wine.... Another Mactweeter had the same problem when she sprinkled parmesan on her shells - strange. Guess macs don't like parmesan! But your flavors actually sound intriguing and wonderful. I am so into savory/sweet macs now! Hope you are enjoying a fabulous, sweet, joyous and festive holiday season, my dear Julia!!! xoxo Can't wait to see you again!

Lora said...

These sound delicious. Love the flavors.

HI Cookery said...

Very interesting combination of flavors for your sweet and savory macarons. Nice close-up photo of the filling, too, and the cheese sprinkles on top.

Deeba PAB said...

Beam me in sweet Julia, because I love what you did with these! How fabulous! I'm sorry I'm so late stopping by, yet I am SO THRILLED to see you beautiful macarons. Love the flavour combination. Have a most wonderful 2011 my dear!