Friday, June 1, 2012

Salted Caramel Popcorn Macaron

I finally felt motivated to get back in the kitchen after a two month baking hiatus which had been spurred on by a stressful holiday.  "Stressful holiday" is a bit of an oxymoron, I know, but let me first explain.  Travelling for the first time with a 6 month old to Thailand was one of the most anxiety inducing experiences I've ever encountered, particularly leading up to the holiday (think, have I got enough nappies, baby wipes, DEET free insect repellent, water sterilising tablets, oh wait, baby girl has just started teething, great, do I have the baby panadol and so the list goes).  My life was consumed with preparing for this holiday I had little time for anything else; a stark contrast to the days of living in London when we’d pack our bags the night before.  So having now returned and having left the stress of the holiday behind, I had renewed energy to get back in the kitchen.  

The first experiment was salted caramel popcorn macaron.  I’ve made macarons before, but it was always the same one, the Ispahan (or at least, my take of it which is essentially to fill a macaron with fresh raspberries).  My one attempt at experimenting with a different flavour had always been disastrous (chocolate macaron should be easy right?), but I had just purchased the macaron bible, Pierre Herme’s Macarons so surely it would be fine.

I usually make my macarons using the Italian meringue version so Pierre Herme’s technique was not new to me but there were a few small nuances that were.  So I placed all my trust in the salted butter caramel macaron recipe and I am relieved to say, it was well placed.  The batter did look like a curried egg yellow but having baked in the oven a bit, it did turn darker.

I think next time I will add less of the yellow food colouring and perhaps more coffee to get it that darker caramel colour and less curried egg colour.  I added my own salted popcorn on the shell which Pierre Herme doesn’t include in his recipe.

I’ve always wanted to make a popsicle macaron and as this batch turned out lovely, I decided to place one on three skewers that were cut down to size (skewers were all I could find in the kitchen) tied with some ribbon.  To hold the macaron popsicle in its place, I inserted it into some sugar that I dyed yellow
These macarons were delicious.  The salted caramel had just the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness.  I had three people tell me that they weren’t fans of caramel but that they would happily eat these again.  What an endorsement!  I think the shell could have been slightly firmer, but the salted caramel buttercream was clearly the hero.  

Recipe based on Pierre Herme’s Macarons (note Pierre Herme uses a lot of couture ingredients, which I haven’t repeated below)

For the almond mixture:
150g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
55g egg whites (aged)
7.5g coffee extract (I didn’t have any so I just mixed up some instant coffee)
7.5g egg yellow food colouring 

For the Italian meringue:
150g caster sugar
37ml water
55g egg whites (aged)

For the salted butter caramel cream:
150g caster sugar
167g pouring cream
180g salted butter (of which 142.5g should be softened at room temperature)

Salted popcorn to decorate

Process the almonds and icing sugar in a food processor until it is fine.  Stir together the coffee extract, food colouring and first portion of the egg whites and then pour into the processed almonds and icing sugar, but do not stir.

To make the Italian meringue, bring the water and sugar to boil to 118 degrees.  When it reaches anywhere between 110 to 115 degrees, whisk the second portion of egg whites to soft peaks on a medium speed.  You’ll need to time this correctly so that when the sugar reaches 118 degrees, it is ready to be poured over the egg whites.  Be careful not to pour the syrup on the whisk.  Continue whisking on medium speed and then increase the whisk to high speed for the last few seconds.  Fold the meringue into the sugar almond mixture.  Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a plain nozzle and pipe. 

Blitz some salted popcorn until it is fine and then sprinkle lightly over the shells.  Allow the shells to stand for at least 30 minutes until they form a skin.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and then put the shells in the oven and bake for 12 minutes.  Personally, this temperature is too high for my oven, so you will need to figure out which temperature works best with your oven.  However, most macaron recipes will set the temperature anywhere between 140 to 160 degrees and have the macarons baking anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes.

To make the salted buttercream, bring the pouring cream to boil and then set it aside.  Tip about 25gm of the caster sugar into a heavy based saucepan and allow it to melt (do not stir) and then add another 25gm and repeat 4 more times. Allow the syrup to caramelise to a very dark amber colour.  Take it off the heat and add 37.5g of the salted butter.  Stir with a spatula and then pour in the boiled pouring cream a bit at a time stirring continuously.  Bring it back to the heat and continue heating until the cream reaches 108 degrees. Don’t worry if the caramel begins to solidify as when you begin heating it, it will smooth out again.  Refrigerate the caramel cream until cool.  Once cool, beat the remaining softened butter and then add the caramel cream half at a time.  Pipe with a plain nozzle on half the macaron shells and top with the remaining shells.

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