The Austin Food Bloggers held another meet up last weekend, hosted by Carla at Austin Urban Gardens, to celebrate the impending arrival of (founding member) Addie Broyles next bundle of joy. Her first bundle of joy, Julian, was on hand to celebrate with us. Eric and I always really enjoy the meet ups since we get to swap food and related stories with a cool group of like-minded people. I was happy to see bloggers I’d met previously- shout outs to Michelle at Foodie is the New Forty and Jennie at Miso Hungry - and those I’ve been reading for awhile but had yet to meet. I met Lisa from Lisa is Cooking and devoured the homemade bagels she brought. From the beautiful pictures on her blog, everything she makes looks so delicious and now I can totally vouch that it is! She had some good references for tips on bread making. I also met the lovely ladies Neysa from Dissertation to Dirt and Mariam at Creative Test Kitchen. I’d already been reading about Neysa and her husband’s journey into sustainable, organic farming and I’ve now added Mariam’s site to my Google Reader as well.
To contribute to the meet up, I decided to expand my macaron repertoire and venture into non-nut flavors. I still had some cooking grade lavender from my trip to the Hill County Lavender Farm so I decided to experiment with one of my favorite flavors. With a bunch of food bloggers to serve as tasters, I had the perfect crowd on which to test some lavender macarons. I'm always my own worst critic and I thought the lavender flavor was a little too strong and the cookies too chewy but the other bloggers were sweetly complimentary. Teddy at Fun with Your Food even said she usually thinks that lavender tastes like soap but the macarons may have changed her mind. That was sweet of her but I'm sure she wouldn't have told me even if they did taste like soap!
In addition to the great camaraderie, everyone's food was delicious and I'm pretty sure I sampled just about everything there. Now I just need to get a cute pair of fat pants to wear to the meet ups. I swear, Eric practically had to roll me out the door!
Lavender and Olive Oil Macarons
adapted from Aran at Canelle et Vanille
I decided to juice up Aran’s recipe a bit and add ground up lavender flowers to the almond meal. I added 5 grams of lavender flowers and reduced the almond meal called for by the same amount. As I said before, I really like lavender. To give you an idea of how much I put in the macarons, 5 grams equates to about 4-5 tablespoons of lavender buds. Not surprisingly, the first batch came out of the oven with a faint gray hue. Gray is not such an appetizing color for macarons so while I don’t typically add food coloring, I ran out and purchased a small vial of purple gel food coloring to color correct the next batch. (I might have gotten a bit heavy handed with it - check out that meringue below in all its purple haze glory.)
As can be expected when making macarons, the first round of cookies went on the discard pile. They came out of the oven a little too browned so I shortened the baking time on the next batch. The trick (one of many) with macarons is to not leave them in the oven so long that they brown but to still ensure that they cook all the way through or you’ll wind up with blotchy, grease spotted- looking cookies. Further complicating matters, this macaron batter was way thicker than any other flavor I’ve ever worked with- to the point that it was almost like a paste. I’m not sure if that can be attributed to the addition of lavender or the food coloring (I used a gel). Or it could be due to the fact that I tried to dry out the meringue a bit by whipping it longer since I didn’t have time to age the egg whites as long as needed.
Rounds 2 and 3 went relatively well. The last was a bust, again as usual, because by the time you get to the last batch, the meringue in the batter has been deflated by squeezing the bag to pipe out cookies. In all, I salvaged enough to make a couple dozen macarons. Not a bad take from a hard day’s work of macaron making. The puppies and I enjoyed munching on the rejects.
Since I was using a typically savory ingredient for the macaron flavor, I wanted to make a buttercream filling in the same vein. I decided Texas Olive Ranch olive oil would make a tasty olive oil buttercream to pair with the lavender cookies. This idea didn’t turn out quite as well as I hoped since the addition of oil thinned the buttercream to the point that it spread too much when sandwiching the macarons. I had hoped that whipping softened butter with the oil to combine them and then chilling in the fridge to allow it to set up before using in the buttercream would help with the consistency. No such luck… but it did taste lovely. I made up a batch of lemon buttercream to ice the remaining cookies as I didn’t want to serve slip-n-slide macarons to my fellow bloggers. I’m not giving up on the idea of an olive oil buttercream just yet so I guess its back to the lab again.
176 grams almond flour
5 grams chopped or pulverized lavender flower buds
243 grams powdered sugar
138 grams egg whites, aged 2-3 days
3 grams egg white powder
2 grams of finely ground sea salt
81 grams granulated sugar
5 drops of food coloring
candied lavender flowers for topping
Olive Oil Buttercream
50 grams of egg whites
100 grams of granulated sugar
150 grams of room temperature unsalted butter
1- 2 T olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and line 3 to 4 sheet pans with silpats or parchment paper. Use a small coffee bean grinder to finely chop the lavender flowers or you can pulverize with a mortar and pestle.
2. In a large bowl, sift together the lavender, almond flour, powdered sugar and salt and set aside. To make the meringue, add the egg whites and egg white powder to the bowl of an electric mixer. Whip on medium speed until the egg whites start to increase in volume and then continue until the whites are almost fully whipped and very fluffy. Slowly add the sugar. After all the sugar is incorporated, whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. If using, add the food coloring at this point.
3. Add half the dry ingredients to the meringue and with a spatula, fold the meringue into the dry ingredients until combined and then fold in the remaining half of the dry ingredients. Don’t over fold the batter – just mix until it appears shiny and has a ribbon like consistency when dropped from the spatula. The batter should spread a little when piped out onto the prepared pan but not too much. If you over mix the batter, the cookies will be flat and you won’t get the desired “feet.”
4. Load the batter into a pastry bag or one gallon Ziploc. I always use a zip lock with a corner snipped off to pipe the cookies as it works perfectly well and is easy to dispose of when done. Pipe out small rounds onto the prepared pans. Sprinkle the wet macarons with the candied lavender flowers, if using.
5. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to 1 hour until a skin forms and the macarons are dry to the touch and do not stick to your finger. The skin will help prevent the macaron shells from cracking while baking.
6. Bake one sheet pan at a time on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for about 8 minutes and then rotate the pan to ensure even baking for the remainder of the time. The baking time will be dependant upon your oven but I baked these for approximately 13 minutes. I tried Aran’s recommended 14 minutes on the first pan but they browned lightly. When removed from the oven, allow the cookies to cool on a rack.
7. Whip softened butter with the olive oil to combine and then put the mix in the fridge to set up before using it to make the buttercream. When set up, pull out of the fridge and allow to soften a bit before starting.
8. To make the buttercream, lightly whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Add water to a pot of a size on which the mixing bowl can securely sit. Only add enough water to the pot to generate steam but not enough that it will lap at the bottom of the mixing bowl. Allow the water to come to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Place the mixing bowl over the water bath and continue to whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Bring the bowl back to the electric mixer and whip until stiff peaks form. Add the olive oil-butter mixture, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to whip until the buttercream comes together.
9. Sort through the cookie halves and match up according to size and shape. Pipe a teaspoon of buttercream on a macaron and sandwich with another. If you can stand to wait, macarons taste best if you allow them to rest in the refrigerator for a couple of days before eating so that the flavors really gel.