I threw my husband’s cousin an ostensibly Big Lebowski-themed 40th birthday party last night, and since I’m always looking for an excuse to try my hand at a new batch of macarons, and since White Russians are The Dude’s cocktail of choice, I decided to see if I could come up with a Kahlúa-flavored concoction.
Although it’s October, summer is still lingering here in Texas, and most days have been in the upper 80s/lower 90s lately. It’s also been very dry. But on Thursday evening, a quick but rather violent storm rolled through, snapping trees in half and lowering the temperature a few degrees. I was grateful for the relief from the never-ending heat wave, but macarons are notoriously finicky and I was worried that the humidity might ruin them. Fortunately they came out just fine, but I did learn a few new lessons about macaronage (technically that’s the French term for folding the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients for the macaron shells, but in reality it refers to an exercise in magic and finger-crossing).
To get the coffee/Kahlúa flavor I was going for, I added coffee extract to the shells and Kahlúa to the chocolate ganache filling. I’ve heard that if you want to flavor the shells, it’s best to use an extract rather than something dry or solid. In the class I took at Sur la Table, we made a batch that called for blueberry paste in the shells. The instructor warned us that they might not turn out well, and they didn’t. They exploded and cracked and were ugly and unusable. Macaron shells are very vulnerable to the slightest change in ingredients. That’s why you really need to weigh everything out rather than using volume measurements, and it’s also why adding even the smallest amount of something like an extract or food coloring can affect your results.
For my more detailed notes on making macarons, see my recipe for Breakfast at Tiffany’s Cheesecake Macarons, then read on below for my slightly truncated instructions.
Ingredients (makes about 60 macarons)
For the shells
- 300g almond meal, sifted
- 300g powdered sugar, sifted
- 110g egg whites, room temperature
- 300g granulated sugar
- 75g water
- 110g egg whites, room temperature
- 20g coffee extract
For the chocolate Kahlúa ganache
- 4oz dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of Kahlúa
- Sift the almond meal and powdered sugar together in a large bowl. Create a well in the center and pour in the first 110g of egg whites. Slowly start folding in the egg whites, continuing to incorporate them into the dry ingredients until you have a thick paste.
- Put the other 110g of egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Put the water and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Clip a candy thermometer to the side and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. When the thermometer reaches 239°F/115°C, turn on your stand mixer and begin whipping the egg whites to soft peaks. When it reaches 244°F/118°C, remove the pan from heat and, with the stand mixer running, pour the syrup into the egg whites, aiming for the spot where the egg whites meet the bowl.
- Whisk on high for a minute or two and then reduce the speed.
- Slowly add in the coffee extract, paying close attention to how it affects the batter. You may not need to use all 20g. If it’s getting too liquidy and isn’t firming up, stop adding extract. That meringue is done when you have stiff, glossy peaks and the bowl has cooled off.
- Fold the meringue into the almond meal/powdered sugar mixture in thirds. The batter should be smooth and have a lava-like consistency.
- Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a #12 tip and pipe 1 1/2″ rounds on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. I like to cheat and put a template (a quick Google search yields lots of results) underneath the parchment paper while I’m piping so it’s easier to get consistently-sized shells.
- Whack the cookie sheets on the counter a few times to release any air from the shells you’ve just piped.
- Let the piped shells rest for about 30 minutes, until the tops are matte (my batter came out quite liquidy, either because of the humidity from the recent rain or because I added a little too much extract, or maybe a bit of both—whatever the case, I had to let my shells rest for nearly an hour before they were matte and ready to throw in the oven).
- Preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C.
- When the shells are ready, bake them for 12 to 14 minutes (mine needed the full 14 minutes this time), keeping a close eye on them because you don’t want them to begin to brown.
- Allow the shells to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.
- For the ganache: While your shells are baking and cooling, melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat, then remove it from heat and stir in the cream and Kahlúa. Place the pan in the refrigerator and give the mixture a good stir every few minutes, letting it cool until it’s dense enough to pipe.
- Match up similar sized shells. If you have any shells that have cracked or aren’t perfectly circular, they make great bottom shells. Pipe a bit of ganache onto the bottom shells and assemble your macarons.
The coffee extract definitely affected my results. The resulting flavor was fantastic, but the extract did make my meringue, and there for my batter, a little more liquidy than I would like. I was worried that the shells were going to crack or that they wouldn’t get pieds, but luckily, they turned out just fine. But the fact that it had just rained probably didn’t help. I think Mercury also needs to be in retrograde and an old priest and a young priest should be in attendance if you want absolument parfait macarons. I’ve been fortunate in that all my macaron attemps thus far have been a great success, but I’ve heard that sometimes, even if you do everything right, you can still end up with a disaster. But I do strongly believe that using the Italian meringue method (adding in syrup rather than sugar for your macaronage) results in a more reliable macaron and helps compensate for things like imperfect measurements or under- or over-mixing the batter or adverse alignment of the stars.
At any rate, this particular batch turned out magnifique and the macarons were a huge hit at the birthday party.