All summer long upon entering the grocery store I would grab a basket, stop at the sushi counter, pass by the salad bar, turn the corner and with my eyes closed reach in the plum and nectarine display to my left. The most visible display as you enter the store. All summer long, I would pick three of each and make a beeline for the cherries and the figs before resuming with the rest of the items on my list. Summer reached an end. Pears replaced cherries and figs turned into dates. Expected.
I still went to the store and turned the same corners, walked down the same aisles even when Autumn pointed its lovely little chilly mornings (well, for about 3 days). Last week, as I walked by the main display and reached for the plums and nectarines, I found myself holding three decorative mini gourds instead. "C'est quoi cette histoire?" What is going on? Well I really said "quesaco", Provencal for the same expression which attracted a different set of puzzled looks. After the courgettes and aubergines, the kid working at the produce section thought I was asking about a specific gourd and was already running to the back room. I feel that if I am still around at 80-90 years old, I will become that "odd lady", the ghost of the grocery store. Seriously...let's hope I am not that "creepy odd lady".
With the summer produce moved to the back of the store, it was time I gave those little pumpkins a whirl and let Fall sit at the kitchen table while I bake and write. There are days it is difficult to wax poetic about a cherry dessert for the book when the aromas of mulled wine and apple cider are coming from next door. We still do not have anything that resembles Fall here but we like to practice. We gather wood, we make pretty piles, we shop for scarves and try to knit. We get in the spirit even if we can't wear our coats. We get excited with the first whisper of Northern wind.
I am doing just that. I bought a few mini pumpkins and gourds and turned them into votives, set them on the dining room table to set the mood. I cooked the flesh down and was left with about half a cup, which was a little too little for pumpkin pie. I thought about mixing it with some cream cheese to make a couple of small cheesecakes. While rummaging through the fridge, I spotted a container of egg whites, and the package of saffron, next to the almonds. The fridge was making the recipe up for me, signs of macarons everywhere!! I needed a little snack to take next door to our weekly neighbors' gathering and was not sure how the concoction forming in my head would be received. I settled on lightly infused saffron shells with a simple cream cheese and pumpkin filling with just a touch of cloves.
In the past year, a lot of people have started to make macarons on a more regular basis and the first remark I read for first timers is how surprisingly very sweet they are. Ah, yes...I guess we forgot to tell you...they are! That's why they are small, sold individually or in small box and are best shared with a group of friends. Back home, we eat one with coffee or tea, not like a handfull animal crackers in the middle of the afternoon, not that there is anything wrong with that. Hence, I like to use a slightly less sweet filling and cream cheese is fantastic in that regard and works great with all sorts of flavors.
The second most frequently asked question is what is the best way to pipe even shells all the time. When you do macarons regularly, it becomes difficult not to. Your hands repeat the motions. Over the years, your wrists have registered the nuances and your hands repeat the motion. I always write back the same thing "Hold your tip at a 45 degree angle. Press the filling through your pastry bag from the top down . Practice, practice, practice". Some people are ingenious and smart thinkers and tediously trace circles on parchment paper, invert the sheet, pipe and bake. That takes time and patience. Maybe it is a reason why people make macarons once and never again? On top of the required nut grinding, meringue folding just so...there is piping even circles so they can be paired up aesthetically and not look like distant cousins.
Guess what? Somebody has come up with the solution for you. No...not me. Her. When Helena first posted about macarons, I noticed a sheet full of macaron shell imprints and told her that many macarons novices would probably love to use such a tool to make even shells on their first tries. She graciously replicated her template and came up with two shell sizes available to download and print. Ok, so even if I don't "need" a template, I love crafty people and things, so you know I had to give these a try!! She also added a set of diagonal patterns for trained sticklers (no offense, I am there). I printed out both templates on card stock paper, sneaked one sheet under my parchment paper and piped, slid the template away and baked the shells. Easy peasy! Thank you Helena! One more difficulty out of the way for those tempted to try macarons....
Saffron Pumpkin Macarons:
Makes 12-18 macarons, depending size
Note: I did whip the egg whites with the saffron together without a problem, but if you fear that your whites might not foam up properly because the saffron has taken on moisture or oiliness, ground the almonds with the saffron instead and proceed with the recipe as written.
3 egg whites (about 90 gr)
1/2 tsp saffron
40 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds
For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam with the saffron, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work.
Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pass through a sieve.
Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down.
The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.
If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.
Cream Cheese Pumpkin Filling:
2 oz (60gr) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 oz (60gr) freshly cooked or canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp ground cloves
In a medium bol, mix the cream cheese, pumpkin and cloves until completely incorporated.
Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and pipe onto half the shells and top with another shell.
This is my submission to Root Source Challenge #35: Saffron.
Note: the first picture is me in an apron made by Holly of PheMomenon.