I am always happy to help my friends or lend a hand. When they have baking questions, I generally have an answer or know where to find it (mom). When that baking question involves my making macarons to help illustrate the answer, you can bet I am happily whipping up a batch. If anyone asks me the ins and outs of food chemistry or needs some kitchen mystery answered, I send them to my friend Brian also knows as "The Food Geek".
Not only is Brian the ultimate nice guy, he is also a true geek of food, always exploring and researching. I have had the pleasure to meet Brian on a foodie trip last year and really enjoyed his theories and explanations. Let's just say that if my computer would pass out on me for no obvious reason I'd call him first and have him troubleshoot things.
He asked me one day if I knew why a particular recipe for macarons that he emailed would have a strong meringue flavor. It took me just about 2 seconds to message back that the recipe did not yield traditional French macarons and relied solely on meringue as the building block. Hence the strong meringue flavor. I mentioned the balance of almonds to egg whites in macarons which usually balances out a strong egg white flavor.
Brian asked if I could create a macaron that would fit the criteria asked by one of his readers: grapefruit or blood orange, not strong on the egg white flavor. I did not change much to my original recipe and used grapefruit zest to flavor the shells.
I did however have fun with the buttercream and used a nice complimentary flavor by adding some Pastis (anise liquor) to the buttercream. Any non alcoholic anise flavoring would work but Pastis reminds me of long summer days back home and a cold Pastis at the local cafe.
I am biased when it comes to macarons so I did ask Bill if he thought they add a strong meringue taste. He nodded "nope" but mentioned that the grapefruit made his upper lip numb.
So...here is a question for Brian: given that it was an organic, pesticide free grapefruit, what could have caused his upper lip to go numb? The citric acid? An alkaline ph? Any ways to fix or prevent this?
His job never ends...You can read his full article on the subject of meringue cookies by clicking on this link.
Oh and look....A French Word A Week review: pamplemousse!
Grapefruit and Anise Macarons:
Makes 25-30 filled cookies
For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (use eggs whites that have been preferably left 3-5 days in the fridge, covered or 24-36hrs at room temperature, covered)
25 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds (slivered, blanched, sliced, whatever you like)
1 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest
Prepare the macarons:
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, (think bubble bath foam) gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (think shaving cream). Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Place the powdered sugar and almonds and grapefruit zest in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. 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 falls back on itself after counting to 10. 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 or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 280F (convection - 300F regular). When ready, bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. 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.
For the buttercream:
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-2 tablespoon Pastis (or Ouzo, or anise flavor, extract)
Place the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like marshmallow cream (temperature should be about 235-238F). Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-8 minutes. Add the liquor or extract and fold with a spatula. Fill a pastry bag with it and pipe on the macarons.