Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wild Disappointments & Pecan Macarons with Cranberry

Oof... it's hard to get going again.  It would have been easier if I hadn't hinted at exciting things to come, only to have them disappoint me. I tried to make the pecan bankets too small -- disregarding the instructions in my own recipe -- and they leaked all over the place.  They kind of looked like praline langues de chat, but they weren't worth taking on the plane with me.  The wild rice/oatmeal/cranberry cookies looked pretty, but they tasted pretty blah.
The flavor of the wild rice macarons with cranberry jam filling was spot on, but as soon as the meringue dissolved it felt like your mouth was full of sand -- I thought I'd ground the rice into a fine flour, but there was clearly a little grit left. [JG actually spit it out, and he's usually a trooper.]  Instead I had to make do with pecan macarons with the cranberry jam and they were excellent, but they weren't quite as specifically linked to the flavors of to my grandmother's kitchen as I wanted.

I haven't given up -- right now i have fully cooked wild rice drying in a bowl of confectioner's sugar which I think will fix the macaron texture.  Is it more work than anyone else will want to do?  Probably, but I can't give up on an idea until it has thoroughly defeated me, and right now I'm just behind in points.

Recipe:  Pecan Macarons with Cranberry
These are best made the day or night before serving to meld the filling to the meringue.  You could certainly use a store-bought jam for the filling but you'll want to thicken it so it doesn't ooze out.  Bring ~1/2 cup to a boil on the stove, stirring frequently for 3-5 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.
Makes ~2 dozen macarons

For the Meringues:
2 egg whites, room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup [~3 oz] ground pecans or pecans, toasted and ground*
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Begin whipping whites on low speed until foamy.  Meanwhile, whisk  powdered sugar, pecans, and salt together until uniform.  Increase mixer speed to medium high and slowly add in the granulated sugar ~1 tablespoon at a time.
Once that sugar is incorporated, increase speed to maximum and watch as the egg whites get glossy.  Once you start to see distinct trails, stop the mixture and check the consistency. You want it to hold ridges, or very soft peaks, but if it gets too firm they won't spread into their proper shape on the baking sheet. [The ones pictured above are a little too stiff... I got distracted.]
Gently fold in 1/3 of the sugar/nut mixture at a time and continue folding until no white streaks remain (it may deflate a bit, that's okay).  Transfer to a piping bag and pipe 1" circles of the batter, leaving at least 1/2" between each mound.  Gently rap the sheet on the counter to flatten them out, then bake ~15-18 minutes. Cool completely before peeling from the parchment.  Use an offset spatula to smear a thin layer of cranberry filling on the bottom of one meringue and top with another.  Store in an airtight container.

For the Cranberry Filling:
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp anise seed [optional]
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange liqueur [optional]

Bring everything except vanilla and liqueur to the boil over medium heat in a larger than necessary pot. [This keeps the popping cranberry splatter off the stove].  Cook for ~5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the cranberries have popped and the mixture has turned viscous and glossy.  Use an immersion blender and puree until smooth [or transfer to a standing blender, puree, and return to the pot].  Continue cooking, stirring frequently until mixture is thick and a spoon or spatula scraped against the bottom of the pot leaves a visible streak that doesn't instantly fill in, another ~5-10 minutes depending on your burner.  Stir in vanilla and orange, check the flavor (you may want to add a little more sugar or honey if it's too tart), transfer to another bowl, and set aside to cool to warm room temp.


*You get more flavor if you toast the pecans, but pre-ground meal works just find.  I toast mine and then throw it in the food processor with the powdered sugar, which helps keep it from turning to butter, but you have to make sure the nuts are completely cool or they'll melt some of the sugar and that ain't easy to get off of the blade later.

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