Sunday, March 21, 2010

Running & Research in The Big Easy ...

Between the Maple Leaf Butter Cookies and the Ginger Snaps I snuck out of town for a long weekend in New Orleans.  What?  You all haven't converted to the 'Modern Cookie Calender' yet?   Give it a little time, you will - it's so much easier to follow than the Julian, Gregorian or Roman versions.  It's a simple concept really, rather than marking time in days and weeks and months it's done in flavors and shapes and texture profiles, I mean who doesn't remember the Sour Cream Drops era  - ok, maybe it needs a little more time to catch on, the translation: it was the last weekend in February.

The New Orleans trip was planned in the fall, when the Hales (Jennifer and Warren pictured here on the far left and in the middle, with their friend Julie) had signed up for the Rock 'n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon respectively along with Julie, who would be doing her first marathon.  I was fresh off having one of those 'pinch me' moments after having a personal best at the Dublin Marathon.  That was extremely fun! As was touring the country in the days that followed (now you understand all the Guinness references in the previous entry).  In fact it was so much fun that I foolishly couldn't hardly wait to sign up for my next marathon, so when the NOLA trip was suggested they didn't have to ask twice, actually, I'm not sure they asked at all, but they'll learn!

I'll skip the details of my injuries and ailments that turned my 'next marathon' into my 'next half marathon,' but the reduced distance didn't do anything to deter me from wanting to visit N'awlins ... and it certainly made my time there much less painful. And by the time the trip actually rolled around I was knee deep into this cookie project and decided I could benefit from some further reconnaissance on that macaron quest of mine.  I just needed to get that pesky run out of the way! So finishers medals all the way around (Jen & Julie for 26.2 miles, Warren and I a respectable 13.1) as we pose on one of the Mardi Gras floats - now it was time to get work on what we really came to New Orleans for, the food! (Okay, maybe I'm just speaking for myself there :)

So do you recall that little macaron obsession of mine and apparently of quite a few other people also?  I actually had this first miserable attempt prior to my trip.  As you can see below they were more like coins or wafers than macarons, but I had too much invested in the ingredients to toss 'em out and the good news is that they still tasted great. So I filled them, renamed them (I do believe they became 'Milano' cookies ;) and gave them to a friend to give away at work.
So while in New Orleans, on my food day, uh, I mean 'free' day after the run, I took it upon myself to seek out the real deal. I wanted to see and taste for myself what all the fuss was about.  A short ride on the St Charles Avenue Trolley and a stroll across the garden district landed me at Sucre, and it was there that I found these:

and ate these:
I  was also offered several 'free samples' (which made the cost a bit easier to swallow too) since I was told that they they cannot sell the broken ones, pity.

But after seeing and tasting a proper macaron it is no wonder they are packaged like fine crystal, and cost nearly as much.  My shapeless little wafers did not do them justice. They are extremely delicate and require very careful handling.  Every variety starts from 3 main ingredients: Egg Whites, Almonds & Confectioners Sugar, which means no butter, no flour, no leavening of any kind. My guess is the pastry chefs at the likes of Sucre and Paulette have their technique down, but for me they have proven, on my now 4 attempts (with varying degrees of success), to be extremely labor intensive.  I've fed an unreasonable number of egg yolks down the garbage disposal, I've discovered it's much more cost effective to make your own almond flour (by simply grinding almonds but be sure to stop short of turning it into almond butter - don't ask me how I know that), I've found the right sheen on the beaten egg whites, I know when to add flavoring and coloring and just how much before one drop too many liquefies the entire batch, I can see the difference between room temperature egg whites and  those cracked straight from the fridge, I've aged the egg whites and have witnessed the macarons produce the ever elusive "feet."  In other words, I'm getting really close - I think one more batch and I just might have it.  An actual macaron, one worthy of a ganache or buttercream filling.  If I can just correct my little 'under-baking' and 'sticking to the silpat' issue (without messing anything else up) I just might have my very own macaron to show ... and to serve ... stay tuned.

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