Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Batch One: Pomegranate Shells with a Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Ganache

This time of year has the best ingredients to bake with.

You've got all of these wonderful winter vegetables - butternut, honeynut, pumpkin, sweet potato - the lovely little outliers like chestnuts - and then you get all of these delicious fruits, such as persimmon, cranberry, blood orange, and pomegranate.

For this past work event, I wanted to create a flavor menu that had something for everyone, but that wasn't too over the top for most people.  While I love the idea of rosemary blood orange, or cardamom saffron, I didn't want to scare people away with flavors that seemed a bit too out there.  I also wanted to accurately represent the flavors of the season, so after a bit "market research" (thank you, many coworkers!) I chose pomegranate as my winter fruity macaron.

Pomegranate is a great flavor to work with.  It's a bold, tart, and pairs nicely with dark chocolate, so it gets multiple points as far popularity is concerned.  I decided I wanted a dark pink shell to accentuate the boldness of the flavor, and that I would use a pomegranate juice reduction to flavor a bittersweet chocolate ganache.

During my macaron adventures I've tried over two dozen recipes - French, Swiss, Italian, aged whites and un-aged whites, parchment and silpat, gels and powders...the list goes on.  I've found what works best for me is this amazing recipe and the most in depth macaron study I've ever read from Not So Humble Pie.  This recipe was a few grams different here and there from what I had been previously using, and making slight adjustments improved my macarons dramatically.

I apologize for the lack of photos in this post!  I was rushing, it was night time, and all I had was my phone.  Not the greatest combo for documentation.

- 120 g almond meal
- 200 g powdered sugar
- 100 g egg whites
- 32 g granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- Red & Purple Americolor gel, as desired (optional)
- 1/2 tsp pomegranate extract (optional)

A note on egg whites: I always age mine a minimum of 24 hours, but there's an argument over whether or not it's necessary.  Do what works best for you, but should you age them separate them about 24 hours ahead of time and loosely cover in your fridge.  Bring to room temperature before using.

1) Prep your silicon baking mats (or parchment paper) and your piping bag.  I use a round tip (Aetco #11) for my macarons, unless I'm doing detail work or making them huge.

2) Place your egg whites in a stainless steel bowl with the cream of tartar.  If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment, making sure that the whisk and bowl are completely clean before adding any ingredients.

3) Add the almond meal and powdered sugar to a food processor, and process for about ten to twenty seconds to make the almond meal a bit finer.  Sift this mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside.

4) Begin mixing your egg whites on medium low speed, until they start to get to early stages of soft peaks.  Increase the speed to medium, and once soft peaks start forming, slowly add the granulated sugar.

5) Continue mixing on medium until stiff peaks are about to form.  Add in any extract and food coloring, if using, and increase the speed to medium high until stiff peaks form.  Do not overbeat your eggs!  You want smooth, shiny stiff peaks, and if things start to look grainy, you've gone too far.  Remove the bowl from your stand mixer - the rest is done by hand.

6) Start adding in your almond meal sugar mixture a quarter or so at a time.  Using a spatula or a bowl scraper, fold it in until just combined, then add another quarter.  This is the tricky part - you're looking for a lava like consistency that flows in ribbons back into itself.  It sort of looks like a really pretty sludge, and there's no exact science to achieving this - it's mostly by feel.  It can't be too overbeaten or underbeaten, and you sort of figure out what you're looking for after a while.  Kind of like learning a language...the language of the world's most finicky cookies.

7) Once your batter has reached maximum lava consistency, transfer it to your piping bag.

8) Pipe your macarons onto your silpat, using a template if you desire.  Try to make them a consistent size and don't crowd the poor things!  They bake a lot better when they're consistent and have plenty of space.  After you've piped them, you need to get the air bubbles out of them by rapping the cookie sheet on the counter a few times, which also helps the macarons settle and remove any lumps.  Some people do this gently.  Some people beat the hell out of it.

9) Hey, noticed how I haven't told you to preheat your oven yet?  That's because these little shells need to rest until they form a skin, usually about thirty minutes or so.  Now that you've piped your first batch, preheat the oven to 300F.  You have to know your oven a bit - mine works great at 295 to 300, but when I lived in my last place I had to go to 310.

10) Once your shells have rested, put the macarons in your oven on the bottom rack and bake for 16-18 minutes.  They shouldn't get golden brown, though some ovens might brown them if the broiler kicks on.  If that happens, try putting another cookie sheet on your top rack to shield your shells a bit.

11) Let the shells cool before removing them from the silpat.  Once they're cooled, you can either freeze them for a later date or fill them.  If you do freeze them, prepare the filling and fill them as soon as you pull them from the freezer - as they thaw, they'll absorb the flavor of the filling nicely.

I found these awesome macaron packages that I used to hold pairs of shells in the freezer!  You can see all my little pomegranate shells on the bottom, with a few stray eggnog on top.
Once your shells are done, it's time to fill them.

- 10 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 8 oz heavy cream
- 6 oz pomegranate juice

1)  Add the pomegranate juice to a small saucepan and turn the heat on low.  Simmer until you have a thick, syrupy pomegranate reduction.   I liked the taste of the ganache with 6 ounces of juice reduced down to a few tablespoons, but if you really want a strong pomegranate flavor you can start with more.  Just make sure to reduce it down!

2)  Once your reduction is done, add your chocolate to a heatproof bowl and add your heavy cream to another small saucepan.  Bring the heavy cream to a slight simmer over low heat, being careful to not burn it.

3) When the cream simmers, pour it over the chocolate.  Let sit for a minute.

4) Whisk the heavy cream and the chocolate together until smooth, then add the pomegranate reduction.  Stir until smooth, then let cool until room temperature.

5) While your ganache is cooling, pair your shells.  If you used a template or your just a piping badass, you'll probably be able to pair any shell with any other shell.  I still like to make sure they match as perfectly as they can, and I also use the opportunity to check each shell and make sure there are no defective ones.  If there are, I still fill them - I just keep them for myself.

6) Transfer to a piping bag fitted with the same tip you used for the macarons.  Pipe a small amount onto one shell, then attach the other shell to make a perfect macaron.

Sorry for potato quality.
On my pomegranate shells I tend to add a bit of silver luster dust to give them a nice shine, though I didn't get to do that on this batch because I was so strapped for time.  It doesn't change the taste at all, but gives them a nice elegant touch.  If you want to add anything to the shells, now is the time to do it.

It's best to let your macarons age for about 24 hours to let the shells and the ganache meld.  They're good when they're done, but they're amazing a day later - it's well worth the wait!

Up next is another holiday favorite, which was mentioned in this post.  It's delicious, I promise.

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