How to make an almond smile

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This is a story about macarons, and an awesome book called “Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee” (amazon). This book wastes the first half of it’s paper on coffee (that’s just my opinion, though). It talks about beans, sourcing and roasting. These people care about coffee, and Iris tells me it’s really good coffee. I don’t drink coffee. The other half of the ink is about coffee shop snacks though. They put as much passion into those as they do the coffee. That’s where the fun is for me. 🙂

I’ve written about a number of cookbooks now, and with most of them I’ve made the claim that an unskilled amateur would find them approachable. This isn’t one of those books. This is a book full of recipes that sweat the details, and involve more complicated steps.

The macaron recipe is amazing, tasting like something straight out of a Parisian café, but it starts with making the almond flour with non-alkalized cocoa (chances are you don’t have that in your cupboard), then has you beating egg whites to soft peaks while monitoring syrup as it gets to soft-ball stage, so that everything can come together at the right time. A second pair of hands is invaluable to get through this one. This recipe has many, many ways to fail. 4-5 pages of fine print worth, along with plenty of debugging tips. That said, the failures are still pretty tasty. Trust me, I’ve tried them.

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Here are a few tips:

  • At some point, I bought a macaron kit with a silicon baking sheet with ridges that formed a nice template. It wasn’t worth the money. I expected the mix to be worthless, but so was the silicon pad. The macarons lift off parchment easier, and the silicon slows the cooking, making it trickier to get the bottoms cooked without making the tops too crispy.
  • Don’t make the macarons too small. The book calls for one-inch rounds, but next time I’m going with something closer to 2 inches (but not too thick).
  • Chocolate filling is the best part. I have two favorites:
    • If you have access to Recchiuti‘s sauce, it’s second to none. They’re a small San Francisco operation though, and hard to come by elsewhere (if you do have access to their chocolates, their fleur de sel caramels are also not to be missed).
    • The close runner up is Fran’s dark chocolate sauce. Fran’s distributes much more broadly, and is local for us, so this is what I usually have around.

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One last parting shot, since I know a few of the folks that drop by are also amateur photographers. I recently picked up a used Nikon macro flash set (R1C1) and have been playing around with it a bit, as hopefully shows in the photos this week. Usually I’m just capturing cell phone snaps for expedience.

Here’s the setup for the chocolate sauce picture above:

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I split the output to the two flash units about 80-20, with most going to the unit shooting through the diffuser on the right, and the one on the left pointed mostly at the background. There are is a can of Zevia ginger root beer and a bag of almonds in the background that are almost unrecognizable, but provide some nice texture. This was one of about 6-7 variations, and stood out as having the most interesting composition and contrast. The final shot is nearly unedited, aside from one spot-removal that was driving me bonkers.

– Ben

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