Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Peachy Keen

The 2009 October Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of the Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macarons are a French cookie which are enjoying some popularity. They are beautiful to look at and come in a variety of flavors and colors, limited only by the imagination of the baker. We were to make the basic macaron, color and flavor it as we wished and then make a filling - again, our choice.

One of the reasons I joined Daring Bakers was to push myself to try new things. I don't do much baking, largely because my two-person household doesn't need any temptations around, but also because I love to cook, but my baking talent is pretty limited. This challenge pushed me a little.

The macarons are basically an egg white, sugar and almond flour batter which is piped into little circles. Since it is pretty much a blank canvas, adding color and flavor is the fun part. I had already decided I was going to use peach in my filling, so I decided to use a little orange powdered food coloring to bring some peachiness to the cookie. I also consulted a wonderful book, The Flavor Bible, for ideas for flavoring the cookie with something that would enhance the peach. I'd thought about some ginger, since ginger and peach are a good pairing, but I'm not a huge ginger fan. I then thought about grilled peaches, seasoned with black pepper. The Flavor Bible confirmed that black pepper is a pairing that works, so that was my choice.

I knew I wanted a subtle color, so I only added a small amount of the food coloring. The pepper was tougher. I had read that about a teaspoon of flavor, whether spices, herbs, lemon zest or whatever, was about right. I was a little reluctant to add that much freshly ground black pepper - it is pretty potent! I think I ended up with about 1/2 teaspoon, which was probably not enough to make a significant contribution.

The filling was a modification of a cream cheese buttercream I found on Tartelette's blog. In addition to the meringue, huge amounts of butter and cream cheese, I folded in some organic peach preserves. They added not only a wonderful flavor, but also a little color to coordinate with my cookies.

I think these cookies were largely successful, although I've not had an "official" version, so I'm just guessing. I found the basic cookie way too sweet for my taste, but the cream cheese peach filling balanced that out. I don't know that I would make these again unless I needed something pretty for a party. The process was a bit time-consuming for the number of cookies I made and the cookies themselves are extremely fragile.

I gave most of these away because they need to be eaten quickly. So another learning experience! Once again, Daring Bakers achieves its aim in pushing me to the new frontiers.