Caramelized Hazelnut Macarons

You ever have those aspirations and dreams and hopes of doing something? You know it'll be hard, but whatever, you can totally do it because you're different than the rest! You're awesome!

And then you do those things and it way harder than you ever imagined and you feel very un-awesome. 

Let's talk new jobs. New jobs are always hard. You're the new kid, the rookie, the one that doesn't know where anything is. Everyone knows each other and you're just the awkward kid standing at the edge of their circle. You're overeager to prove yourself and you try too hard and you're too nice because you just want to do a good job. 

Despite all your best intentions, you don't know what you're doing most of the time. You try to do things how you think they should be done, but it's never really spot-on. You feel embarrassed every time you get corrected, no matter how nicely you get corrected. 

You beat yourself up and go home upset, hoping that you'll make less mistakes than yesterday. But you still make lots of mistakes.

No matter what job you're in, I feel like that describes everyone at a new job. Or maybe it's just me. But I really think (hope) that everyone else feels like I do.

I know that the only way to learn is by making mistakes. And I know that I'm new to the entire industry that I'm in as well as the position I'm in. I'm new to everything about my new job. So, of course, I'm going to make a ton of mistakes. It's unavoidable.

But I just thought I'd be better than I'm doing now. I'm disappointed in myself, you know? I feel like after a month, that rookie phase would start to fade away, but it's still there.

All I can do is keep on doing my best and learning from my mistakes, I know that. The food industry is renowned for being a tough and merciless place, so I just have to develop a thick skin.  

I just hope no one from work reads my blog or else I'm going to look like a big whiner.

Sara over at Tried and Twisted has been kind enough to host myself and several other macaron-makers on her blog. Head over to her blog to check out the other beautiful and delicious macarons made by other bloggers!

Praline Paste
300 g hazelnuts
150 g sugar
50 g water

Hazelnut French Buttercream
38 g granulated sugar
38 g granulated sugar
63 g egg yolks
20 g praline paste
75 g whole milk
250 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, at room temperature

212 g almond flour/meal
212 g powdered sugar
20 g praline paste
82 g egg whites
90 g egg whites
236 g granulated sugar
158 g water

Caramelized Hazelnut Garnish
A dozen hazelnuts or so
250 g sugar
50 g water

For the praline paste, preheat your oven to 350 F. Place a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and spread your hazelnuts on the sheet in an even layer. Roast the nuts for about 5 to 6 minutes, until they are fragrant and the skins are dark brown. Remove from the oven, let them cool, and rub the skins off using your fingers or a kitchen towel. 

Before you add them to the caramel, warm them in the oven quickly so they are warm to the touch but not roasted further. You want to add warm nuts to the caramel to prevent the caramel from seizing.

Prepare a silicone baking mat on a baking sheet and set it aside close to the stove.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and the water over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Gently swirl the pot if you need to, but try to disturb it as little as possible. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high and caramelize the sugar, then add the warm hazelnuts and quickly stir to cover the nuts with caramel, then spread on the silicone baking mat in an even layer. Let them cool completely.

Using a blender or food processor, grind up the caramelized nuts to a paste. Try to get it as fine as possible without breaking your blender/food processor. Store in an airtight container  for up to 2 weeks.

Then, make the buttercream. If you wish, the buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Take the buttercream out of the fridge thirty minutes before you need to use it and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow it to soften and then mix on low speed until it is the proper consistency.

Whisk 38 grams sugar and the yolks together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the milk and praline paste in a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, and stir to disperse the paste. When the milk is just below a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and, whisking constantly, pour it into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for 1 minute, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent the mixture from curdling. It should be very thick.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, turn the mixture to medium, and whisk for about 8 minutes, until the mixture is completely cool.

Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, to the egg yolk mixture. If at any point the mixture looks broken, increase the speed to re-emulsify it, then reduce the speed and continue adding the butter. Check the consistency: if the buttercream is too loose to hod its shape, it should be refrigerated for a few hours to harden, then beaten again to return it to the proper consistency.

The macarons need to be as close in size as possible and a template is the easiest way to ensure that. Trace the desired size of your macarons using whatever you can find, such as a glass or cup. Turn the parchment over and lay it on a sheet pan. Lift up each corner of the parchment and spray with non-stick spray to keep it from blowing up while the cookies are baking. Repeat with a second sheet.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar into a large bowl and whisk together. Make a well in the center, leaving a layer of flour at the bottom. Pour in the 82 grams egg whites and combine with a spatula. Mix in the praline paste until evenly combined. Set aside.

Place the remaining 90 grams egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Combine the 236 grams sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 203 F/110 C.

Letting the syrup continue to cook, add a pinch of sugar to the egg whites, turn the mixer to medium speed, and whip to soft peaks. If the whites reach soft peaks before the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, reduce the speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.

When the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed and slowly add the syrup, pouring it between the side of the bowl and the whisk. The meringue will deflate. Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5 minutes, or until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Although the bowl will still be warm, the meringue should have cooled. If not, continue to whip until it is cool.

Fold one-third of the meringue into the almond mixture, then continue adding the whites a little at  time (you may not use them all) until when you fold a portion of the batter over on itself, the "ribbon" slowly moves. The mixture shouldn't be so stiff that it holds its shape without moving at all, but it shouldn't be so loose that it dissolves into itself and does not maintain the ribbon; it is better for the mixture to be sightly stiff than too loose.

Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. Hold the bag upright 1/2 inch above the center of one of the traced circles and pipe out enough to fill in the circle. Lift away the pastry bag and fill the remaining circles on the first pan. Lift up the sheet pan and tap the bottom of the pan to spread the batter evenly and smooth any peaks left by the bag.

Place the sheet pan in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until the tops are shiny and crisp. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees again.

Pipe the remaining meringue mixture into the circles of the second sheet pan and bake as directed above. Let cool completely.

Transfer the buttercream to the pastry bag with the 3/8 inch tip. Remove the macarons from the parchment paper. Turn half of them over. Starting in the center, pipe 15 g/1 tablespoon of buttercream in a spiral pattern on one upside down macaron, not quite reaching the edges. Top with a second macaron and gently press to spread the buttercream to the edges. Repeat with remaining macarons and filling.

The macarons are best if wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap and frozen for at least 24 hours or up to 2 weeks. Defrost in the refrigerator for 3 hours, then bring to room temperature before seving. They can be served the day they are made or stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 2 days.

For the garnish, if you wish to make it, preheat your oven to 350 F. Roast your hazelnut for 5 to 6 minutes until they are fragrant and the skins are dark brown. Remove from the oven and remove the skins using your fingers or a kitchen towel.

Using toothpicks or skewers, gently insert a toothpick/skewer into the hazelnut. Do this with all the nuts.

Prepare a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat and set it near the stove.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat. Dissolve the sugar and increase the heat to medium-high and caramelize the sugar. Once it has caramelized, take it off the heat. You do not want to use it right away because the consistency will be too thin. Wait a few minutes until the caramel has cooled a little and has thickened up. 

Take a hazelnut by the toothpick handle and dip it into the caramel. If all the caramel slides off, it's still too thin. You want the caramel to slowly ooze off the nut. Find a way to keep the toothpick handle in a steady position over the silicone baking mat that will let the excess caramel drip off, creating a 'tail' to the nut. I used my dutch oven and the lid to keep it over the silicone baking mat. 

Alternatively, you can simply dip the nut and place it on the silicone mat, which will have no tail.

Once the caramelized nuts have cooled completely, gently twist out the toothpick. Do not store the caramelized nuts in the fridge. Store in a dry place for about a day.