Two Decembers ago, on a gray, snowy Saturday, Hannah and I went to the Baker's Market in Vancouver. It was waay southeast Van, between Marine and the river, across some train tracks and in some dodgy warehouse/industrial area. We found signs for the Market, but could not find the actual market. Who would go to such trouble just for some baking?
Finally, we walked through this bridal supply store, found an open door at the back to find a storage area smelling of butter and sugar, packed with people, the Love Actually soundtrack blaring and about fifteen banquet tables laden with cupcakes, cookies, and marshmallows .
To be honest, we were a bit shocked. And giddy. We felt like we had just stumbled onto a heaven of sugar/butter/cream. Samples were offered from everyone, and we bought our favourites: macaroons, bacon shortbread and maple oat cakes to name only a few.
Connie (organizer of the market, maker of the most beautiful asian-flavoured macaroons, and someone who, somehow, always recognizes when she sees me at markets) informed us that we were just in time to watch the cupcake contest (we are in the photos on this blog). We stayed and watched in shock as people spent 5 minutes eating cupcakes. It was kind of horrifying.. The winner, an older asian man who was apparently training for some real eating competition, ate 18 beautiful cupcakes.
I went regularly that winter, but this winter I only went once. I trekked out in the pouring rain, taking the bus out to Fraser and 60th, just for the macaroons.
Macaroons (not sure how to pronounce correctly, but non-pretentiously??) are so French, so tiny and perfect and precise; I figured I could just leave them to the pros. I heard they were finicky to make and not to be trusted in the oven as the majority of the cookies may turn into a big mess instead of a pretty little coin with a smooth top and crackly sides. I had heard they were hard to make. So I bought them instead at 2$ a cookie.
But then I found a recipe that was written so specifically, I figured maybe it would work. Example: measuring out egg whites instead of just using ‘3’. I also figured maybe I was just being a wimp and just loved going to the Bakers Market. I borrowed a stand up mixer from a friend*, and got to it.
*I only recently got a set of hand mixers for Christmas. In the past year, I have made successfully whipping cream by hand (shake it in a mason jar) and attempted to make both meringue and marshmallows with a whisk. My triceps were burning and neither turned out. Don’t even try that at home, friends.
Chocolate Macaroons with Sea Salt
adapted from Bon Appetit magazine
I thought that even though the recipe was specific, the results would still be a bit tempermental. Was I ever wrong.. Every single one turned out as perfect as I hoped! With minimal stress!! I found it hard to keep them small, but it is worth it if you do - about 1 inch in diameter.
2 cups powdered sugar, divided in half
1 1/4 cups slivered almonds
3 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), room temperature, whisked to loosen
1/4 cup sugar
-Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 325°.
-Line 3 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper.
-Pulse 1 cup powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor until nuts are very finely ground (but not to a paste), 60–90 seconds.
-Add cocoa powder and remaining 1 cup powdered sugar; process to blend well. Sift mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a large bowl; discard larger almond pieces remaining in strainer (I had lots of larger pieces so I ran them through the processor again, then sifted again).
-Using an electric mixer, beat 1/3 cup egg whites on medium-high speed. Once white and frothy, about 1 min, gradually begin adding sugar by the teaspoonful.
-Increase speed to medium-high; beat until firm peaks form (if you taste it, you should taste no grittiness from the sugar).
-Stir in remaining 3 Tbsp. egg whites.
-Fold meringue very gently into dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing well between additions (you just incorporated a ton of air into the egg whites, so you do not want to deflate them by stirring too hard).
-Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" tip (I used a big ziplock freezer bag, and snipped a corner off once the meringue was in there). A plastic spatula works best, and fold down the tops of the bag to keep things tidy.
-Twist top of bag and pipe quarter-size rounds onto 2 of the 3 prepared baking sheets, spacing 1" apart. Bang the sheets on the table to let the cookies settle, then let them for about 10 minutes to let them dry out a bit.
-Sprinkle tops with sea salt.
-Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through baking, until puffed and dry, about 16 minutes.
-Slide cookies on parchment onto a wire rack. Let cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter on third baking sheet.
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), finely chopped
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
-Place chopped chocolate and butter in a medium bowl.
-Bring cream just to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
-Remove from heat; pour hot cream mixture over chocolate and butter; whisk until smooth.
-Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.
Assembling the Cookies
Spoon ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" tip (again, you can use another ziplock). Twist top of bag and pipe about ganache onto flat side of 1 cookie, top with a second cookie, flat side down.
-the cookies are way crispier than normal when they first cool, but once everything is assembled it is essential that you either chill them or freeze them; once they are back at room temp they are the right texture: crisp outside, chewy inside.