ok, so i learned two very important things this weekend:
1 - how to properly whip egg whites
(1a - how long it takes to bring egg whites to room temperature and how quickly they puff up when you whip them that way)
2 - my oven SUCKS.
as regards to the latter, i've actually known this particularly heinous piece of information for quite some time. for almost two years, in fact, ever since i moved in and discovered, to my horror, that the oven thermometer is 25 degrees off--on a good day. since my stove burner broke. since the oven knob shattered and i have to use a pair of pliers to turn it on. all this time, i've known, intrinsically, how much my oven just really blows.
but on occasion, something happens to especially drive it home to me. about a week ago i made my first attempt at SHF #29, which i'd been excited about ever since jasmine posted what the new theme would be almost a month ago. (because yes, i am that nerdy) i had originally planned to make something nibby, because i've never used cacao nibs before but i see them sometimes in the supermarket, hiding on the chocolate shelf. i started gathering recipes from the new scharffen-berger book, and alice medrich's bittersweet, and luscious chocolate desserts. there were lots of good nib options, but nothing that jumped off the page at me--although i did drool over alice medrich's nibby crepes for a while. i started to settle on the idea of making white chocolate nib nougatine brownies, which i expect i'll make sooner or later, but then i started reading about dorie greenspan and pierre herme and how herme supposedly has the hands-down best recipe for french macaroons on the planet and i couldn't rest without trying them at least once. i immediately set out to find a copy of pierre herme's book, as written by dorie greenspan.
did i mention that the coolest thing about working for the government is that it comes with a borrowing account at the library of congress? a mere day later, i had a copy of chocolate desserts by pierre herme on my desk, waiting for perusal. his macaroon recipe, by the way, only uses four ingredients, which he treats as precious and delicate commodities, nurturing their transformation from almond-y meringue into french chocolate macaroon. i've tried a bunch of macaroon recipes, because, like any sane person who has had the pleasure of visiting paris, biting into my first macaroon was like finding nirvana, a practically religious experience as i sat on a sunny autumn afternoon under the eiffel tower on the champs du mars. i had one of those saucer-sized ones and i stretched it out to last the entire day. i've tried martha's almond version. i've tried williams-sonoma's hazelnut version. i convinced my mother to let me serve them as dessert one thanksgiving, an event for which i practiced for a month and still couldn't get good macaroons.
because my oven sucks.
and once again, this proved all too true (although i think that my egg-white-whipping skills, or lack thereof, played a role in the fiasco) as i spent my friday evening stewing lamb and making macaroons, brittle, foul and dry things that i bit into hesitantly and then threw away. i put the ganache back in the fridge, vowing to try another day.
my opportunity came this past weekend while i was visiting my parents. having recently stumbled upon a gently used copy of the new spanish table for an awe-inspiring $2.89 (and accidentally shipping it to my parents instead of to me), i decided that we should cook out of it for a family dinner on saturday night. and have macaroons for dessert.
ok, i'm not gonna lie. the way i learned lesson #1 was that i forgot about the egg whites i'd measured and set out to warm while i got immersed in the braised lamb with garlic and trying to make my mom actually follow the recipe (the braising technique espoused for this particular recipe seemed backwards. but more on that later). once the lamb was safely in the oven and meant to stay there for a good three hours, i was able to turn my attention back to my room-temperature egg whites. which, seriously, whipped up almost instantaneously, all white and fluffly and shiny and peaky. i gently folded in my dry ingredients, almond meal and scharffen-berger natural cocoa powder and confectioners sugar. i made a pastry bag out of a ziploc and made 24 little round piles of almond meringue and held my breath while they baked.
at first, i thought i'd failed. again. they didn't puff up into neat little burgers like i had expected. but they came right off the parchment and i couldn't resist tasting the deformed ones as they cooled.
it was like finding nirvana all over again.
i didn't change any of the ingredients, so i don't feel right posting the recipe, but i do recommend checking out dorie greenspan's chocolate desserts by pierre herme for all the inspiration a chocoholic could ask for.