So a few weeks ago I stumbled across a baking blog group that hosts their own monthly baking challenges. They pick the challenges from “The Great British Bake Off: Big Book of Baking”. Have any of you watched the Great British Bake Off on Netflix? It’s the best. One different thing I noticed about this baking competition versus American baking/cooking competitions is the contestant’s lack of aggression towards each other. There is practically no drama between the contestants. They will lend each other ingredients if they’re able, and sometimes they will help others finish their bake if someone is cutting it too close to the deadline.
This month’s challenge is to bake Chocolate Pecan Macaron Cookies. Traditional french macarons are made with almond flour. This recipe uses chopped pecans instead. I’ll go ahead and spoil the story for you and let you know that I failed this recipe. By epic proportions. Macarons are the one cookie that I’ve never been able to get right. French or otherwise. But I went ahead and finished the batch because I have to see these things through.
In order to use pecans, you need to pulverize them in a food processor. I have a really good food processor, however, it was not good enough to chop these pecans fine enough for the recipe. Fail #1. I’m not exactly sure where I went wrong next, but when I started piping the batter onto my cookie sheets, it was so thick, that the batter was coming out looking like turds. It was SO thick and was not spreading, so I made a little spiral of batter to make a circle. Hence the “turds”.
The next step is to drop the baking sheet on the counter or the floor to release any air bubbles in the batter. I’ll tell ya, NOTHING was getting out of this batter because it was so thick. I doubt there were any air bubbles in there to begin with. Fail #2. Then you are supposed to let the pan sit out at room temperature for about an hour. A thin “skin” should form on top of the cookies. I waited a full hour and there was no “skin” to speak of. These were now just hardened turds. Fail #3.
I have a theory about fails #2 & 3. One thing that I found out when discussing this recipe with my British baking friends is that American companies put corn starch in packaged powdered sugar to keep the sugar from clumping in the bag. I looked at the back of every brand of confectioners sugar in Kroger and they all had cornstarch. So I went head and bought it thinking “eh, I’m sure it will be fine”. After reading through a few articles after baking the cookies, I’m pretty sure this is where I went wrong. Cornstarch not only prevents sugar from clumping, but it also thickens it up when you add liquid. Of course it does. That’s it’s function! No wonder I had a hard time getting smooth cookies!
For poops and whoops, I went ahead and finished baking the cookies to see exactly how they would turn out. They came out looking exactly how they were piped, like turds. Nothing “melted down” or “smoothed over” while baking. They were a slightly lighter brown after they baked, but that was the only difference. There were definitely no “feet” on these macarons either.
I had already made the chocolate ganache and the spiced cherry jam was at the ready, so I just plowed ahead and finished the cookies. Oh my goodness, I was cracking up so much at this huge fail. I tasted one. It was as hard as the rock it looked like! I almost chipped a tooth! The taste was great though. I can understand why people like pecans in the batter. The ganache and cherry jam complimented the taste of the cookie very well.
Fail #4 is my oven for sure. I live in a very old apartment complex and my oven is ancient. There is no window on the door, no digital anything, and no timer. Just one single knob. I bought a thermometer to keep in the oven to make sure that the temps were right. A few months back, I noticed that my oven was about 25°F under what I set the dial to. So I’ve been setting the oven for 25°F higher than what the dial says. And of course, the bottoms of these cookies were blackened. I used silicone baking mats on top of my metal baking sheets like always.
It wasn’t until today that I realized that the problem was not with the oven settings, but WHERE the thermometer was placed in the oven. (insert huge eye roll here) I moved the thermometer to the middle of the oven and baked 5 batches of light colored cookies tonight. The temperature of the oven was exactly what I set it to, and the cookies did not burn on the bottom. Good grief.
So I learned a lot here. One thing being that British ingredients are way different than American ingredients and I should pay more attention to that. Also, that my oven hates me and I need to make nice with it. Have any of you ever made this recipe?! I’d love to hear about your success stories! -Jen