Saturday, July 27, 2013

July Daring Bakers' Challenge - Choose Your Own Adventure

Now what in the world does that mean??

In a "celebration" of past Daring Baker and Daring Cook challenges, Lisa challenged all of us to search through the Daring Kitchen archives and pick any one we'd like! The REAL challenge was picking which delicious recipe(s) to try!

In a comedy of errors (okay, not comical at all - as a result of an injury to a wonderful member of the Daring Kitchen community, not to mention a lovely friend...), this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge didn't occur as originally planned. But our esteemed leader, Lisa, had a super fun idea to "rescue" the month - she invited all Daring Bakers to choose any previous challenge, on either the cooking or baking side of the board, that they wanted. Maybe something that had been posted as a challenge before they had joined. Perhaps a challenge that they'd completed, but did not achieve the desired results. Any challenge, any reason - the choice was ours.

I knew right away what challenge I wanted to do.

In October of 2009, just a few months prior to my joining the group, the Daring Bakers' Challenge was French Macarons.  I have never tried these highly regarded little confections and was very glad to have the opportunity now to do so!

But there were a few complications along the way.

The first is that the meringue cookies are made with almond flour.  Little man is allergic to all tree nuts, so this is a no go.  The main substitution I saw online called for making pumpkin seed flour.  I chose to try my hand at making flour out of something we had on-hand already... sunflower seeds!

Now... if you remember what little man's other allergies are, you may be scratching your head a bit. Yup, one of his other food allergies is egg. And I did say that these cookies are meringues. Which are basically baked, whipped egg whites. A no-no for him. So why did I go to all of the trouble to find a substitute flour, considering he can't eat the cookies no matter what I use?

Two main reasons. First, no need to bring an unnecessary nut product into the house. Second, it looks like he may be outgrowing his egg allergy. So these cookies may become a possibility in the future! So practicing with a non-nut flour (seeing as the likelihood of him outgrowing the nut allergy is very, very slim) is just preparation for the glorious day when we learn he has one less allergy!

Anyway, once the sunflower seed flour was prepared (I'll share that in a future post), it was time to really dive in!

In order to build up my nerve for what is regarded as a very challenging cookie to make, I watched a few youtube videos about the process. I found one that was not only amusing and informative at the same time, but that used a simple recipe with smaller quantities than those called for in the challenge recipe. So I went with that one.

As I mentioned, the main component of the macaron is the meringue cookie.  So I started out whipping my egg whites.

The goal with the whites is to get them to hold nice, stiff peaks. I always check it by holding some upside down.

Yup. Nice and stiff. And shout out to little man in the background for helping line the baking sheets with parchment. Good job, little man.

The stiff egg whites are then gently folded into sifted and mixed sunflower seed flour and confectioners sugar.  And then the mixture is piped into little circles.

At this point, I was pretty sure that I hadn't ground my flour finely enough. Even though I then sifted it, so I thought it was good enough, you can definitely see seed-bits in my piped meringues. Oh well. I carefully tapped down those points on the tops of my cookies and proceeded to bake them.

When they came out, I was of two minds. One mark of a perfectly baked meringue cookie, in the French Macaron camp, anyway, is when the cookie rounds have little "feet" on the bottom. And if you look closely, many of mine do, actually, have the markings of those feet. On the other hand, the tops of these cookies are supposed to be nice and smooth. Which mine aren't. I'm going to blame either the flour (not fine enough) or my folding technique when incorporating the egg whites into the flour/confectioners' sugar mix... I either over mixed it or under mixed it. I'll have to dig a bit to see which one is most likely.

Regardless, for a first shot with a major substitution, not too shabby.  But they're not done! A macaron is not just the meringue cookie, oh no! It is two of them, with some sort of filling sandwiched between them! Generally it is some sort of ganache or buttercream. I chose a dark chocolate ganache.

To be completely honest, these are very sweet. Very tasty, mind you, but very, very sweet. So one is plenty.

But they were very fun and I am super glad to have had the opportunity to complete a challenge that I'd previously missed out on!

To see what past challenges the other members of the Daring Kitchen revisited this month, check them out here.

French Macaroons
(recipe slightly adapted from Lovely Lady Cakes)

3/4 cup sunflower seed flour, sifted
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 egg whites
4 tablespoons white sugar

In a large bowl, sift first the flour and then the confectioners' sugar, then mix gently to combine the two together. Set this bowl aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the egg whites on high speed until they begin to become frothy, about two minutes. Begin slowly incorporating the white sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to whisk on high until the egg whites hold stiff peaks, about an additional 3-5 minutes.
Gently fold the egg whites into the flour/confectioners' sugar mixture, adding the eggs in three additions.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and carefully pipe quarter-sized circles of the meringue mixture onto the parchment.
Set the piped meringues aside to allow them to rest for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Once the meringues have rested (they should have a slight shell on the outside of them now), lower the oven to 300 degrees and bake the meringues for 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
*note - I saw a tip on another video (I don't remember which, sorry...) that said that your oven rack should be either high or low for these, but not in the middle, and that you should only bake one tray of the meringues in the oven at a time... so I did that - set my oven shelf to the top of the oven and baked one tray at a time, 8 minutes, rotate, 8 more minutes, remove first tray, raised oven temperature back to 325, then lowered back to 300 and put in the second tray.
Allow cookies to cool completely, then choose a filling to create your completely macarons.



  1. Hi Shelley, glad you got to try these out. And good on the little man for helping out.

  2. I made the French Macarons too, 3 times! For me, it was a lot about figuring out the exact amount to mix the batter and how long to bake them. I think yours look great for a first attempt, especially since you used sunflower seed flour. They are delicious aren't they?

  3. KUDOS Shelley!! Macarons are finicky enough with ground almonds - great job for tackling them with sun-flour :) From my experience with macarons, it looks like your batter was a little under-mixed - it should melt into a smooth blob after about 10 to 15 seconds. But yay feet! Hopefully little man can eat your next batch :)

    1. Oh my gosh, Korena, thank you for sharing your experience! I was wondering how many batches I'd have to make and mix to figure it out :) You are wonderful!

  4. Wow - super impressed that you tackled these AND with an alternate flour. Way to be daring!


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