bicycles, om, and macarons link the universe ::::
Before I went outside that first time, I could hear and feel it.
It was May 2008, Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, and the weather was perfect. I stepped out of our sand-colored vintage condo building into the silver, rosy light of early morning. I looked east to the lake, toward the running path. The breeze off the lake was softer, more eerie that day, and a gentle woosh woosh replaced the usual mechanical sound of traffic. As I ran south, the path curved closer to the lake. Bicycles. Lots and lots of bicycles. Cyclists en masse were participating in Bike The Drive, a non-competitive Chicago event celebrating bicycling in the city. Once a year, Lake Shore Drive is closed to motor traffic and the cyclists take over for a few hours.
I watched and listened, pairing the sounds to what was making them. The high-pitched hum of thin rubber tires, the wispy woosh of air through wire spokes, and the murmuring voices of cyclists created a vibrational om that morning, a centering sound. I could hear the lake. None of the metallic snarl or low rumble of motorized traffic.
Though it was unsettling to hear the lack of the familiar traffic at first, I appreciated the new quiet focus, and still do. Consider that focus like a deep breath slowly exhaled, your eyes readjusting, a warm hand on your back. Peach was still an infant at that point so between mothering and resident physician hours, I rarely got a moment to myself.
Those moments now still involve some sort of refocus in the environment. Getting lost in a good book at the end of the day can whisk my mind away from the two of three tantruming kids earlier. I empty my busy mind about work-related concerns with a run through a wildlife preserve. A walk in the neighborhood settles my fidgetiness. The rote movements when making familiar recipes in the kitchen calm me. Making macarons is one of those things. (Though I fully admit, when their little ruffled pieds don’t form, I get stressed!)
Just as we each have different ways to enjoy relaxing and re-energizing ourselves, there are just as many ways to flavor macarons. These are my pandan macarons with coconut cream filling. I’ve fallen in love with pandan in Asian desserts, the nutty, flowery taste a perfect balance for creamy coconut. So here they are: someone’s definition of a refocus and calm. Perhaps it will be yours, too.
EDIT: Happy Mothers’ Day to all of you who mother and sometimes need a minute to yourself. Given that I am working this weekend and didn’t realize until too late that it was Mothers’ Day soon, I didn’t prepare a special post. Ha! Typical frazzled mom. (Happy Mothers’ Day, Mum. I will call you.)
One year ago: coconut peanut sunflower seed chocolate ice cream
Five years ago: buckwheat salad with mushrooms, fennel, and parsley oil and quick pickled cucumbers
- 4 ounces (113g) cornstarch-free powdered sugar
- 7 ounces (198g) almond flour
- 4 ounces (117g) egg whites, aged and at room temperature
- pinch of cream of tartar (optional - it helps the egg whites whip, but not necessary)
- 3½ ounces (100g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pandan essence (found at Asian grocery stores)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- coconut cream filling (recipe below)
- This recipe is based off of my peppermint macarons, which is adapted from the Sur La Table recipe. I've made some adjustments for flavoring and filling.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F, racks positioned in the middle. Prepare your parchment paper macaron templates and line baking sheet. (You may draw circles on the parchment paper, or use a paper with circles drawn on it underneath the diaphanous parchment, removing the template before baking.)
- Pulse about ⅓ of the powdered sugar and all the almond flour in a food processor to form a fine powder. In a medium mixing bowl, combine remaining powdered sugar and almond flour and sift 4 times. Yes, FOUR. Set aside.
- In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a wire-whip attachment, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar (if using) on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add granulated sugar. once all sugar is incorporated, scrape down sides of bowl, and increase speed to high, whisking until stiff, firm, glossy peaks form. To check this, take your whisk attachment off and flip it over. Are the whites holding up? Or do they bend a little? Bending means the egg whites are not stiff enough. Scrape the bottom of the bowl also, as those egg whites may need more beating.
- When egg whites are stiff, REALLY stiff, add the peppermint and vanilla extracts.
- Sift the almond flour mixture ⅓ at a time over the egg-white mixture, and fold using a large silicon spatula until mixture is smooth and shiny. The first addition is usually the hardest. Fold the mixture carefully: don't smash it. Lift!
- Once the almond flour mixture is incorporated, check to see the batter is nicely firm and drips slowly from the spatula (Remember my notes? Like lava, slow, controlled, you get the idea.)
- Transfer batter to pastry bag fitting with a ½-inch plain, round tip (#12), and pipe rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets (your templates may be ¾-inch rounds, 1-1/3-inch rounds, even an 8-inch pan for a crazy macaron cake!). Don't put the macarons too close together because they will stick together when baking. Need some lessons on piping? You Tube has scads of them. The trick is to be gentle and consistent, without twirling the piping tip around like you are decorating a cake - NO! Don't drink caffeine beforehand; you don't want to be jittery. Think of it like the archers in the Olympics. Aim, focus, gentle, and release! (Videos really are better than my description). If you have some minor peaks, you can gently rub them down with a lightly damp fingertip.
- When piping is completed for one sheet, rap it hard on the counter to release trapped air. This is also important to help form the pied, or the foot, of the macaron.
- Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. Macarons are ready to bake when they no longer stick to a finger when lightly touched.
- Remember to stack your baking sheet on an empty baking sheet and remove the templates from underneath the parchment (if using). Bake one sheet at time (may do two sheets if they fit in the oven), rotating pan halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm. This is the trick: check at 7 minutes and rotate pan. If there is browning (Ahhhh! Nooooo!), then turn down the oven to 275 degrees F. Check the macarons at 12 minutes: touching them gently with a fingertip should give no wiggle and they're done. If a wiggle, put them back in the oven for 2 minutes and check again.
- Let macarons cool on baking sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, and transfer to wire rack to cool completely before filling. See below for the recipe.
- After filling, the macarons need to age in the fridge for 48 hours. Ahhhhh! It's worth it. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. They freeze for months if well wrapped; again, allow to come to room temperature in the container before serving.
1/3 cup butter, softened
14 ounces (about 400 g) powdered sugar
7 tablespoons coconut milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened dried shredded coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract (This is optional. -- It really boosts the coconut flavor but not needed.)
In a stand mixer, mix butter until creamy. Add powdered sugar slowly and continue to mix.
One medium speed, add coconut milk and mix until creamy and smooth.The consistency needs to be thick enough to pipe but not runny.
Fold in shredded coconut.
Pipe (or spoon) onto cooled macaron shells.