Banana Bread Macarons
Though these may just look like simple chocolate macarons, there is much more going on in these little cookies than meets the eye. Instead of adding an artificial coloring, Thomas prefers to decorate the vanilla shells with grated banana bread to give a hint as to the flavor of the filling. Black walnut ganache is piped along the outer edge of the inside of one macaron and a smoked banana puree is piped within the circle of ganache before the two shells are pressed together.
Making Italian Meringue
The macaron shells start with an Italian mergingue. As opposed to French meringue, Italian is essentially egg whites whipped with cooked sugar instead of raw. Thomas starts by making a simple syrup of granulated sugar and water. When the temperature of the syrup reaches 110 degrees, he starts whipping the egg whites just so they start to get frothy.
Adding Syrup to Egg Whites
Once the syrup reaches the desired temperature, it is slowly drizzled into the already whipping egg whites.
While the meringue is whipping, Thomas mixes raw, unwhipped egg whites, powdered sugar, and almond flour together to form this smooth paste.
The meringue is carefully folded into the paste until the batter reaches this specific consistency. It should have a definite sheen, and when it is drawn up out of the bowl, it should fall back on itself and eventually disappear back into the rest of the batter.
Piping Macaron Shells
The shells are piped into small circles on a sheet pan covered in a nonstick silicone sheet. Notice how the small peak you can see in the shells in the forefront has disappeared from those that were piped first (nearest the edge of the pan). This means the batter was at the perfect consistency and the shells will bake up smooth.
The shells rest for around ten minutes before being baked, which helps them develop feet (the ruffled portion at the bottom of the shell) once they hit the heat of the oven. Thomas lightly touches them to make sure they are just barely dry before baking them.
The temperature of the oven and how it distributes heat matter a great deal to the development of an evenly baked shell. Thomas has figured out that his oven works best if he preheats it and then turns it off for the first two minutes after he puts the shells in. He then carefully monitors how the shells are baking up and rotates the tray halfway through baking. He joked that macarons are like people; you have to love, nurture, and guide them if you want the end result to be exceptional. The shells are usually done after only about eight minutes in the oven.
Black Walnut Ganache
Back in November, Thomas bought unshelled black walnuts from Oriana's Orchard stand in the Green City Farmers Market. They had been picked the day he bought them, so after a three-day aging period, he and his assistants peeled the hull, rinsed them dozens of times until the water ran clear, dried them for three weeks, cracked them open and tweezered out the walnut meat from the shells. One of a few different ways he uses these painstakingly harvested black walnuts is in the ganache for this macaron. They are combined with cream and 70% Valrhona dark chocolate, which is then piped in a circle around the inside edge of one shell.
Thomas believes macarons should be so light in texture and sweetness that you should be able to eat ten in a sitting. Between the black walnut ganache and the smoked banana puree, these macarons are full of flavor and yet still light thanks in part to the shell, which has the ideal crisp exterior that willingly yields to a delicate and airy interior.