Warning: This is going to be a very long post. I guess you could call it somewhat of a disaster novella involving these lovely macarons. The cake was a piece of cake (pun intended), so no kvetching there.
It all started as a mission to use up leftovers. I had a ton of egg whites left over from making the infamous Momofuku Crack Pie and a jar of orange marmalade from the Daring Bakers Orange Tian challenge. I typed egg whites and orange marmalade into a search engine, and came across a cake by a baker whose amazing butterscotch ‘custardy’ pudding is one I’ve made and deemed the perfect butterscotch ‘custard’ pudding – Melissa Murphy of Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Brooklyn.
Apparently, there’s a challenge online called Sweet Melissa Sundays where they have been baking from her book, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book , for some time now. I’m not a member, but one benefit of these challenges is you can grab recipes from cookbooks you don’t happen to own a copy of (I know, that sounds kind of awful, huh?) Well, in this case, no need to label me a pilferer because I went out and bought the book, (but not before Leslie of Lethally Delicious, who hosted this particular Sweet Melissa Sunday, went out of her way to correct a small part of the recipe left out, for me. Thank you, Leslie!) In fact, I bought two cookbooks, one of which I would like to give away to one of my readers, but I’ll get to that later.
The cake I’m speaking of is called Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream. If you recall..I don’t flip over orange marmalade. However, this wasn’t a cake for me..it was an Birthday slash Easter cake for a friend who happens to love anything and everything orange. After seeing the theme for last month’s Mac Attack. which was Holidays in April, I thought, why not accessorize the Easter cake with a macaron for Passover using the same flavors in the cake? However, several heartbaking MACcidents that took place (I just love word play, even though I suck at it.), hindered that idea to the point where this whole post almost didn’t happen.
I ripped the dang ribbon trying to tie a perfect bow.
The first batch of Macs I made were perfection. It was the first time I turned out a full batch of perfect macaron shells – no duds! I was ecstatic!! I thought the Mac gods had blackballed me and I was destined to turn out lumpy, uneven macs for eternity. I was so thrilled with this sheet of perfect macaron shells, that I could not stop looking at them. Every time I walked by the baking sheet of superbness, I had to check and make sure they were still superbness.
Since I wasn’t filling them until the next day, this occurred quite a bit. Soon, a little paranoia crept in..
What if someone accidentally eats them?
What if my cat runs across the counter and crushes them?
What if a 6.5 on the Richter scale earthquake strikes and they crash to the floor in pieces?’
Let’s not get into minor details about my living on the Northeast Coast. We do have the Ramapo Fault, you know!
Unwaxed, unflavored dental floss makes a great cake ‘torter’. Just cut around the perimeter of the cake, not going through, then slide the dental floss into the cut and pull both ends through in a criss-cross manner.
Due to this paranoia, I decided to put them in my turned off oven, slightly ajar, for ‘safekeeping’. I think you all know how this is going to turn out. Now, I’m not naming names as I would never want to embarrass anyone I love because they made a little mistake. SO, I’ll refer to this person as someone.
Crumb coat, final coat, wonky decor and the piece de resistance.
One hour before I was going to fill them, I get a phone call from someone on my cell while out.
Someone: Hiya..did you leave some chocolate cookies in the oven?
Me: Um, yeah, why? (I instantly knew what happened. My macarons were orange)
Someone: Yeah, I turned on the oven to preheat for the chicken I’m making tonight, then smelled something. They look great!
Me: OH NO, they were orange macarons and you just burnt them to a crisp!!! (sob, sniff) They were perfect, I’ll never get another batch like them!
Someone: Uhh..well..you never told me you left something in the oven! (He”s right, but I suppose my habit of always looking in the oven prior to preheating isn’t a habit possessed by all.)
Me: I know (sob, sniff) it’s not your fault (although I was almost wishing it was so I could blame someone – anyone!)
After mourning the most perfect sheet of macarons, it was time to move on. I cracked the eggs, separating the whites from the yolks to age, made another batch of tant pour tant, then emailed Jamie of Life’s a Feast, the Mac Tweets co-founder, to ask for an extension, along with a very detailed explanation of what went wrong. THEN, my descent back into macaron hell began.
Batch #2 – I left the aging egg whites uncovered to rush the aging process. Umm..egg whites exposed to air eventually dry up. I know this, so why did I forget this? I used what egg white was still liquid and folded in as much tant pour tant as it would hold. Added too much, resulting in a thick paste. I knew it was going to be a failure as I squeezed the batter in the piping bag onto the baking sheet, popping a few blood vessels along the way. Hoped for an oven miracle. No dice. Trashed.
Batch #3 – Couldn’t wait for the egg whites to age for 24 hours, so I cut it short. This time I over-folded which deflated the meringue, and again, I knew they were going to be an epic failure as I watched the non viscous batter dribble out of the pastry tip onto the baking sheet. Hoped for an oven miracle. No dice. Trashed.
Emailed Jamie and bowed out of April’s Mac Tweets Attack. Okay, so I would enter these macs in May’s Mac Attack instead, informing Jamie that I would find a way to wrap them around the next new theme because Easter and Passover are over.
Batch #4 – Not as perfect and gorgeous as that first sheet, but they turned out okay. Asked someone to pull them out of the oven when the timer goes off since I needed to run out for a few. When I got home, he looked worried. The macarons were squashed and/or dented. He used my giant Hamburger Helper ‘hand’ pot holder to pull the cookie sheet out, one I never use because it’s too big and squishes most everything on a cookie sheet. Macarons trashed.
Batch #5 – These turned out ‘feh’, but at this point I’ll take anything. Took some photos of them sandwiched together and planned to take photos of them with the cake later on. Two other someones came over for dinner. They move everything over on my table to make room, piling some stuff on top of the cookie sheet of macarons. Cracks, cracks, cracks. Macarons trashed. Well, some eaten, but still falling into the ‘Trashed’ category because I have to do them again. (sigh)
Batch #6 – Not even coloring the tant pour tant orange this time. Instead, colored the burnt orange buttercream. These turned out somewhat okay, so this was it for me. Tucked in some of the cracked orange colored macs for photos, turning them so you can’t see the cracks, and left it at that. No more mac making for at least 2 weeks! Oh, did I mention I got sick after the final batch, further delaying this entry another two weeks? Yep, it was just one of those months. I’m convinced it’s Mercury retrograde. Esoterically, the color orange is associated with Mercury. Hmmmm.
After all of this, I check the May theme at the Mac Attack site. Pair your macarons with a book you like, whether it be from your childhood or present. This all started as an Easter/Passover cake and macaron entry. Now it’s a cake and macaron entry pertaining to a book my grandmother used to read to me as a child called The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl.
Basically, I’d be lying if I said this came to mind initially, but I remember the kitchen disaster where she added way too many things to the cake, including leavening, so…the cake rose, and the Duchess with it; and how were they to get her down again? The cake I had no problem with other than decorator’s block, hence the polka dots, ribbon of dried oranges and wonky border, so it’s kind of far-fetched.
Yeah..I know, it’s a half-assed book pairing/analogy. There really IS a book I initially thought of that I read as a kid, when I thought of my macarons. In it, the lead character’s little brother stuffs his teddy bear with orange pits for its life force. I couldn’t remember the name of it until 2014, so this paragraph is an update. The book is called The Cat Ate my Gymsuit, by Paula Danziger. Definitely a better pairing with my macarons than the aforementioned read.
As for the cake, yes, I emphatically stated in my Orange Tian post that I did not like orange marmalade or any dessert laden with orange pieces of any sort. In this case, the marmalade is stirred into a caramel, so it tasted like orange candy, really good orange candy. No bitterness, no aftertaste. The roasted pecan cake is amazing too; moist, light toasty, and tender. My one caveat is the buttercream. I think it needs more of the orange juice reduction, or maybe a few grates of orange zest would suffice. The orange flavor just didn’t come through. However, it was still smooth, silky, rich and delicious, delicious enough that next time I may mix a little of it into the orange marmalade filling and suggest you do the same..not only for taste, but for prettier layers.
Photo shamelessly stolen from the Barnes and Noble website.
FINALLY, my GIVEAWAY! As mentioned 1000 miles ago (the start of this entry), I would like to give away a brand spanking new copy of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. No need to subscribe to my blog, post it on your Facebook and Twitter, take out an ad in the NY Times singing the praises of my blog, or offer up your first born. Just leave a comment and I’ll announce the winner a week from today. One last thing for fun, although it probably wasn’t fun at the time. Has a kitchen disaster ever reduced you to tears? Would love to hear your stories! An answer is NOT required to enter the giveaway. 🙂
One more thing. The one big change I made to this cake was to butter toast the pecans, because butter toasted pecans are so much better than just toasted pecans, In my kitchen, no pecan will ever go un-buttered.
- 1⅔ cups coarsely chopped pecan pieces
- 3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 12 large egg whites, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1 cup orange marmalade
- ¾ cup fresh orange juice (I suggest doubling the juice, it really cooks down a lot)
- ⅔ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup pecan pieces, buttered and toasted
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. coat pecan pieces in melted butter, then spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
- Prepare three 9-inch round pans by greasing them, then placing a circle of parchment paper in each, greasing the parchments circles too. If you don't have parchment, just grease and lightly flour each pan.
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the toasted, buttered pecans with ⅔ cup of the sugar and pulse grind until it is a coarse flour. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the all-purpose flour, an additional ⅔ cup of the sugar, the baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine.
- Have ready a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. (The butter will melt first, and then the milk solids will settle to the bottom. After a little while, the milk solids will start to turn golden.) When the milk solids have reached a nutty brown color, immediately remove from the heat.
- Using the fine-meshed strainer, strain the butter into the flour mixture. Stir to combine. Discard the butter solids. Stir in the vanilla.
- In the very clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the very clean whip attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. In a slow steady stream, with the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining ⅔ cup of the sugar and increase the speed back to high. Beat until there are firm--not dry--glossy peaks of meringue.
- Using a rubber spatula, briskly fold in one-third of the meringue mixture into the batter to lighten it. Add the remaining meringue and gently fold it in until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Spin the pans to level the batter. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 20 minutes before turning the layers out onto the rack. Cool completely before filling or frosting.
- In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, heat the sugar with the water until amber in color, like clover honey. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the orange juice to stop the cooking.
- Add the marmalade and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.
- The marmalade may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, reduce the orange juice until it is syrupy and just starts to caramelize (it turns brown). Watch it closely; don't let it burn! Add a splash of water to the caramel orange syrup to stop the cooking. Set aside to cool.
- In another small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the ⅔ cup of the sugar and water and cook to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until there are medium-stiff peaks of meringue.
- When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, decrease the speed of the mixer to medium, and immediately but slowly pour the hot liquid sugar in a steady stream down the side of the bowl and into the meringue. (Or, if the syrup is not yet 240 degrees when the meringue is ready, turn off the mixer until it is. Then turn the mixer to medium and add the syrup.) Beat together until stiff glossy peaks form.
- With the mixer still on medium, add the butter in pieces to the meringue. The mixture will break, but just keep beating and it will come together beautifully. Add the vanilla and reserved caramel orange syrup and mix to combine.
- If using the buttercream immediately, set aside at room temperature. If not, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If the buttercream has been chilling, let it reach room temperature before beating it in the electric mixer. The buttercream will break, but then it will come together beautifully.
- Split each cake layer in half, and spread one-third of the marmalade over each of the interior layers. Crumb coat the cake,then chill for 30 minutes. Remove after 30 minutes and fuly frost the cake.
- After frosting the cake, gently press the toasted, buttered pecans against the sides of the cake with your fingers.
- This cake keeps very well, in a cake saver in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The cake should come to room temperature before serving.
- HOW TO ASSEMBLE A LAYER CAKE
- Assembling a layer cake seems as though it would be pretty straight forward, but there are a few tips I use so that my results look consistent and professional.
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ cup almond meal
- ¼ cup toasted, ground pecans
- 2 tablespoons matzo meal
- 2 large egg whites (aged overnight, at the least - I age them 48 hours)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tsp finely grated, dried orange zest, powdered (dry zest in a 200F oven for about 30-40 minutes, then grind until powder like consistency, or dry strips of the peel minus the pith, grind to a powder, use one teaspoon and bottle the rest for all kinds of uses)
- orange food coloring (optional)
- 1 half recipe burnt orange buttercream, recipe above
- 1 half recipe caramel orange marmalade, recipe above
- orange food coloring (if not coloring the shells)
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. You should have glossy peaks that bend at the tip.
- Place the powdered sugar, almond meal, ground pecans, matzo meal and dried orange zest in a food processor and give them a good pulse until everything is finely ground.
- Add them to the meringue along with some orange food coloring, if using. Fold all carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small peak, give the batter a couple of turns.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 300F.
- When ready, bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.
- To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 tablespoon of burnt orange marmalade buttercream in the center of one shell and top with another one.
- Combine the buttercream and caramel orange marmalade, then pipe or spoon onto every other macaron cookie. Top with another macaron cookie. If you don't color the shells orange, add a few drops of orange food color to the buttercream for contrast, if desired.