SEATTLE — As I hesitate to cut through an eyeball made of fondant by Bothell baker Jessica Brockway, she says, without hesitation, "Right down the middle. Be grotesque about it." She runs BB Nest Bakery and just finished top-3 on Food Network's "Halloween Baking Championship," so she knows her way around the tricks for making treats.
The life-sized eye peers out from a caramel/dark chocolate tart. It sits next to a version that looks like a bloody eyeball with mashed strawberries providing the color.
Also on the table are Creepy Crispies, rice crispy treats adorned with gummy worms and smaller fondant eyeballs. There's an orange and yellow frosted cake with "Spooky" in brown on the side. But the stars of the show are the spider web macarons, enrobed with marshmallow spider webs, some with fondant black widows on top.
As spectacular as they look, Brockway assures me even I could make this delicate, very French cookie. "We can do this, it's super easy. So all we're going to be using are egg whites, a mixture of powdered sugar and almond meal, a little bit of cream of tartar and sugar."
Four ingredients. Perfect. I can handle that. "It's just learning the technique to get the bottom, the nice little feet on the bottom of the macaron." Cookies with feet, she says? "Absolutely. So the feet on the macaron are right here, the little ruffled edges." It's the part of the cookie that ends up on the inside and absorbs the flavor of the filling.
And the secret's in the air. "Without the proper amount of air that's mixed into the cookie, it's going to either crack, fall apart. It's going to be hollow. We want a nice chewy cookie."
We start with egg whites in a mixer: "This is two ounces of room temperature egg whites. So you can just dump that right in." The mixer continues to add air. Brockman keeps checking visually as we go. "As you see some air starting to incorporate, you're seeing a few bubbles, go ahead and kick it up a notch."
We add the cream of tartar. Then increase the mixer speed. Now two ounces of sugar, gradually, "Because if you add it too quickly, it'll become too heavy and deflate the eggs."
Next comes a little color. "Gel color because it's so much more concentrated? Not regular food coloring." With just a couple drops, the mix turns blood red. These macarons would be especially appealing to vampires.
Once we mix to the point where it's "a nice, soft peak," the final ingredient is the almond meal/powdered sugar combo, sifted thrice by Brockway. This is where a spatula comes in. "It is a bunch of folding and cutting because you don't want to deflate all of that air that we spent all that time putting into this, you just want to gently mix it together. You do want to deflate some of the air. Because if you don't, it's going to rise too quickly in the oven. And then you're going to get a nice hollow shell and it's going to crack and it won't be very pretty."
Once the consistency is "lava-like," it's time to transfer to a piping bag. We cut a very small edge off the bag and squeeze blobs of batter, about an inch in diameter, on a macaron template. The most fun step? We drop the sheet full of macarons from about a foot high. Again, this is all about air. "We want to get some of those extra air bubbles out." She says she likes to do it three times.
She then leaves the cookies out to dry for a half-hour or more. "They naturally form a coating, a skin over the top of the cookie. And that is also going to help it from rising too quickly."
Once they are dry to the touch, with that skin on top, into the 300-degree oven they go. Once they're done, Brockway says you can sandwich-in your filling of choice.
The spider web is made of marshmallows. Microwave a bowl full for 30 seconds. Then with a wooden spoon "once you kind of find a pocket of spiderweb looking marshmallow, you just want to drape it across and pull it right through the top."
Jessica's Spider Web Macaron Recipe
- 2oz almond flour
- 4oz powdered sugar
- 2oz room temp egg whites
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- 1 oz sugar.
- Black gel color (or your color of choice)
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Weigh and sift the almond flour and powdered sugar.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar.
- At a medium-high speed, wait till egg whites leave trails, begin to slowly add sugar.
- When sugar has been added, whip until you have soft peaks.
- Fold in dry ingredients, till your batter forms ribbons.
- Pipe onto baking sheet.
- Drop to release air bubbles.
- Let dry for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Bake 15-18 minutes.
- Add desired filling in between a pair of macarons.
BONUS WEB EFFECT:
For spider web look, melt 10oz marshmallow bag in a glass bowl. Microwave in bursts of 30 seconds and stir with rubber spatula. Once cool enough to handle, use hands or spoon to stretch marshmallow over and around the cookie.