I had actually ordered some decent quality almond meal to play with (I thought that the generic bulk grocery store stuff was maybe letting me down), but - surprise, surprise - when I wanted to continue my macaron experiment, my expected package was unexpectedly late. Gotta love Canada Post, sometimes.
So I went for some generic almond meal, again. I got enough to make a few batches, just to be on the safe side. But this time, I was gonna get it right - I was gonna make sure my sieve was desert-dry and I was gonna make sure that my almond meal was too. I spread it out in a thin layer on my cookie sheet lined with parchment, and baked it on low heat - 200*F for 30 minutes. Then I let it cool.
For my first attempt, I kept the espresso flavour with a dash of cocoa to top them off. Italian method. Cracked on the tops with no feet. A big fail.
Okay, so it's not a moisture problem. Then what the heck is it?
Well, all of the fails so far had yet another thing in common - the flavour. Maybe the espresso powder and the addition of cocoa powder topping them off was messing them up somehow. At this point, I really wasn't sure anymore.
It's 10pm, and by this point, Jason - my partner in crime - starts to take interest in my experiment and begins troubleshooting with me. The last variable had to be the almond meal - not the moisture content, but the quality itself. The grocery store was still open, but not for long, so we got our butts down to the store and went on a hunt for the best almond flour we could find. Something comparable to the Mandelin brand that had given me so many successes before.
I stumbled on some super-fine blanched almond flour made by Bob's Red Mill. It looked promising, and very similar to the stuff that I had used in the beginning. I grabbed it, as well as an awful Salisbury steak TV dinner to soothe my macaron depression...
Perfect macarons. Nice feet, beautiful smooth surface. Absolutely no sticking to the parchment. I ran across the kitchen and downstairs. Jason heard my commotion as I went to fetch him and he knew - he knew. He ran back after me to the kitchen and stared into the glass of the oven and smiled at me as I beamed and smiled with delight - it really was the damn almond meal all along, wasn't it.
The moral of story? Don't skimp on quality when it comes to the almond flour - it is the back bone of your recipe. When sieving the cheap generic bulk stuff vs the decent quality packaged stuff on the shelf, I saw the difference - but I didn't think anything of it. There was little left at the bottom of the sieve when it came to the good stuff, but with the cheap stuff, there was much bigger and greasier chunks of almond left. And that was even after throwing it in the food processor or coffee grinder. Maybe it was the fact that I used almond meal instead of almond flour? Is there even a difference? I'm so confused.
I cannot make a conclusion at this point - only a half-conclusion. I need to attempt the macaron using the same almond flour, but with the Italian method this time. Only then can I say that it really was the almond meal. But I am pretty confident that this is the issue, and I'm also confident that after all of this, I'm sitting down and having a beer...