Hazelnut macarons with gianduja ganache

I think I'm starting to get comfortable with the rhythm of making macarons so I'm systematically tackling a list of my favorite flavors.  Today, it's hazelnut macarons, which I've paired with a gianduja ganache. 
I'm laughing at myself as I type "gianduja ganache" because it sounds like a lame attempt to sound more sophisticated than I am.  Truth be told, I'm probably not even pronouncing "gianduja" correctly (but I love to say it for fun) and I only learned the term a year or two ago.  La Maison du Chocolat makes these amazing almonds coated with a gianduja paste that I love.  Anyway, what I do know is I've always loved the combination of hazelnut and chocolate so whatever you call it, for me, it's simply delicious.  The filling is basically chocolate ganache that I've mixed with some hazelnut paste (leftover from the hazelnut cake I made recently) so I guess we could just call it a chocolate-hazelnut ganache filling.
I'm happy (and relieved) to report this was my second successful batch of macarons.  I would love to figure out how to get my macaron shells a bit denser, less hallow, in the center, but I'm not complaining.  I'm learning a little something and becoming more comfortable with the process each time.  As I get older, I realize things can't and don't need to be perfect, and it's futile to try to impress other people.  That attitude makes life a lot more relaxing.  Afterall, it's about enjoyment and things don't need to be perfect to be enjoyed thoroughly.

I had a lot of fun making and eating these hazelnut macarons.  Hazelnut macarons are sometimes labeled as praline flavor at the bakeries.  Instead of using all almonds in the batter, you substitute half with toasted hazelnuts.  If you're like me, you might wonder why half and not all.  I've seen recipes doing either but I decided to stick with Helene's (from her beautiful blog, Tartelette) advice.  She explained to me that nuts other than almonds have a higher fat content, which is less conducive to making macarons.  Hence, the inclusion of the almonds is a good thing even when you're making other flavors.  I asked her about this on her blog and she answered - how cool is that!
Just for fun, I sprinkled some toasted chopped hazelnuts on top of a few of the macarons.  It's nice to look at them and be able to tell what you're about to bite into.  I was concerned that the hazelnut flavor would not be strong enough using the equal mix of almonds and hazelnuts but the toasted hazelnut flavor was quite prominent.
And I know it's still winter (even though it's been a relatively mild one here) but I thought I'd played around a little more.  If you've visited macaron shops like Ladurée in the summer, you might have seen they sell ice cream with a macaron shell on top.  So I made my own imitation of that. 
Then I thought to myself, why not make an ice-cream sandwich out of it?  And so I did!  Our resident macaron connoisseur (you know, the six-year old) devoured it.  It actually holds up pretty well in the freezer (though I only stored it there a few hours).  Just take it out of the freezer and let it sit out at room temperature for a little bit before eating.  Let me just say that macarons do indeed go very well with ice cream.  It helps that the shells freeze quite well.
Other macaron experiments to be continued...

I'm no expert but once you've made macarons and found the recipe and techniques that work for you, you'll be able to use that and tweak it for other flavors.  That might include using different nuts, powders (like cocoa, coffee, tea), spices (say, cinnamon), or food coloring.  So the recipe I used for these hazelnut macarons is basically the same I used for the coffee flavored ones.

This time, we're using hazelnuts.  And speaking of hazelnuts, I recently tried a technique I read about on My Baking Addition that comes from cookbook author, Alice Medrich.  You know how you typically toast hazelnuts and then rub off the skin in a dry dish towel?  That works fairly well but you're always left with a decent amount of skin still on the hazelnuts.  This method calls for blanching the nuts in a mixture of water and baking soda, then placing them in ice water and rubbing the skins off.  After this process, I let them dry out overnight and then toast them when I'm ready to use them.  This method of removing the skin works like a charm, which is not to say it doesn't involve a fair amount of work.  But if you can't find peeled hazelnuts (and I can't) and you're making a cake or something where you really want clean, skinless hazelnuts, this is the method.
You can see more detailed descriptions of my macaron making learning-process from my previous posts here, here, and here.  I used the same techniques that worked for the coffee macarons but start with an equal mixture of sliced almonds and toasted hazelnuts.
Grind the nuts together with confectioners' sugar until it's a fine powder.  Sift into a bowl to make sure there are no large lumps of nuts remaining.  If there are, I grind and sift it again.
Whip egg whites until stiff, then add the nut and powdered sugar mixture to it. 
And the tricky part is here where you want to incorporate the two until you end up with a thick magma or lava like texture that holds its shape but falls back onto itself when you test a dollop onto a plate.  It should not take more than 50 strokes to fold together.  I literally stopped at 25 folds and tested it, folding a handful more times until it looked right.  
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a tip about 1/2 inch wide.  Pipe roughly 1 1/2 inch rounds onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets.  Rap the sheets firmly on the counter 3-4 times. 
If you want to sprinkle on any toppings, this is the time to do it.  Then let the sheets sit for about 30 minutes so the macarons get a chance to dry out a bit.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees but turn it down to 300 right as you put the baking sheets into the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time.  Here's how they came out:
One thing I did notice this time around, the macarons baked on the parchment had more prominent "feet" than the ones on the silpat.
The macaron shell on the left was baked on silpat; the one on the right with parchment
The macarons baked on the silpat slipped right off, with perfectly intact bottoms.
This time, however, the ones baked on the parchment stuck just a bit.  I did not have this problem last time baking the coffee macarons.  To be fair, the macarons I piped onto the parchment lined pan were a little larger so they might've needed a few more minutes in the oven.  Plus, I could've cooled them a few minutes longer before removing as well.  But it just really goes to show that when it comes to making macarons, a few steps/missteps can lead to different results.
A particularly stubborn macaron shell from the parchment lined baking sheet
Now for the filling, I decided to jazz up a chocolate ganache with some hazelnut paste I had left over from making hazelnut cake.  I had stored the leftover in a glass jar in the fridge.  Before using here, I removed it from the refrigerator several hours earlier to let it come to room temperature, then stirred it up well to redistribute the oil that's risen to the top. 
I made a small batch of ganache, using an equal mixture (2 ounces total) of milk and dark chocolate.
Once I whisked in 1/4 cup of hot cream, I combined the ganache with 1/4 cup of the hazelnut paste.  I figured the paste is thick enough that when combined with the ganache, which tends to harden quite a bit (particularly when chilled), it should be firm enough enough to work as a filling.
Let the mixture sit, whisking occasionally, until thick enough to spread onto the macaron shells.  You can put it in the refrigerator to speed up the process if you like.
I was really happy with this filling.  It worked well, with a texture that is slightly softer than the usual ganache filling.  Plus, it really drove the hazelnut flavor home with these macarons.  I might've discovered the perfect reason to buy hazelnut paste going forward!  I didn't have any leftover filling or I considered refrigerating it and trying to make some truffles out of it.
Here are our hazelnut macarons with gianduja ganache.  Crisp shells give way to a lovely chewiness, which is my favorite part of a macaron.  These tasted amazing (if I do say so myself) and I think the filling had a lot to do with it.


Recipe:

Hazelnut Macarons with Gianduja Ganache Filling
Recipe for macaron shells adapted from Tartelette (I've incorporated techniques I learned in other places and this is what works for me)

Macaron Shells:

- Makes roughly 20 filled cookies, depending on their size -


90 grams egg whites, or from about 3 eggs (aged 1-2 days*)
30 grams granulated sugar
55 grams almonds (I use the slivered kind)
55 grams peeled, toasted hazelnuts
200 grams confectioners' sugar

*Aging the egg whites: Separate the egg whites and place in a bowl, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours.  For longer than 24 hours (up to 5 days), store whites in the fridge and bring to room temperature before starting.  The purpose of this is to eliminate moisture from the egg whites so that the batter will be thicker and you have an edge in your macaron making.

Grind the almonds, toasted hazelnuts, and confectioners' sugar together in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground and it looks like fine powder.  Pass the mixture through a medium-coarse sieve.  If there are large lumps remaining at the bottom of the sieve, place them back in the food processor and repeat.

In the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam.  Then gradually add the granulated sugar until you get a stiff, glossy meringue.  But do not overbeat the meringue or it will be too dry and the macarons won't work.

Add the dry mixture to the meringue.  Give it a quick fold to break up some air and then carefully fold the mixture together.  You want the whites to be incorporated and the mixture to be thick and lava like.  Test the batter by placing a dollop on a plate.  If it holds its shape but the top flattens on its own, it is ready.  Otherwise, give the batter a couple more folds.  The process should take less than 50 strokes; it is better to fold once and check rather than over do it.

Fill the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip that has about a 1/2 inch opening (I use Ateco #807).  Pipe 1 1/2 inch (or size you prefer) rounds onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets at least an inch apart.  Rap the sheets 2-3 times firmly on the counter.  Let the macarons sit for about 20-30 minutes until the surface of the shells are slightly dry. 

While the macaron shells are sitting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place baking sheets into the upper and lower thirds of the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 300 degrees.  Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on size).  Let cool completely before removing and placing on cooling racks.

When fully cooled, spread ganache onto one macaron shell and sandwich with another.  Many people say macarons taste better with a little rest in the refrigerator.  Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days and bring them up to room temperature before eating. 


Gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut) Ganache Filling

- Enough to fill macaron shells in the recipe above -

1 ounce milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)

1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup hazelnut paste, well stirred

Place chopped chocolate and espresso powder into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan.  Remove the cream from the heat once it begins to boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and let sit for one minute.

Beginning at the center, slowly whisk the chocolate and cream together until combined.  Add the hazelnut paste and mix together.  Let the mixture sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the ganache is fully cooled and thick enough to spread.  (You can place the ganache in the refrigerator, if necessary, to speed up the process but check on it frequently.)


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