Love is in the air, and it's time for Mac Attack 4- my contribution to my latest addiction, the French Macaron. Wanting to give my macs a bit of Southwestern flair, I thought long and hard about which ingredients I wanted to make them of, knowing that I wanted to steer very clear of the traditionally anticipated Valentines chocolates.
I really wanted to showcase ingredients abundantly available here in Arizona, yet used in a non traditional way. My first thought was to use mesquite flour, which I seem to find everywhere I go from mid summer to fall. That is when most local people harvest them from their own trees and and have them locally ground. Mesquite has a sweet, nutty flavor, which I felt would be a perfect mac companion. But none was available this time of year, and I really didn't feel like driving 30 miles to pay $12 for a pound at Whole Foods. If any local readers know of another place, please, do tell...
When I went into my pantry to gather ingredients one day for cornbread, as I was reaching for the bag of cornmeal, it struck me- blue cornmeal would be a fantastic addition to my macs, still keeping within my quest for the Southwest, and adding an interesting speckled color as well. I decided in addition to that, to flavor the macs with a cinnamon- vanilla flavored Mexican toasted barley drink, that is similar to Horchata, made most often from rice.
Everywhere I go in the Valley I see prickly pear cacti. Sadly, I don't even think of them as a food or ingredient much anymore, rather, an ornament for ones yard. But the fruit harvested here, when its little spines are removed, have a deliciously sweet, berry- melon like flavor, with almost a hint of spice. Flavor can also change, depending on where you live. I just thought it would be the perfect companion to my Blue corn macs. Blended with a fresh Mexican Requeson cheese (similar to ricotta), would make a rich filling even cupid would love.
Macarons are absolutely French, subtly elegant, and worthy of the finest establishment. No doubt about it. But here in the great Southwest, well, we just pull up a cactus, pour ourselves a margarita, and eat 'em on our patio ;-)
3 Tbs Cebada con vainilla y canela (Barley with cinnamon and vanilla) mix
1/4 c ground almonds
1/4 c Blue Cornmeal
1-1/2 c powdered sugar
3 large egg whites- room temperature
5 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Prickly Pear Cream
3/4 c requeson (or ricotta, fully drained)
1/4 c prickly pear jelly
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
Place the almonds, blue cornmeal, cebada (barley), and powdered sugar in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is well blended and like a fine powder. You will still have some larger pieces of blue cornmeal throughout; that's okay. Sift once into a medium bowl and then set aside.
Place room temperature egg whites into bowl of stand mixture, and beat until foamy. At that point add vanilla, and slowly add granulated sugar, beating until shiny, but not stiff.
Add the cornmeal mixture to the egg whites, folding gently, yet mixing thoroughly, to be sure there aren't any lumps.
With a pastry bag, pipe 1" circles on a parchment lined baking pan, about 1" apart. Lightly tap pan on the counter to let any air bubbles surface and pop. Let piped macarons sit for about 15 minutes before placing in a pre heated 350F oven. Bake for 10 minutes, watching carefully, until you notice "feet" and the shells are hard. Let cool on parchment before removing.
For the filling:
In a food processor or blender, combine the requeson and the prickly pear jelly. Pulse until smooth, and well blended. Pour mixture (will be runny) into a small bowl. Then add 1 tsp unflavored gelatin to mixture, stirring well. Chill for 30 minutes.
Pipe or spoon filling mixture onto a single mac, sandwiching with another. Best when chilled for about 30 minutes.