Introduction: Unless you’ve been frozen in permafrost for the past five years, you’ve likely noticed that cupcake bakeries have popped up all over like iced mushrooms. Knock one down, and three take its place. Much has been made about not only the cupcake’s popularity, but also its incipient demise as the sweet du jour. Since we seem to be a culture intent on the next sensation, pundits, food enthusiasts and bloggers have all wondered what this sensation might be. More than a few have suggested that French macarons might supplant the cupcake. This may or may not come to pass, but the basic premise of the French macaroon is pretty damned tasty.
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In the United States, the term “macaroon” generally refers to a cookie made primarily of coconut. But French macarons are based on either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites. The texture can run from chewy, crunchy or a combination of the two. Two macarons are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam, which can cause the cookies to become more chewy. The flavor possibilities and combinations are nigh endless, allowing infinitely customizable permutations.
Famed purveyors of the French macaron include the legendary Ladurée (http://www.laduree.fr/index_en.htm) and Pierre Hermé (http://www.pierreherme.com/index.cgi?cwsid=7450phAC194316ph5211130) in Paris, Paulette Macarons (http://www.paulettemacarons.com/) and Jin Patisserie (http://www.jinpatisserie.com/) in Los Angeles, and La Maison du Chocolat worldwide (http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.com/en/index.php#/home/undefined/1). This is by no means a complete listing of patisseries and bakeries that sell macarons. If you want to check if any bakeries near you sell French macarons, here’s a good place to start: http://www.seriouseats.com/2007/10/where-to-find-macarons-new-york-city-….
French macarons are notorious for being difficult to master. Type in “macaron,” or “French macaron”in your search engine of choice, and you will be inundated not only with bakeries offering these tasty little cookies, but scores and even hundreds of blogs all attempting to find the perfect recipe, the perfect technique. Which one is right? Which captures the perfect essence of macarons? The answer is all of them and none of them. Macarons are highly subjective, the subject of passionate, almost Talmudic study and debate. Chewy? Crisp? Age your egg whites? Ground the nuts or use nut meal or nut flour? Cooked sugar syrup, or confectioners’ sugar? In the words of a therapist, what do you think is the ideal macaron? The answer lies within you.
Will French macaron supplant the cupcake as the next sweet trend? There’s no way to know. I couldn’t have predicted the resurgence of leggings, yet here they are.
Recipe Source: I’ve tried many, many recipes, and have discovered that my favorite macaron recipe comes from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. They have given me the most consistent results and so, for everyone’s delectation, I present to you an adaptation of Ms. Fleming’s recipe.
Note: Macaron making is somewhat labor intensive, yet simultaneously less difficult than you think it will be. One thing you must do is have your egg whites at room temperature. This ensures they beat up properly, as texture is an integral component to macarons. You will be piping the batter onto parchment paper or nonstick liners, and some home bakers use stencils to make sure their macarons are uniform in size. It’s your choice.
Be aware that you are beating your egg whites first to soft peaks. Soft peaks means that the peaks of the meringue curl over when you lift up the beaters. After you add the granulated sugar to the soft peak meringue, you will beat the mixture to stiff peaks, which, true to their name, stand straight up. Be careful not to overbeat your eggs.
You will also be folding the nut flour into the meringue. As with most recipes when you combine something with beaten egg whites, be gentle in your mixing to keep the egg whites light.
Some recipes call for drying the piped macarons on the counter prior to baking for 30 minutes to an hour. This recipe stipulates that you bake the macarons at a low temperature for 5 minutes, then take them out of the oven, raising the temperature, and baking them for an additional 7 to 8 minutes. Drying is necessary to get the trademark “feet” on your macarons. Experiment to find the best technique for you.
If you plan on using parchment paper rather than nonstick pan liners, be careful when removing the macarons from the paper, as they can stick and are very delicate. Some recipes suggest lifting up a corner of the paper and letting a drop of water fall onto the hot baking sheet, thus producing steam, which helps the macarons release.
Variations allowed: Fleming’s recipe calls for almond flour, but you can grind the nuts yourself if you are feeling ambitious or can’t get a hold of almond flour. (It is available at many online sources, however.) If you do grind the nuts yourself, be sure to add at least a cup of the powdered sugar with the nuts before grinding. This keeps them from turning into almond butter. Grind the nuts as fine as possible in your food processor. Maida Heatter suggests grinding nuts for at least 60 seconds, or longer than you think you need. They need to be extremely fine—powdery, in fact, like flour. If using almonds, try and hunt down blanched or skinned almonds. This helps with the texture and color. You might also consider toasting your nuts ahead of time and rubbing off the skins in some clean toweling.
If you’d like to use a different nut besides almonds, you are welcome to substitute them. Hazelnuts or pecans are good substitutes, but feel free to experiment with others. Our own Helen, of Tartlette fame, suggests that if you do want to use a different nut other than almonds, to have half almond, half other nut, as almonds are drier than other nuts and help again with that all-important texture. If you have a nut allergy, you can make nutless meringue cookies sandwiched with a filling, but it would be great if you could attempt to obtain the size and shape of standard macarons.
Flavor variations are, as I said, infinite. In Fleming’s original recipe, she calls for adding vanilla bean seeds to the granulated sugar, and folds in the zest of a lemon to make lemon macarons. You can add cocoa powder, instant coffee or espresso powder, green tea powder, fruit zests. You can tint the batter (Helen again suggests using powdered food coloring to keep from adding too much moisture to the batter). The same goes for fillings—anything goes. Ganache, buttercream, jam, caramel, custard. Here in L.A., there is place called Milk (http://www.themilkshop.com/) that bakes extra large macarons and makes them into delicious ice cream sandwiches. You must make at least one filling, preferably from scratch, but what that filling will be is entirely up to you.
An important note about coloring and flavoring: liquid food coloring can be used, but be cautious! Use 1-3 drops maximum, otherwise, according to Helen, it increases the moisture in the batter, and that can ruin the macarons. She suggests one trick: mix the liquid color with the almonds and powdered sugar and to let that air dry for a couple of hours. This reduced the moisture a little bit. If you use more than 3 drops of food coloring, you’re going to have a disaster. That means using fruit puree is out. One way to flavor the macarons is to use 1-2 teaspoons of citrus zest, 1-2 teaspoons of matcha (green tea powder), or 1-2 teaspoons of herbs or freeze-dried fruit powders. If you want savory macarons, you can try 1 teaspoon of saffron or other savory dry flavorings. If you want to use powdered color, Helen says that up to 1 tablespoon is a safe amount.
Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature, the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.
Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macarons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaron for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Yield: 10 dozen. Ami’s note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macarons.
David Lebovitz breaks it down: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/09/making_french_macarons.htm…
More macaron 411: http://www.seriouseats.com/2007/10/introduction-to-french-macarons.html
Get inspired by our own Tartlette!: http://www.mytartelette.com/search/label/macarons
Go behind the scenes of Paulette: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXIvX0-CEu0
Watch a pro pipe macaroons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_RfiFoWZKQ&feature=related
Beating egg whites: http://www.glutenfreecookingschool.com/archives/egg-series-no-1-how-to-b…