When I traveled to Paris for the first time in 1997, I was introduced to macarons. They are amazing little almond meringue confections with endless varieties of fillings. If you've never had one of these you are truly missing out. The December 1996 issue of House & Garden magazine published a beautiful article, "Cookie Fortune" which included the history of the French macaron, photographs that I have been tempted to frame, and a recipe from patisserie Ladurée. I found that recipe and the procedure totally intimidatiing. I filed it away, only taking it out occasionally to admire again the photographs of the beautiful, pastel-colored marcarons. As I've become more involved in visiting pastry-themed blogs, I've realized that the French macaron does not have to be intimidating and is something that can easily be made at home, and has been on my growing list of "things I need to bake". In fact, it has been on my list for quite a long time, but a photograph that was posted by Corey of Tongue and Cheek was what finally inspired me to set aside a morning for my first attempt at making macarons. I am now hooked and on the way to further experimentation.
What I learned:
• There are many recipes on the web for macarons and different baking times and techniques. I found Corey's to work the best for me. She baked her macarons at 300˚F for 12-16 minutes, then left them in the oven with the heat off and the door ajar for another 2 hours. I found that this technique preserved any color that was added to the meringues. When I baked them for 16-18 minutes, as another recipe recommended, they were brown, instead of the intended pink.
• They really don't spread much after being piped onto the parchment. I used 4 cookie sheets for this recipe since I left about 2-inches in between each meringue. Next time I'll be fine with just 2 sheets.
• Drawing circles on the underside of the parchment paper will help achieve more consistent-sized meringues.
• Serious Eats has a great post on making and baking macarons. I used their recipe for ingredients and some of the procedures along with Corey's of Tongue and Cheek
• 225 grams powdered (Confectioners') sugar
• 125 grams almond flour (I ground 125g of blanched almonds along with the powdered sugar to a very find powder in my food processor)
• 110 grams egg whites (leave in a jar at room temperature for 1 to 2 days before using in this recipe)
• 30 grams sugar
• pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. The powdered sugar and almonds should be mixed together in a food processor to a fine powder. Pour into a large mixing bowl.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks; slowly add the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
4. When the egg whites are glossy, add food color, if desired, until combined.
5. Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture, folding until fully incorporated.
6. Using a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch round tip, pipe the macarons onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (it helps if you secure the parchment to the cookie sheet by placing a little bit of the meringue on each corner between the sheet and the parchment) in 1 1/2-inch discs.
7. After piping, let the meringues set at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before baking.
8. Bake for 12 minutes at 300˚F, turn off the oven, and open the oven door. Leave the meringues inside the cooling oven for 2 hours.
The fillings: Buttercream is typically used for the filling of French macarons, but anything and everything is possible. I made a chocolate ganache for half of the macarons and a white chocolate-raspberry for the other half. For each I started out by pouring a little heavy cream in a small saucepan, heated over a low flame, and removed before it came to a boil. I removed the pan from the heat and added enough dark chocolate or white chocolate to give a good spreading consistancy, stirring until melted. I added a little unsalted butter to the dark chocolate to give it some shine, and seedless raspberry preserves was added to the white chocolate. These were piped onto the meringue discs using a smaller pastry tip.