This was our first macaron-making experience. It was one of our most asked question throughout the years: Have you made macarons? The answer was always no, we were a little bit nervous and scared to! We had heard about horror stories and read about the high failure rates. Macarons are fickle. You have to be precise. Any one thing could go wrong and upset a macaron. If you're confused about the name, please note that macaroons are sweet, chewy coconut mounds.
We did do some research first. Let's start off with some background information from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops:
"The French macaron is a light, elegant confection, a sandwich cookie.... The cookie part of a French macaron is slightly domed, with a whisper-thin top crust that is as fragile as an eggshell and an interior that is a cross between meringue and the world's lightest cake. The base of the cookie is a bumpy little circlet referred to as 'the foot,' and it, along with the thin, smooth top crust, is a signature of a well-made macaron. Classic macarons are made with a base of ground almonds and whipped egg whites and, depending on the flavor, sandwiched with buttercream, ganache, curd, or thick preserves."We found it amusing to note that she writes how "real French macarons are hard to find in America and difficult to make at home." Oh, how times have changed! (The book was published in 2002!)
Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes from the Macaron Cafe. (Thank you to my Secret Santa last year for surprising me with this book and click here to see our trip to the shop in NYC.) It seemed pretty straight forward. It looked doable. By golly we were going to do this!
The ingredient list didn't look too daunting, all we needed were:
French Meringue Macarons
Recipe from Macarons
(Makes about 50-60 shells for 25-30 filled macarons)
2 3/4 cups of almond flour
2 3/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 cup of egg whites (from 7-8 eggs)
A pinch of salt
3/4 cups of granulated sugar.
Gel paste food colouring is optional - we didn't use any!
So, the book tells us that the first step in making successful macarons is to age your egg whites. Yes, we know, this sounds odd, but we followed these strict instructions! So separate your egg whites 2-3 days before baking. Store them in the refrigerator - covered. Two hours before you start making your macarons, take the egg whites out of the refrigerator, uncover them, and let them come to room temperature. That's not too difficult! Just keep this in mind during your planning stage. One cannot make macarons on a whim - the very thought of this makes us kind of sad.
Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks. You can use this waiting time to line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Test the egg whites by taking the whisk attachment off and scoop out some of the meringue. See that curved tip there? If you rotate it, the tip is still firm and shiny, it doesn't droop to the other side! That's when you know you're ready.
Fill your pastry bag with a large-round tip and fill it with the macaron batter. Squeeze small amounts onto your parchment paper to form 2 1/2 inch circles. You can also make them slightly smaller or larger, it's up to you! Just be consistent so you have pairs with the same size. And leave at least 1 inch of space between the piped macarons.
Our macarons still had peaks on top from piping. If this happens, that means the batter could have been mixed a little bit more. But no fear, dab your fingers with water and gently press the peaks down. The water prevents the macaron from sticking to your finger and causing more peaks! One more step, tap the baking sheet on the tabletop to eliminate any air bubbles.
Now, preheat the oven to 300°F (325°F for non-convection oven, the cookbook recommends using a convection oven because of the even distribution of heat. Score!!) and let the macarons rest. Yup. Go wash the dishes or read a book. The batter needs to sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Apparently this ensures that your macarons will have feet!
LOOK!! Our macarons have "feet" or "pied." Just like Dorie Greenspan's description of a macaron above!
Both our parents liked the macarons and requested more. Howard's parents received them enthusiastically and asked for another batch to take to a dinner party. My parents were content with stealing the shells to snack on, but also asked for a batch to bring to the community centre where they exercise with their friends. Oh and our colleagues, we brought the extras to work and they were highly praised (unless people were being polite).
We were left with a lot of chocolate ganache, the recipe makes too much, so try and half it if you want to use it. Next time, we're going to play with flavours! Maybe green tea? Lemon? Or a simple jam filling for my parents. We're just ecstatic that these turned out - why were we so worried in the first place? Needless to say, we highly recommend reading Macarons for all the tips and recipes!