But look a little closer, and the macaron reveals a much more complicated character. The texture of the macaron is an enigma: buttery-smooth center, moist, chewy and airy interior covered by a perfectly smooth, crisp top that is as thin as an eggshell.
It is also clear that the macaron is not your typical "milk and cookies" kind of confection. Culturally speaking, it seems that macarons have exploded in popularity in recent years, surpassing the cupcake as the darling of the foodosphere. It is a generally accepted fact that Paris is home to the finest specimens in the world (macarons are French, after all). Pierre Desfontaines of Ladurée is credited for creating the macaron as we know it (the sandwich cookie variety). Today, Ladurée still bakes up thousands of them daily in an impressive array of flavours and colours from liquorice and orange blossom to rose and bergamot. Of course, Ladurée is not the only purveyor of these petite sweets; Lenôtre, Gérard Mulot, Dalloyau, and Pierre Hermé are just a few other fine French patisseries that offer excellent macarons. Luckily. the recent popularity of macarons means that you do not have to live in France to be seduced by these beautiful and elegant treats. It's likely that you could find them at a local bakery. You can even try your hand at making them at home!
This is my second attempt at these. My first was about 3 years ago and I was not aware of the little details that are required to make these work. Needless to say, the resulting pans of sad looking little egg white blobs weren't exactly a hit. This time around, I was armed with new tricks and things worked out much better. I kept things simple by making the shell one colour, and using two flavours of fillings (chocolate and raspberry buttercreams). I accidentally toasted the ground almonds while trying to dry them out, which led to a nuttier flavoured cookie, and a darker, cream colour rather than snowy white (or whatever colour you'd choose to tint them). While the ingredient list is deceptively simple, there is a degree of technique involved in making these! I have included many tips below, and with practice, there is nothing to stress over. Make sure you can set aside 5-6 hours to make these (don't worry, there's a lot of "resting" time).
The method is rather unusual, yet clever. By letting the piped batter sit for two hours before baking, the confectioner's sugar dries to form the characteristic thin shell. When the batter is baked, the shell rises and the liquid center pools out underneath to form the ruffled "feet." (I danced around the kitchen when I saw the "feet" through the oven door. Is that weird? No?) Clearly, the sky's the limit when it comes to variations, and I cannot wait to try different flavours in the future! Curious to give it a try? Well, without further ado, here's the recipe!
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups (4 oz) FINE almond flour or finely ground almonds
3 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or any extract; do not use an oil based flavoring as it will deflate the egg whites
Preparing the almonds:
1. If you cannot find almond flour, buy blanched almonds (whole, slivered, or sliced, doesn’t matter). Place them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the almonds are very finely ground. Don’t grind them until you make almond butter!
2. Pass the ground almonds through a sieve to remove the large lumps. Continue to process the larger pieces until all the almonds are sieved. This may take a while, but the almonds need to be very fine, almost to a sawdust-like consistency.
3. If the ground almonds seem moist and clump together, dry them in a low (200 F) oven for 10-20 minutes. Take care not to brown them!
Preparing the egg whites:
1. Let the cracked egg whites thicken by leaving them uncovered at room temperature for two hours.
2. Warm the egg whites to 75-76 F. Do this by warming the mixer bowl in hot water and drying thoroughly. Add the egg whites to the warm mixing bowl and measure with thermometer.
Preparing the baking pan:
1. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Draw 1 ½ inch circles about 2 inches apart on the surfaces, and flip over, pencil side down onto the baking sheets. The circles serve as a guide when you pipe the macarons onto the cookie sheet. (The pencil will wash off the Silpat)
Making the batter:
1. Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl and add the ground almonds.
2. Whip the egg whites on low speed until they froth, then add the salt. Make sure you start at low speed to slowly develop the egg white foam.
3. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the granulated sugar. Beat to the “firm peak” stage. The foam should be smooth, moist and shiny. Do not overbeat to the Stiff Peak stage. When the beaters are lifted from the foam, the peak should almost stand straight.
4. With a large spatula, fold in 1/3 of the powdered sugar/almond mixture into the egg whites. Fold in vanilla and another 1/3 of the dry mixture.
5. Fold in the remaining dry mixture and food colouring, if desired. Powdered food colouring is preferable because it does not add moisture to the batter. It is also possible to use gel food colouring because it is concentrated and you do not need to add much to get a vibrant colour. Avoid liquid food colouring if possible.
6. The consistency of the batter should be like runny cake batter. Spoon a little onto a plate and if it flattens and smoothes itself out within 10 seconds, you’re good to go. If it’s a little too stiff, give it a few more turns with the spatula.
Piping the batter
1. Fill a pastry bag with ½-inch plain, round tip (such as Ateco #806). Fill the pastry bag no more than half full.
2. Pipe the batter onto the parchment lined baking sheets, starting from the outside edge of the circle and spiraling in. If you find the batter too runny or flowing out of the tip too quickly, let the batter sit for about 5 minutes. The powdered sugar will tighten up the mixture. But do not let the batter sit too long or it won’t “smooth out”
3. Firmly tap the bottom of the baking sheets on the countertop to remove large air bubbles. If you want to add toppings such as chopped nuts to the macaron tops, now would be the time to do so!
4. Let the batter rest and dry at room temperature for 1-2 hours. The longer the batter sits, the better the feet on the macarons are.
WHY? Letting the batter rest before baking and leaving the oven door slightly ajar during baking helps prevent the tops of the macarons from being too soft or fragile. As you let the batter sit, the edges of the piped cookie batter circle dry out. So, when you bake the cookie, the dried edges form the pretty feet and the more liquidy part of the inner batter puffs up to form the cookie part. A thin sugar shell dries on top of the batter, allowing a thin sugar skin to form on top, stretching and helping keep the macaron flat and shiny on top as it bakes. So, resting the batter is essential.
Baking the macarons:
1. Position the oven shelf in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 325 F (160 C) for 30 minutes.
2. Bake one sheet at a time for 10-11 minutes. Use a wooden spoon the keep the oven door open during baking.
3. Bake until macarons are slightly firm and can be lifted off the parchment (bottoms will be dry).
4. Cool on the sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer parchment to a cooling rack. When completely cool, remove the macaron using a metal offset spatula.
Fill the macaron with any filling of your choice (chocolate ganache, buttercream, jam, etc.) I used a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Pipe about 1 teaspoon of filling, making sure the filling doesn’t ooze over the sides!
Macarons should be eaten at room temperature. Store alone in an airtight container for up to 3 to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.
Recipe adapted from Sarah Phillips
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