Macarons are one of my favorite cookies.
Not the American coconut filled macaroon, but those delicate little meringue and ganache sandwich cookies, whose name you must pronounce with a hint of arrogance, even as you half-choke out the last syllable in a pseudo-French accent: mac-a-ROnh (phlegm-y noise).
Macarons have a reputation as a rather, well, pretentious cookie, but I think they deserve every ounce of hype. I have loved these cookies since I was first introduced to them two years ago.
After I finished my undergraduate work, I got this crazy notion to work in a winery in Napa. Not in the tasting room. In the winery itself. I was a “cellar rat”; trust me, it’s not a glamorous job. But it’s a bit of a long story that I will save for another day.
The point of that digression was to tell you how I was introduced to the famous (infamous?) macaron. I was on my way back from an interview with Nickel and Nickel wines when I stopped at the Bouchon Bakery in Yountville for something sweet. As I entered the cramped corner shop owned by the French cooking maven Thomas Keller, also owner of the renowned French Laundry, the first thing I noticed were the airy, pastel cookies all lined up beautifully in the lit glass cases, their meringue discs sandwiching a rich ganache. While $3.50 seemed a bit excessive for a single cookie, I could not be dissuaded from those beautiful little chocolate pillows. I was simply too curious.
There were so many flavors to choose from: bright and cheery green pistachio, alluring pastel pink raspberry, sultry tan salted caramel, and then, of course, the deep dark chocolate. Can you guess which one I went with?
Of course I picked the chocolate.
I pulled the cookie out of it’s thin paper bag, several small crumbles flaking off, and took my first bite of macaron. I was instantly addicted (I really wanted to say “It was love at first bite” but I felt that was a little too cheesy and may possibly be associated with that horrible vampire trend that just won’t go away).
Back to the macaron. The crisp exterior crackles slightly in your mouth before melting away somewhat like more substantial spun sugar. The ethereal shell gives way to the thin, but dense, layer of velvety chocolate and cream at the center. The chewy remains of the cookie, along with the luscious ganache, meld in to a single extraordinarily bite that satisfies all the senses: the earth-colored cookies flecked with almond flour, the warm smell of cocoa powder and butter, the slight crackle of the crisp meringue, the delicate, yet substantial, texture, and finally, the rich, full chocolate taste.
I became obsessed. Any time I saw macarons in a bakery, I had to have one. I wanted so desperately to be able to make these gorgeous treats, but they seemed so intimidating. That Christmas, my parents gave me this macaron cookbook by Annie Rigg, which forced me to try making them myself.
My first attempt was an utter failure.
My batter was a liquid mess that simply oozed out of the piping bag and got everywhere. By the end of the ordeal I (and much of the kitchen) was covered in pink macaron batter but only had a bunch of paper thin, blobby looking monstrosities on a pan to show for it.
I gave up.
I gave up for a long time. I just wrote it off as one of those things I could not make. It just wasn’t going to happen.
But lately macarons have been on my mind. The idea of making them began to tease me. Any time I saw a macaron in a bakery or even on a blog, it seemed to mock me, challenging me. I decided to give it another shot.
And this time, to my delight and utter amazement, it worked!
After some research, I learned that the major MAJOR key to a good macaron, is to perfectly mix the batter when you add the almond flour to the egg white. You can’t over mix and you can’t under mix. Apparently, last time, I over mixed my batter, causing them to deflate in to that awful liquid mess.
I don’t mean to scare you off from making these cookies in any way. In fact, after I did my research, I found that macarons are much easier than I anticipated. It’s just that many recipes make them out to be much more difficult than they really are. BraveTart’s Macaron MythBusters debunks many “necessary” steps “required” for the perfect macaron. She strips down the macaron making process to a few steps. You don’t need to age egg whites. You don’t need age the piped macarons. Those are just silly, extra steps that convolute the recipe.
If you want to try making these for yourself, I definitely recommend taking a look at BraveTart’s tutorial along with Eat.Live.Travel.Write’s video tutorial. Both provide clear and concise advice on how to perfect macaron making techniques.
While they do require a little more skill than your simple brownie recipe, these cookies were not nearly as fearsome as I thought. I challenged myself to overcome my fear of making macarons and was rewarded with success. Your turn.
French Macarons with Strawberry-Elderflower Filling (adapted from Basic Macaron recipe from Annie Rigg’s Macarons)
Makes approximately 20 filled cookies
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2/3 cups finely almond flour or finely ground almonds (I used raw, whole, unblanched almonds)
- 3 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 3 Tb granulated sugar
- 2-3 drops red food dye (or any color you’d like)
- 3 Tb strawberry jam
- 1/2 Tb elderflower liquor
- Preheat oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Sift together powdered sugar and almond flour. Do not skip this step. You want to send the almond flour and sugar through a sieve together at least twice to ensure a smooth texture. (Alternatively you can grind them together in a food processor).
- To a another clean, dry bowl, add egg whites, salt, and granulated sugar.
- With an electric mixer, beat the egg white mixture:
- On medium speed (~3 setting) for 3 minutes. Eggs will be frothy.
- Increase to medium high (~7) for another 3 minutes. Eggs will have soft peaks.
- Increase to high (~8 or 9) for another 3 minutes. Eggs will have stiff peaks.
- Add food coloring and beat at max speed for another 1 minute. Eggs will be very stiff.
- Dump the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture in to the egg mixture.
- With a soft spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients in to the egg whites, approximately 20-25 folds. The batter should have the consistency of “molten lava”. I highly recommend watching the second video tutorial on this page to get an idea of what you are looking for.
- Gently scoop the batter in to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip.
- Pipe ~2 inch circles on to the lined baking sheets. Again, the third video on this page is a great help if you are new to piping.
- After you have piped an entire sheet’s worth, take hold of the baking pan and hit it hard against the counter. I know this sounds weird but it helps get rid of bubbles that cause the cookies to crack. Don’t worry. If your macarons are properly mixed, they should not spread or even move.
- Bake, one pan at a time, in preheated oven for 12 minutes.
- Let cool completely on the pans.
- Mix the strawberry jam and elderflower liquor.
- Spoon a bit of jam mixture on to the bottom of one cookie and gently press a second cookie on top. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to a week) before eating for the best flavor.
You can fill these cookies with whatever you would like: curd, buttercream, marshmallow fluff, ganache, etc. When I made these I filled some with the strawberry-elderflower jam, some with this beer buttercream I made for my applesauce cupcakes, and a few with red wine caramel (recipe coming soon!). My favorite, in both taste and texture, was definitely the beer buttercream.