Crazy for French Macarons!

French Macaron photo by David Lebovitz

A few years ago, my cousin who lives in New Jersey, came up to Connecticut for a visit. She brought with her these little pastries that looked like a stiffer, smaller version of a whoopie pie. They are called French Macarons, she said, and she bought them from a french bakery in NYC. It was love at first bite. Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside with a burst of flavor from it's fruit ganache filling. I was in heaven. But at $2.50 a piece, heaven came at a price. I decided to try to make them myself. How hard could it possibly be?

My first batch was a disaster. The macaron cookies cracked and fell apart. The first lesson that I learned was to never try to make your own almond meal. I've attemped to make them again over the next few years, learned from more mistakes along the way, until I finally made a perfect batch. Hooray!

A macaron cookie must form a "pied" or a foot when baking in the oven. Without it, the pastry cannot be called a macaron.

A macaron pied are small, pleatlike frills that form at the bottom of each cookie. Macaron pied formation depends highly on how the batter (called macaronner) is formed during the macaronage process (the coming together of the meringue and other ingredients). I will incorporate some tips on the recipe that I adapted below.

Basic French Macarons adapted from Hisako Ogita "i love macarons"

2/3 cup ground almond flour meal (I use Bob's Red Mill)

1 1/2 cup organic powdered sugar

3 large egg whites at room temperature

5 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. On a piece of parchment paper or silpat mat, start by tracing 1 1/2 round circles about 1 inch apart. You will use this as a guide when piping out your macaron batter (also called a macaronner). In a separate bowl, mix together the almond flour and powdered sugar (if you are doing a flavor, this will also be the time to mix them in). In an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low speed (the egg whites MUST be at room temperature - meaning that it has been left sitting out of the refigerator for at least 1 hour. You must also make sure that none of the yolk is contaminating the egg whites. Otherwise, your meringue will not form). Add the granulated sugar and vanilla and start mixing on high speed. Mix until the meringue comes together and stiff peaks form (you can test the meringue by taking the whisk attachment and turning it upside down. If the meringue does not drip, it is ready).

2. This step is when you make your macaronage (the act of mixing together the meringue and the flour mixture). This is an important step! With a rubber spatula, mix half of the flour mixture into the meringue until incorporated. Then put in the rest. Once all the flour mixture is incoporated into the meringue, continue to mix and fold your batter - spreading out the batter against the side of the mixing bowl as you mix and fold. Do this for about 12-15 times until you achieve the desired consistency. When the batter becomes nicely firm and starts to drip slowly from your spatula when you scoop it out, the macaronner is done!

This macaronner has raspberry bits in it for flavor.

3. The macaronner is now ready for piping. You can use a pastry bag with a round tip for piping. I used the Wilton Dessert Decorator Plus - it is a lot easier and less messy to use. Place your parchment paper or silpat onto TWO baking sheets (one of top of the other) - this prevents the cookies from burning underneath. Pipe inside the circles that you traced for your guide. You want your cookies to be around the same size. After piping, tap the sheet a few times on the counter. Don't skip this process - this helps the macarons hold their round shape and help the "pied" to form. Let the batter dry on the counter for at least 10 minutes before baking. You can pre-heat the oven at this time to 375 degrees F. After drying, bake for EXACTLY 13 minutes. If your oven is not as hot as mine and you find your cookies still soft after 13 minutes, bake for another 3-5 minutes but keep a close watch!

4. Let the macarons cool completely before piping in the filling. To pipe the filling, turn the macarons upside down and pipe underneath and put two similar size cookies together. Keep refrigerated and in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Flavor and fillings - the possibilities are endless! These are the two flavors that I used:

Chocolate with chocolate ganache filling

Add 2 tbsp. good quality cocoa to the almond flour mixture as indicated in step 1. To make the ganache, in a small saucepan, mix together 2 cups of heavy cream, 1/8 cup honey, 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract and bring to a boil. Pour over 1 pound semi-sweet chocolate until the chocolate melts and whisk until smooth. Let cool before piping.

Raspberry with raspberry buttercream filling

Add 2 tbsp. crushed freeze dried raspberries to the almond flour mixture as indicated in step 1. To make the buttercream, cream together 1 stick butter (room temperature) and 1 cup powdered sugar in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup raspberry jam until smooth.

These macarons make wonderful gifts all year round! For some packaging ideas, go here. Happy baking!

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