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Macarons!


Oh, macarons. So elegant, so delicious, such a sensitive dessert to get right. Much more so than its lovable but less sexy friend, the macaroon.

As I work on moving my Wordpress site to its new home, I thought I'd use it as a chance to edit past recipes and publish new ones. Macarons are very close to my brain and heart at the moment, since I just made a large amount for one of my best friend's weddings (thank you, Adam and Anna!). I spend the winter testing and re-testing recipes, because as I said, a macaron is a sensitive little thing.

When a macaron is made correctly, it has two elements that merge into one perfect bite: a crisp but chewy meringue shell, and a smooth and silky filling. The filling is traditionally buttercream, but it can also be ganache, curd, jam, etc. Macarons must rest in the fridge for at least 24 hours after they're assembled, so the two elements can meld. If you take a bite of a macaron and it's a distinct shattering of the shell, then the filling, it hasn't rested long enough.

Many trial and error batches into my search, I settled on a recipe, and it didn't let me down in the crucial week before the wedding. It came from the pastry queen Dorie Greenspan (go and read all her books right now!), and I am eternally grateful to have found it. If it's your first time making macarons, it may take a few tries for them to come out well, but it will be so worth it! Even imperfect macarons are wonderful. **One note before you begin - I recommend using egg whites that have rested (already separated) in the fridge for at least two days. An easy way to have these on hand is to separate a dozen eggs, make some pastry cream or lemon/passionfruit curd with the yolks, and reserve the whites.

French Macarons

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (6 1/2 oz./200 g) almond flour

  • 1 2/3 cups (6 1/2 oz./200 g) confectioners’ sugar

  • 2/3 cup (150 ml) egg whites, at room temperature

  • Food coloring (optional)

  • 1 cup (7 oz./200 g) granulated sugar

  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) water

  • Buttercream or your choice of filling

Equipment:

  • small digital kitchen scale

  • mesh strainer (don't use double-mesh; you'll lose the will to live)

  • one small mixing bowl; one large mixing bowl

  • small-medium pot with a heavy bottom

  • candy thermometer or deep fry (stainless steel) thermometer

  • food processor

  • Kitchenaid mixer or similar

  • spatula

  • pastry bag

  • 1/2" round pastry tip (Wilton A1 works well)

  • two full sheet trays or four half-sheets

  • parchment paper, for baking and storing

  • large plastic container for storing

Directions:

1) Weigh your almond flour, then powdered sugar, and combine the two in the food processor. Grind until very fine (usually doesn't take more than 2 minutes or so). Set the strainer over the large mixing bowl, and tip the mixture into it. Use your spatula to stir/press through the strainer. This ensures that if there happen to be any clumps, the strainer will catch them and you can simply re-grind those. Otherwise, your macs might crack if the batter is lumpy and uneven.

2) Measure out the egg whites in two parts, 1/3 cup for each. I like to use a 1/3 dry measuring cup even though it's blasphemous, but you can be safe and weigh them instead. Pour the first 1/3 cup into the clean, dry Kitchenaid bowl and fit with the whisk attachment. Add a medium-large pinch of cream of tartar and/or a small-medium pinch of fine sea salt (for stability).

Pour the second 1/3 cup of egg whites over the almond flour/sugar mixture in the large mixing bowl. Stir/smush together with the spatula until the mixture is homogenous. It will be very thick and hard to stir, but it will be lightened post-meringue addition. You may add food coloring at this point.

3) Clip your candy/deep-fry thermometer to the side of the saucepan. Pour in the 1/4 cup of water. Slowly, making sure no crystals hit the sides of the pot, pour in the 1 cup of granulated sugar. Use your fingers to gently mix the sugar into the water - try to make sure there are no dry patches. If you get crystals on the side, use a damp paper towel to wipe them away.

Before the last steps come together, prep your sheet trays lined with parchment, and your pastry bag fitted with the tip.

4) Turn on the water/sugar mixture, and boil until the temperature reaches 243° to 245°F (117° to 118°C). At the same time, start mixing your egg whites in the KitchenAid until they hold medium-firm peaks (the peaks will mostly hold their shape but fold gently at the top when you remove the whisk; they won't stand up straight like stiff peaks). These steps can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. If your syrup is boiling too quickly and the whites aren't ready, slightly turn down the temperature. If the syrup isn't ready but the whites are, turn the mixer down to low until the temperature is correct.

When both the egg whites and the syrup are ready, carefully remove the thermometer with a hot pad and set aside. The handle of the pot will most likely be very hot as well. Keep the mixer on medium-high (at least an 8 on a KitchenAid), and slowly but steadily pour the syrup into the mixer. Try not to hit the whisk or the side of the bowl - keep the stream between those two. If syrup spatters onto the side of the mixing bowl, just leave it there and don't try to mix it in. Turn the mixer to high speed and mix for 7-10 minutes, until the meringue reaches room temperature.

5) Take the large bowl of almond mixture and give it a stir. Then, using a spatula, scrape the meringue into the same bowl as the almond mixture. Fold, stir, and scrape together, making sure to occasionally press the mixture against the sides of the bowl to cut down on air pockets. Some say this takes as many as 40 folds/stirs, but the most important thing is the texture of the final mixture. If you scoop some out of the bowl with the spatula and hold it up, the mixture should flow off the spatula easily but not super quickly. It should also meld back into the rest of the mixture after a few seconds. This will be important when you pipe the macarons.

6) Preheat your oven to 325F. Check your oven temp with a good oven thermometer. Using your spatula, transfer the macaron mixture to the pastry bag until it's about halfway full. Twist the top of the bag so it's a comfortable fit in your hand, and then hold it about 1" above the parchment-lined baking sheets. You're aiming for rounds that are about 1.5" when they've stopped spreading (the batter will settle out slightly).

This takes practice and some prefer to use a mat with circles pre-traced. I don't - but I think it helps to have a rhythm in your head so that each round is the same size. I often find myself singing the alphabet and it helps, I swear! When you pipe, the macaron will look more like a Hershey's kiss at first than a circle. Don't try to pipe a circle, because the macaron's shape will settle into a circle if the batter is mixed correctly. Leave at least two inches between each macaron.

7) This is the weirdest part - when a sheet is full, pick the sheet straight up (don't tilt it) about eight inches from the counter, and drop! It will make a giant bang. Rotate 180 degrees and drop again. This is a crucial step for removing any final air bubbles which will turn your gorgeous macs turn into a cracked mess.

Finally, let the macarons dry at room temp for about 20-30 minutes, until they don't stick to your finger when you touch the tops.

8) Bake one sheet at a time for 6 minutes, then rotate and bake for another 6 (or more if necessary). You'll know they're done when they don't wiggle side-to-side if you (gently) try to move them. Don't try to peel them off the parchment until they're completely cooled.

9) Once cooled, match each half to a similar-sized half, then use another pastry bag and tip to fill with whatever you like! Dulce de leche, Nutella, Biscoff, or jam are all quick and delicious options. I'll be posting a recipe for my favorite Italian meringue buttercream soon.

Thanks for making it this far! Macarons can be a pain to perfect, but once you do, you'll have a recipe that will impress almost anyone!

Till next time,

Pies & Pinups

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