It wasn't all that long ago when I had no idea what a French macaron was. My friend Lisa brought me what looked like a chocolate cookie sandwich, but one bite of that decadent goodness changed my world. Crunchy on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside and filled with a chocolate raspberry ganache, that was one cookie (based on a David Lebovitz recipe) I would never forget. It left me dying for another and another, haunting my thoughts about how such a perfect cookie could come to be. The baker in me decided to take up the challenge to recreate that unforgettably delicious cookie and to create the perfect macaron, a journey that has left me wanting to pull out my hair on more occasions than I would like to admit. There is so much technique and perfection that goes into making these cookies--a few strokes too many and you lose those perfect little "feet," but too few and you will end up with cracked shells; temperatures too high and they will crack, but too low and they will not cook through, leaving you with hollow shells. After years of practice and fiddling with different temperatures, flavorings, and fillings, I am getting closer to my end goal, but still have a few tweaks to make here or there to create "the perfect macaron." It has become somewhat of an addiction: batch after batch, one trial after another, playing with endless flavor combinations.
In regards to fillings, my favorite is by far swiss meringue buttercream. It helps cut the sweetness of the shell, and what's great is you can add any flavor to it. Whereas semi-sweet chocolate ganache comes in close second to buttercream, I am not a huge fan of white chocolate ganache given how sweet it is in combination with the already sweet macaron shells.
If you are serious about macaron making, I would highly advise investing in a kitchen scale. It is much more accurate than using measuring cups and spoons, something I have found to be important for obtaining consistent results. I also use Nordic Ware baking pans. They are doubly insulated and make for more even baking. Prior to this, using other thinner baking sheets, I have noticed my macarons cracking more around the edges of the pan due to the higher heat there -- Nordic Ware will help prevent that. Regarding what to line your pans with, parchment paper or silicon mats will both work fine, but I prefer the results I get with parchment paper when it comes to macarons. Silicon works great for every other cookie I have made.
What you will need:2 baking sheets
1 piping bag and round piping tip
Macaron Shell Ingredients:140g egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
70g granulated sugar
230g powdered sugar
120g almond flour, sifted
2 g salt
Gel or powdered food coloring (optional)
Buttercream/chocolate ganache filling. See below for recipe
Preheat oven to 150C or 300F. An oven thermometer can also help you gauge the temperature of your oven. My oven runs cool so I usually have to increase mine to 320F to truly reach an inner oven temp of 300F.
First, measure out 140g egg whites. I have heard the meringue forms better when the egg whites are "aged" a few days and when they are at room temperature. I have tried both, and have not noticed much of a difference.
Add cream of tartar and beat eggs with an electric mixer on low for 2 minutes, then add granulated sugar and mix on medium for 4 minutes. Finally mix on high for an additional 2-4 minutes until stiff peaks form.
In a separate bowl, sift together powdered sugar, almond flour, and salt. Stir to evenly combine. Add the sugar/flour mixture to the egg whites 1/3 at a time. Fold in gently, scraping the edge of the bowl often. This step is called "macaronage" and is the process of deflating the egg whites while incorporating the dry ingredients. Continue folding until mixture runs like lava. You can try the figure 8 test: if you can use your spatula to scoop some batter and draw a figure 8 with the batter flowing slowly but smoothly, then you are ready to pipe. Another test you can do to see if your batter is ready, is place a small amount of batter from your spatula on the rest of the batter. If the small strip melts back into the batter within 30 seconds you are ready to pipe!
I found this video on youtube that demonstrates the macaronage process.
Next place a piping tip in a piping bag and cut off the end of the bag. Fill your piping bag with batter and pipe 3cm circles of batter on a parchment lined baking sheet. To keep my shells even, I like to draw circles on a separate parchment paper that I place underneath another piece of parchment paper that I can pipe directly onto. After you finish piping all your macaron shells you can pull the stencil sheet from underneath the top parchment paper and use it for your next batch.
Tap your baking sheet on a hard surface 3 times, then turn 90 degrees and tap another 3 times. This helps get rid of air bubbles and will therefore prevent hollow shells and cracking. Using a toothpick you can pop the other bubbles you see on the surface of the shells.
Bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes. You should start to see little feet begin to form in the first 5-7 minutes. These are the little ruffly borders underneath your macaron shell. When your shells are complete, they should slide off the parchment easily. If they are sticking to the parchment paper when you go to peel them off, the macarons are probably underdone and need to be baked for an additional few minutes. Underbaking your macaron shells can lead to hollows. Cook them thoroughly to avoid these. Even if you overbake them, after filling them and leaving them in the fridge for a few days, they will soften.
Match up your macarons by size, one side up, and one side down so they are ready to be filled.
Next, fill your macarons. For Christmas, my friend Dulce and I made Cranberry-Orange macarons.
For this you will need 1 cup of buttercream and 3 tablespoons of cranberry jam pureed and mixed with 1 tsp orange zest. To make your own cranberry sauce, you can check out my recipe for cranberry jam here and the recipe for swiss meringue buttercream here.
Fill your piping bag and tip with the buttercream and fill the macaron shells.
Lastly, sandwich them together. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving to allow macarons to "mature" and for filling to seep into the shells. Let thaw for 15-20 minutes before serving. Macarons can be kept in an airtight container wrapped in an extra layer of plastic wrap for 2 months in the freezer for best freshness. They will last about 3 days in the refrigerator for optimal texture. After 3 days they may become softer and may lose the crunchy shell and chewy center texture.
And of course, some photo fun :D