What are macarons, you might ask? If you’ve never had one, stop reading this post. Head immediately for the closest French Patisserie and try one right now. When done correctly, they are the most delicate cookie combining the crunch of light fluffy meringue with a chewy almond flour texture and sweetened by soft creamy buttercream filling. Macarons can come in almost any color or flavor you can dream of, just do a little searching online.
These macrons, done in all shades of pink, were a bit of an experiment and a learning exercise for my very trusting girlfriend who let me make them for her French-themed baby shower. Fortunately, what they lacked in uniform structure and beauty (thanks to my lack of experience and French baking finesse) they made up for in great flavor and texture. It also helps that my girlfriend is a very talented photographer, designer, and has an eye for making everything beautiful. She took these photos and really made them look amazing. If you’r just getting back from the bakery with your macaron, you must also take a minute and visit her site, Grace & Ivy. Soak in the beauty of her stories and photography of French-inspired vintage collectibles.
I digress. Now, back to the macarons…
If you are new to making macarons, the batter is a combination of an egg white meringue with sugars and flours. It is very delicate and can easily be disturbed. This often translates to bad results in the oven such as cracked tops, flat cookies, over baking and browning, raw centers or a host of other things that might leave you wanting to throw out the whole batch and start over. That said, the results are so tasty they are worth the effort. Here is a good basic recipe and a few tips I discovered along the way.
You can see the imperfections, but they are trying to be good macarons!
French Vanilla Macarons
60g egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla exract
150g finely ground almond meal
150g powdered sugar
60g additional egg whites, room temperature
TIP #1: Weigh your ingredients to prevent the mixed results you might get from differences in egg sizes, humidity, and the way ingredients might be packed or scooped into a measuring cup.
TIP #2: Have all of your ingredients fully warmed to room temperature. The eggs will hold their structure much better once they are whipped.
Make the meringue: Whip 60g egg whites in a free standing mixer until soft peaks form. Meanwhile, heat the sugar, water and vanilla extract in a small saucepan over medium heat. Using a candy thermometer, stir and heat until the mixture reaches 140 F. Remove it from the heat immediately. Begin to mix the egg whites again at medium speed and slowly pour the sugar mixture along the side of the mixing bowl until it is fully incorporated. Turn the mixer speed to high and whip until thick glossy peaks form.
TIP #3: Mixing long enough to get stiff, glossy peaks to form the meringue is critical to getting stable, fluffy cookies. Otherwise, the batter might be too gooey and sticky to rise or come off the baking sheet later on.
Make the flour: Combine the almond meal and powdered sugar in a food processor and blend until the mixture is smooth. ( You can sift the ingredients together instead, but the food processor is much faster. ) Once blended, add the remaining 60g of egg whites and stir until a smooth creamy batter has formed. DO NOT whip these egg whites. If you’d like to add color to the batter, add it here and combine until fully incorporated.
Finish the batter: Start by adding one scoop of the meringue to the almond/sugar mixture. Gently fold it in until just incorporated. Add the rest of the meringue and gently fold in until the batter just barely drizzles smoothly off the end of a spoon.
Make the cookies: Transfer the batter to a piping bag with a large round tip. Make quarter-sized dots on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat. Let the unbaked cookies set out for one hour until a dry skin forms. (This will prevent cracking and make a nice smooth surface as they bake). Bake the cookies at 275 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for another 5-7 minutes and remove from the oven. Do not let them brown. Once the cookies have cooled for a few minutes, they should come off the parchment paper if gently pulled by hand. Using a spatula might damage the delicate texture of the cookie.
TIP #4: Drying the cookies is a critical step that cannot be skipped. It will make all the difference in the shape and texture of the cookie.
Final Assembly: Sandwich the cookies with a buttercream frosting or pastry filling of your choosing. The cookies can be stored in the fridge overnight and served the next day. They also freeze beautifully for a couple of weeks.
TIP #5: Enjoy!