Monday, October 22, 2007

Mmmmmm....French Macarons!

Anyone who has tried the beloved French macaron while visiting Paris knows why these little cookies are such big deals these days. Bite into one Pierre Herme or Laduree macaron and your foodie life has suddently taken a turn for the better: you experience a crisp shell that cracks as you bite into it, giving way to a light-as-air, moist interior. It is a sandwich cookie resembling a burger of all things, and the filling in the center is always creamy, often adding a very unexpected kick of flavor to your macaron.

The problem with macarons is finding them in the U.S., where most people think of a "macaroon" with its coconut-y chewiness. No, French macarons are not at all the same. They are made with egg whites, confectioners sugar and almond flour.

The difficulty in making your own macarons comes down to the mixing. It has to be done just perfectly....if you mix your batter too much or too little you won't get the perfect result (shiny dome, no cracks, little frilly feet). A rule of thumb in making French macarons: once you see the batter "flow like magma", or the tip of batter disappear when you pull out the rubber spatula, you know you are ready to pipe.

To be successful in this endeavor, you need to have the right equipment: a stand mixer, a food processor, parchment paper or silpats and a pastry bag with a 1/4 inch wide round tip.

For Chocolate Macarons, I tried a number of recipes but find my greatest success with David Lebovitz's recipe. With his, you get the perfect frilly feet, the crisp shell, and the interior is the perfect consistency. I have never had a failure with this recipe, which is not the case with so many others I've tried. I have tweaked it a bit, by lowering his temperature and cooking time (this is probably a difference between my oven and his, I think my oven cooks hotter than it should). Good luck, and if it doesn't work the first time, try try again!

French Chocolate Macarons:
1/2 cup almond flour (or you can grind your own almonds very fine)
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 Tb. dutch process cocoa powder
2 egg whites at room temperature (let them sit for a few hours up to one day)
5 Tb. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 (the original recipe calls for 375, but 350 works better for me).
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

In a food processor, process the almond flour, confectioners sugar and cocoa powder until combined. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until they begin to froth. Add the granulated sugar gradually, and beat until stiff peaks but not dry. It is important that you don't over beat or under beat your egg whites.

Remove bowl from stand mixer and add the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, fold the ingredients together, the egg whites will fall and that is ok. Mix until the batter "flows like magma" or a peak dissolves into the batter.

Fill pastry bag with batter and pipe 1 inch rounds on your silpat or parchment paper (some people draw circles on their parchment, but it's pretty easy to pipe out the circles without). I also like to sift some cocoa powder on top of my macarons, it makes them look beautiful.

Let the macarons sit for about 20 minutes before putting them into the oven. Only bake one pan at a time, in the center of your oven. I bake mine for 12 minutes (the original recipe calls for much more). Remove from oven and let sit until cool, then peel from parchment or silpat. Once cool, the shells can be filled immediately or frozen in an airtight container and filled later. I don't like to freeze filled macarons, but I know you can.
What you are looking for: a rounded and shiny dome with no cracks, little frilly feet (not too big) around the bottom and a slightly chewy interior.

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. light corn syrup
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate finely chopped (I use Valrhona 56%)
1 Tb. butter, cut into small pieces

To fill the cookies, you can either use a pastry bag or an icing spatula. I've done both and there's really no difference, but the pastry bag is less messy. Just fill one shell and put another shell on top. The macarons should be left to sit at least one day and up to 3. They get softer as they sit, and the result is a Laduree-worthy macaron!

Bon appetit!


Michele said...

These are gorgeous -- and the perfect use for the whites I will have after churning up your salted caramel ice cream.

Thank you for answering the question that has most been holding me back from making macarons (despite having collected at least a dozen recipes) -- if and when I can freeze them. I realize the final version needs to be consumed within a day or two, but I rarely get to bake for a crowd so I only bake items I can scale way down and/or freeze. Have you actually frozen the baked, unfilled cookies yourself?

Michele said...

Gorgeous -- and the perfect excuse to use up the extra whites when I make your Salted Caramel ice cream. Have you actually tried freezing the unfilled cookies? This is the reason I have yet to try baking the long-desired macaron (I must have a dozen recipes) -- because I rarely get to bake for a crowd, I only bake recipes I can scale way down or freeze well. Thanks for being so thorough in your recipes and editorializing.

Lesley said...

Yes, I have frozen the baked and unfilled cookies. I did that for a baby shower I was baking for. I did all different flavors and froze them in airtight containers as I went. Then, a couple days before the event, I took them out and filled them, and let them sit at room temp in an airtight container. They were just fine!

Erika said...

hi, i'm new to your blog, and stumbled across this entry....have you ever tried your recipe without it being chocolate? how would you alter the recipe if you didn't want the cocoa powder in it? add more powdered sugar? thanks so much! and your macaroons are beyond perfect...seriously :)

Lesley said...

Hi Erika,

I find the chocolate ones are probably the easiest ones to make. Something about the cocoa powder, etc., it's all chemical mumbo jumbo but they always seem to work nicely.

I have a bunch of other macarons on the site, do a search for "macarons" and you will see recipes for other flavors besides chocolate.

Thanks for visiting!