I think I’ve found the perfect dessert.
That’s saying a lot, because I love sweet treats.
It’s funny, though. The basis for baking is science, and I hate science. I was lucky to get by with a C in chemistry in high school.
Of all the goodies I’ve made, the macaron has to be my favorite.
A macaron is an Italian/French gift that’s like a cookie sandwich. Say it with me… ma-cah-raaaaah. The “n” is silent. But, don’t be surprised if you hear it pronounced macaroooooon.
I’ve also gotten them at Earth Fare and the French bakery in Cowpens.
The magic is in the texture and construction.
The cookie itself has a paper-thin shell that’s protecting a decadent center that manages to be chewy and light at the same time. It’s made with meringue (whipped egg whites/sugar), ground almonds (provides the chewiness and a subtle almond flavor), and powdered sugar.
The filling is creamy. It’s where you’ll find the most flavor. It can be a buttercream, a ganache, a jam, or a even a curd. I’ve seen lemon, pistachio, vanilla, and lavender.
Here’s the thing. They can run at least a buck a piece, and I have to drive at least 30 minutes to get them. So guess what. I tried to make them. I mean, why not? If I can save money and time, and have them whenever I want, wouldn’t I be a macaron moron for not giving them a whirl in my own kitchen?
I looked at many recipes, and settled on Martha Stewart’s.
You can grind your own almonds, but if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby I suggest you use their “Just Almond Meal”. I think was $3.99 for a whole bag.
I’m not going to pretend that making macarons is easy. If it was, they wouldn’t run you at least a dollar each, and you’d find them in all major grocery chains.
Set aside plenty of time, patience, and counter space.
Its journey begins with egg whites. Some chefs will tell you to age your egg whites, meaning let them sit in the fridge for days. I don’t think it’s necessary.
You do, however, have to let your whites reach room temperature. Don’t rush this. Let them sit on the counter for at least an hour. At least. You can save the yolks for another use.
I went through the pain of waiting for the chill to wear off, but I rushed the rest of the recipe, and it showed. For my first go ’round, I followed Martha’s Parisian macaron recipe.
Though I took the time to go buy gel food dye (the liquid kind can mess with the consistency of the batter), I forgot to add it to the whites while they whipped. I dropped in the gel, got frustrated that it wouldn’t mix in. I added liquid food coloring. I mixed, and mixed. And mixed. Ultimately, I think I deflated this airiness of the batter.
The next milestone in this process is the drying of the cookies.
I used a big Ziploc bag (you can be fancy and use a piping bag/tip) to drop the batter onto a prepared baking sheet. You’re supposed to let them sit for 20-30 minutes to dry. This is key. Drying creates a skin on the top of the cookie. When they bake, air escapes out the bottom, creating what’s know as “feet,” the signature air pockets at the bottom of the dome.
I tossed ’em in the oven after they sat for about 10 minutes. The weren’t dry. And, I didn’t let them cook the whole time with the oven door cracked, as directed. The cookies didn’t rise, and they were bumpy. The flavor was there, though.
I opted for Martha’s less complicated macaron recipe. This one is a keeper.
The steps are slightly more involved.
You have to blend your powdered sugar and almond flour in a food processor, then sift the mix twice. This process gets rid of any large pieces of almond, ensuring a smooth cookie.
For my first batch I made my favorite, pistachio.
To preserve the almondy airiness of the cookie, it doesn’t really get any flavor additives. You’re supposed to put it in the filling.
For the pistachio theme, I added just a bit of green dye.
In this recipe, you just pop the cookies (after rapping the pan on a table to release air & letting them dry) in the oven and let ’em go. You do have to set the oven to 375, then lower it to 325 before you bake.
Typically, the pistachio filling is made with pistachio paste. It’s hard to find, and can run you about $10 a can on the Internet. So, I stared at the baking aisle in the grocery store hoping I’d have an ingredient epiphany, and I did!
It’s practically impossible to not eat the macarons as soon as they’re assembled, but try to resist. They’re better chilled for just a bit. This gives the flavor in the filling a chance to solidify and seep into the cookie.
While the chocolate chai was interesting and different, the pistachio was my favorite.
You can find Martha’s macaron recipe here.
Here are my filing recipes:
1 box pistachio flavored instant Jell-O
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2-3 splashes of pure almond extract
1-2 good drizzles of heavy cream
In a bowl, whip together the Jell-O and butter.
Splash in the extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then whip.
With the mixer running on low, drizzle in some heavy cream. Add just enough to make the mixture creamy and spreadable. You don’t want it to be like a lump of clay.
Chai White Chocolate Ganache
2 chai tea bags
1/2 cup of heavy cream
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
In a small pan, combine the cream and tea bags. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Let the mixture steep for about a minute, then strain it.
Pour the hot cream onto the chocolate chips and add the butter, whisk together until smooth.
Store in the fridge for about 30 minutes to let it cool and solidify.
I need you to promise me something. Please tell me you’ll have a macaron soon. I’d be fine with you trying one from the stores I listed. You are seriously missing out if you don’t eat one of these colorful, chewy, and oh so special cookies.
When it comes to cookie sandwiches, the macaron is Cinderella. The Oreo is its snarly-nosed, buck-toothed, big-butted step sister.
Tip: When filling a Ziploc or piping bag, use a tall cup for a filling station. Put the point inside the cup, then wrap the bag around the rim. You can scoop in the filling without making a mess of the bag.