Macaron Files- Part I

If happiness were a cookie, it would be called “macaron.” At least that’s the case for me. I discovered these delightful cookies in Paris when I was about 13 years old. My mom and I were with a good Parisian friend of mine and we were out and about, enjoying the city. It was mid-afternoon and I think she sensed that we were fading and needed a little pick me up. We were near the Opéra, so she suggested that we go get macarons from Ladurée. My friend immediately perked up, and I followed suit, assuming that we were in for a treat. Indeed we were in for a treat! We each chose a different flavor of macarons (that day it was chocolate, coffee and pistachio, I believe), and slowly savored each bite.

Macarons are different from your typical cookie. They’re almost treated like culinary art in France. You can choose from so many different flavors, from your simple “vanilla” to the much more complex, “passion fruit, rhubarb and strawberry” flavor. This last one was a featured flavor at Pierre Hermé last summer. (Pierre Hermé is considered one of the leading pastry chefs in France, and is particularly famous for his macarons…they’re amazing). Seeing as all of the best pastry chefs in France seem to be obsessed with creating the next amazing flavor of macarons, I naturally wanted to be part of the fun. While I don’t expect to become a world-renowned macaron pastry chef, I thought it would be fun to at least learn how to make them for personal enjoyment (and hopefully that of my friends and family too).
My first attempt turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I decided to make lemon-flavored macarons, with a homemade lemon curd sandwiched between the two cookies. They’re not nearly as pretty as the ones pictured above, but I thought they were a decent first try!
Here is the recipe I used for macarons cookies:
110 g egg whites
125 g ground almonds
225 g confectioners sugar
30 g caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
After you measure out the egg whites, set them out in a bowl (uncovered) at room temperature over night. I was a bit skeptical about this myself, but when I read up on it I learned that egg whites have natural antibacterial properties. I guess this is what makes it okay to do this, although I’m no expert in egg chemistry. If you’re unsure about doing this, I also read that you can just microwave the egg whites for 10 seconds to simulate the aging process.
Combine the ground almonds and confectioners sugar and sift them together in a large bowl making sure there are no lumps. Next add the pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat them at medium speed until they start to form peaks. At this point, slowly add the caster sugar to the egg whites to make a stiff meringue. Add the egg white mixture to the almond mixture and gently fold the egg whites in. If you are going to add food coloring, do so after the first few folds.
Next, layer two cookie sheets with either a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper (don’t use wax paper). Using a round pastry tip, fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe the macaron batter onto the cookie sheets. They should be about 1-inch wide and 1-inch apart. When you’re done piping the batter, set the cookie sheets aside while you preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The cookies need to sit, undisturbed for at least 15 minutes before baking them. Once 15 minutes have gone by and the oven is preheated, slide the cookie sheets into the oven. Instead of closing the oven all the way, place the handle of a spoon in the oven door to keep it slightly ajar. After 5 minutes, rotate the cookie sheets and let them bake for another 5-7 minutes. Once they’re ready, take them out of the oven and let them cool. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let them continue to cool. To finish the macaron process, simply spoon a little bit of your filling onto one cookie, spread it around, and top it with a second cookie. You can store these in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days. I found that they’re best when you bring them back to room temperature before eating them.
For the lemon curd, I used Alton Brown’s recipe from the Food Network. After the curd was done, I added about 2 tsp of corn starch and brought the curd back to a boil just to thicken it up (the first couple of macarons I put together with the original curd were a runny mess, so I had to adapt it).
If you want more information on making macarons, the websites I used can be found here, here, and here. I’ll report on my second attempt at making macarons soon!
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