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French Macarons

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Recipe adopted from Martha Stewart.  [Recipe makes 35 macarons].

If you were to ask a pastry chef to list the top five most difficult desserts to make, there's a good chance that macarons (not to be confused with macaroons) would take a spot high on the list.  The end product looks simple enough, but the precision and timing that goes into every step is so crucial that one minor mistake could ruin everything.

Your almond flour and superfine sugar have to be sifted multiple times.  Your egg whites have to be initially be the correct temperature and have to be whipped until the perfect firm peaks are achieved.  The dry and wet ingredients have to be folded just right, since under or over-folding both ruin the cookie.  Humidity plays a huge factor along with oven temperature and even baking.  Cookies must be identical in size and thickness when piping, and must hide the peak that's formed when you finish piping each disk.

A quick google search for 'macaron failure' gives you a little insight as to what minor mistake can cause.

Assuming everything goes smooth, your macarons...

  1. should be perfectly smooth on top,
  2. should have the proper lift,
  3. should have "legs" around the bottom,
  4. should be shiny and hard on the outside yet chewy on the inside,
  5. should be slightly larger than a quarter when it comes to the diameter, and
  6. should not have any large air pockets inside.
There's probably quite a few more things I forgot to list...but you get the idea.

So with all of that said, why on earth would someone spend the time attempting to make a batch?  I think largely the answer is both the challenge, as well as the pure joy you get when everything goes to plan.  Oh yeah...the taste isn't half-bad either :)  

After the topic was brought up at work this past week, I thought that there was no better time than now to give them a try.  And you know what?  They didn't turn out half bad!  You can see from my picture that they could have been a little smoother on the top, but besides that, I was pleased with the end product.  So if you're looking for a challenge that rewards you for attention to detail and hard work, why not give them a try?

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces (~1 cup) powdered sugar
3/4 cup fine almond flour

2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar (Side note:  You can make your own by running granulated sugar in your food processor for 30 seconds).

DIRECTIONS:

Cut two sheets of parchment paper for two separate half-sheet pans.  On each sheet of paper, trace 35 equally spaced rounds that are 3/4-inch in diameter.  Turn the papers upside down and place in both of the sheet pans.  Reserve 

Mix the powdered sugar and almond flour in a food processor just until combined.  Sift the mixture two times, and reserve.

Using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites on medium until they begin to foam.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks form.  Lastly add the superfine sugar.  Gradually increase the speed to high and whisk for 8 minutes.  Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and fold the two together by hand until the mixture is smooth and just starting to lose its viscosity.  [Side note:  This is a crucial step that's unfortunately not the easiest to describe in words.  You're eventually looking for a mixture that is loose enough that when transferred to a piping bag, it will slowly run out of the tube.  If it runs right out and is too liquid, you've most likely stirred the mixture too much.  Practice makes perfect].  Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip and create 3/4-inch rounds on your parchment paper-lined sheets.  Once they're all piped out, bang the sheets on the counter several times to release large air bubbles.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  While the oven is preheating, allow your cookies to sit out at room temperature.  Once they form a crust and don't stick to you when gently touched, they're ready for the oven.  Decrease the heat to 325° F and bake one sheet at a time for 10 minutes, or until they just start to get some color.  Remove from the oven and let rest for several minutes.  Carefully run a thin spatula under each disk to release, and transfer to a cooling rack.  Repeat this process once more for the second sheet of cookies.

Fill each macaron with a teaspoon of filling (of your choice), and carefully sandwich everything together.

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