Tuesday, November 2, 2010

French Macarons

It's taken me this long to re-try my macarons. I found out the first time I made them that when they say to wait 30 minutes before baking, that they mean WAIT 30 MINUTES!

So here is a little history on Macarons, not spelled with a double 'o'. Macaroons with two 'o's are the chewy clumps of coconut that are so delicious especially when dipped in chocolate.

The macaron is a cream-filled sandwich cookie from France.

The English word macaroon is derived from the French macaron, which in turn comes from the Italian maccherone, or "fine dough."
The macaron's origin isn't clear, but it may have been brought to France from Italy as early as 1533 by Catherine di Medici and her pastry chefs. Macarons gained fame in 1792 when two Carmelite nuns seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution baked and sold macarons in order to support themselves, thus becoming known as "the macaron sisters." The macarons they made were a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar. No special flavors. No filling. Just 100% cookie.

It wasn't until the 1900s that Pierre Desfontaines of Parisian pastry shop and café Ladurée decided to take two cookies and fill them with ganache. Today Ladurée continues to be one of the first stops for macaron-crazed fans in Paris. No longer a humble almond cookie, the macaron turned into a versatilely flavored treat with a thin, light crust briefly giving way to a layer of moist almond meringue following by a center of silky smooth filling.

The innards of Pierre Hermé's limited edition ispahan macaron

Here is how a macaron should and shouldn't look like!
Here's what I look for in a macaron:
  • The cookie-to-filling ratio should be between 1:1 and 2:1. I have seen the atrocity that is a thin layer of filling spread upon one cookie, or a blob of filling that fails to extend to the edge of the cookie. Not cool, man, not cool. I feel like this is one of the easiest problems to "correct" when making a macaron; if the filling looks skimpy, just squeeze in a bit more. Just a bit! But no. We are frequently denied this extra squeezing.
  • The filling should be smooth, firm (like ganache), light, and not sticky. Aside from a few wayward crumbs, eating a macaron should be clean. Filling shouldn't squish out of the cookie nor should it leave much residue on your teeth. (This may not apply to all fillings, such as caramel or jams.)
  • The texture and surface of the cookie should be very smooth. Bumps show that the almond wasn't ground finely enough or wasn't sifted to take out the chunks. A chunky macaron might taste okay, but a finer one tastes better.
  • The crust of the cookie should be thin and only provide the most useless protection against the soft cookie layer underneath. Biting through the crust should be effortless. A dry, semi-hard crust that shatters into the soft center of the cookie is not fun.
  • The cookie's texture beneath the crust should be light, just a little chewy, and soft, but not so soft that it's mushy. It's okay if the cookie looks "uncooked."
  • As much as I love sugar, sweetness shouldn't take over in a macaron. They come in a wide variety of flavors for a reason—so you can taste the flavor. Cloying sweetness that forms a lump in the back of your throat is a no-no.

Here is the Basic Recipe. Feel free to add any flavorings you like.
250g Almond Flour
450g powdered sugar
200g egg whites (aged)
50g granulated sugar
2g cream of tartar (oprional)

1. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar and granulated sugar to stiff peaks. Do not beat on high speed or you will not get the correct egg structure.

Stiff peaks should look like this: When you pick up the whisk, the peak stands up straight. 
2. Sift the remaining dry ingredients and fold them into the egg whites.

3. Using a piping bag and a medium tip, pipe small dollops onto a silpat or parchment paper. Let these stand for 30 minutes (yes.. wait the 30 minutes!)

4. Preheat the oven to 440F degrees and bake macarons in the back of the oven for 6 minutes (where it is hotter). Then move them to the front of the oven and pake until cooked through and center is no longer dry. They shouldn't get a lot of browning so don't look for that as your cue. The best way to do it is to touch them ever so gently on top and see if the crust is thick enough. The first batch might be a test batch but the next ones you should know better. I recommend a test batch for sure if you've never made them before.
Bon Appetit

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