Macarons

For me (and probably most people), the macaron conjures up images of Marie Antoinette. Pinky jutting and teacup clinking in the garden with hair suspended high atop her head, as light and fluffy as the macaron’s whipped egg whites. A symbol of French elegance and gaiety, the cookie’s light, crispy exterior cracks open to reveal a soft, decadent center, and the never-ending rows of pastel confections at pastry shops speckled around Paris, New York, and even LA, mean that this pastry trend is here to stay.

In my mind, the macaron seemed like something best left to the pastry shop. While I’ve always thought these cookies were pretty, I honestly didn’t think they were worth the trouble of making at home when the store-bought ones I’d had weren’t all that great to begin with. Maybe I got them from the wrong bakery, or they were part of an older batch, but my experience with the macaron has been mostly artificial tasting, sickly sweet, and just plain disappointing. Still, when I cracked open the April-May issue of Fine Cooking, there they were. Drawn in by their beauty (and Joanne Chang’s fun and breezy style), I decided to give the macaron a chance.

My first batch.  A little rough around the edges, but still good.

I have now tackled three batches. Not one has been exactly like the other, but all have been delicious and beautiful. The cookies are light, but not too light, and the fillings…oh the fillings!  They are out of this world!  The chocolate ganache and lemon curd in particular could really be used for any number of mouthwatering desserts. Normally, I’m a chocolate girl through and through (why waste empty calories on anything but, right?) but this lip-smacking lemon curd made with Meyer lemons from my tree was like no other I have ever tasted.

While this recipe isn’t exactly what I’d call easy, macarons bring a wow-factor to a truly special meal. Because they do not use yeast, these would be a perfect addition to a Passover celebration, and their light and fluffy texture would add a special touch to an Easter brunch as well.

Almond Macarons

Joanne Chang–Fine Cooking Magazine

This almond recipe is a base for all of the macaron’s flavor variations. I added vanilla bean to mine to jazz up the flavor, so I included that addition in this recipe. You can also make the cookies without vanilla, or with other suggested ingredients listed at Fine Cooking’s website. I would also suggest to sift the almond flour before you measure to get a more accurate read of your amounts.

 

Makes approximately 30 sandwich cookies depending on size

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

7⅜ oz. (1¾ cup plus 2 Tbs.) confectioners’ sugar

4⅜ oz. (1¼ cup plus 2 Tbs.) almond flour

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 recipe of macaroon filling of your choice (see below)

Seeds from one quarter of a vanilla bean (I got mine at Costco)

 

Line 3 completely flat baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking liners and set aside. Using a medium mesh sieve, sift the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour into a large bowl and set aside.

 

In a clean stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (I used my KitchenAid) or using a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy and the wires of the beater leaves a trail (1 to 2 minutes).  Add 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar and continue to whip for another 30 to 45 seconds. Repeat 3 times with the remaining granulated sugar. Once all the sugar is mixed in, continue whipping the whites until they turn glossy and stiff.

 

Add the seeds from one-quarter of a vanilla bean.  Distribute the seeds evenly throughout the batter by pressing the clumps of seeds against the edge of the bowl with a large rubber spatula. When the seeds are distributed, fold in the confectioners’ sugar mixture with your spatula. Once most of it has been incorporated, fold in the remaining mixture until just combined.


 

Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of your oven.  Using a piping bag fitted with a ½ to ¾ inch round tip (I used a plastic bag with a corner cut off), pipe the batter onto the prepared sheets in rounds that are roughly 1 inch in diameter and ¼ to ½ inch thick, spaced about 1½ inches apart.  As you pipe, hold the bag straight above the sheet and flick the tip as you finish each cookie to minimize peaks.  Tap the sheet against the counter several times to flatten the mounds and pop any large air bubbles.  Let them rest for 20 to 30 minutes or until they no longer feel tacky (this is an important step for getting a glossy texture).

Put the two cookie sheets in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 300° F.  Bake, rotating the sheets after 8 minutes, until the cookies are a very pale golden, 15 to 20 minutes total.  Cool completely on the baking sheets, on racks if you have them.  Re-heat the oven back to 325° and repeat for the third sheet.

 

Fill the Cookies

Using a piping bag (or a plastic bag with a corner cut off), pipe 1 to 1½ teaspoons of the filling onto half of the cookies.  Use just enough filling that it spreads to the edge when topped, but doesn’t squish out much when bitten.  Top the filled halves with their partners.  The cookies are best the day they’re made, but they do store for a day at room temperature in an airtight container, or up to 2 weeks in the freezer.  The filling, however, can be made ahead of time and stored.

 

Lemon Curd

Yields about 1 ¼ cups

½ cup fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer lemons from my tree)

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract

⅛ tsp. kosher salt

 

In 3-quart nonreactive saucepan, heat the lemon juice and butter over medium-high heat until just under a boil.  In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk and then slowly whisk in the sugar until combined.  Gradually whisk the hot lemon juice mixture into the sugar and eggs.

 

Return the mixture to the saucepan and set over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until the curd thickens and coats the spoon, 2 to 4 minutes.  Draw your finger along the back of the spoon; when the curd is done, it should hold the trail.

 

Remove the curd from the heat and strain it through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Whisk in the vanilla and salt.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic onto the surface of the curd, and chill for at least 1 to 2 hours before using.  I recommend making this at least a day or two ahead of time to cut down on day-of cook time.  The curd will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

Chocolate Ganache

Yields about 1 ¼ cups

¾ cup heavy cream

6 os. Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or chocolate chips (I find that when cooking with chocolate, it is important to get the absolute best chocolate you can find.)

 

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat, swirling the pan a few times, until bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan but the cream is not yet boiling, about 4 minutes.

 

Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and let sit for 30 seconds.  Slowly whisk the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Let cool to room temperature before piping into the cookies.  This can also be made up to 1 week ahead of time.  Store it in an airtight container, and remember to bring the ganache up to room temperature before using.

 

For more information, and for a video of Ms. Chang making macarons, visit Fine Cooking’s Website.

 

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