I am not the most precise of cooks. I take shortcuts, measure by eyesight, play fast and loose with recipes. I never use cake flour, rarely sift anything, freely substitute ingredients. And most of the time, things turn out very well indeed. Some people would say, “Oh, you’re a cook, you’re not a baker. Baking must be done with precision!” But I do bake quite a bit, and while baking requires MORE precision than cooking (I would not suggest, for example, leaving out baking powder altogether), there’s still quite a bit of wiggle room, and most things come out just fine, even with my wild and crazy ways.
Macarons are not one of those things.
The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S of Baking Without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
If you’ve never had a macaron, you should. These are not the gooey, coconut confections ubiquitous at Passover, but French almond cookies similar to meringues sandwiched together with a creamy filling. A properly made macaron has a smooth, crisp shell over dainty, ruffled “feet”, and when you bite into it, you get first the crunch exterior shell then chewy almondy macaroon then creamy filling. In Parisian patisseries (where they are all the rage), you can find them in a glorious rainbow of colors and flavors. Trust me, when made properly, they are a treat.
They are finicky little bastards, though. Humidity, imprecise measurements, over mixing, under mixing, mixing clockwise when you should have mixed counter clockwise – all will sink you, and you’ll be left with is a cookie that will probably taste fine, but isn’t a macaron.
In fact, these took me three full tries – the recipe from Claudia Fleming (who is usually amazing) was a disaster for me. However, I was tutored by the amazing Helen of Tartelette, who coached me into making the glorious specimens you see before you – domed top, ruffled feet and all.
In the end, macarons are something I’m glad I made — and conquered – but I’m not particularly tempted to make again. I prefer my slapdash ways, and will leave the macaron making to the professionals.
- 90 g egg whites (about 3), left out for 2-3 days (egg whites don't spoil the way the yolks do) or "aged" in the microwave for 10-15 seconds (ideally, egg whites should be almost liquid).
- 30 g granulated sugar
- 200 g powdered sugar
- 110 g almond flour or almond meal
- 1 tsp ground lapsang souchong tea (this was my favorite flavor of the ones I tried)
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter
- Additional pinch salt
- ½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
- Combine tea, almonds and powdered sugar in the food processor and pulse until finely ground and no lumps remain in the powdered sugar.
- In the standing mixer with the balloon attachment, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add granulated sugar, and beat until meringue is stiff. I mean REALLY stiff. If you're not sure, beat a couple of seconds more. Are they stiff enough? Good.
- With a rubber spatula, fold in ⅓ of the almond sugar mixture, using quick, firm, strokes. You want to break up the meringue in this step -- don't be too gentle! Add remaining almond mixture, ⅓ at a time, and use gentle strokes to fold it it until all almonds are incorporated, no lumps of meringue remain, and the mixture is the texture of chilled honey -- when you drop a teaspoonful of the mixture on top of the rest of the batter, it should take 30-60 seconds to disappear and be reincorporated.
- Using a pastry bag or a ziploc with the corner cut off, pipe the meringues into 1 inch circles on parchment paper. I found this not particularly difficult to eyeball, even though I'm not a piper, but if you're worried about it, you may want to trace circles onto the parchment first. Remember, you want some consistency so you can match them up in sandwiches.
- Let air dry for 45-60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake for
- to 20 minutes
- Melt the sugar over medium heat in a saucepan where you can see the color. (For tips on making a dry caramel, see
- Pastry God David Lebovitz
- Whisk the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. When the sugar is a lovely dark copper color and you can smell that it smells adequately caramelized, turn off the heat, add the butter all at once, and stir it in. Then add the cream, stir to incorporate, and store in glass jars in the refrigerator.
- This will make more than you need for macarons, but really, you'll thank me, because it's heaven over ice cream or apples or pears or ...