Okay, confession time. Up until a few months ago, I had never heard of the French macaron. I had never even lain eyes on these fancy little confections. But being the avid reader of food blogs that I am, they couldn't escape my notice forever. Finally, I began to see the macaron popping up all over the place. It started slowly at first. Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere! They were even in the advertisements that would appear on the sides of my computer screen. Suddenly, I wanted to know more about these cookies. What was their story?
A little bit of research told me a few things. First, I learned that macarons were sandwich cookies. The fillings could be just about anything you could think of. Each side, or shell, of the sandwich were delicate little cookies made by whipping egg whites to stiff peaks, folding some ground almonds and powdered sugar into them, and piping this mixture from a pastry bag out onto a cookie sheet in small circles. Then they are set out to rest for a while to dry out, and finally baked in an oven on a low-ish heat.
Next, I learned that although the above instructions sound easy enough to carry out, these macarons were actually temperamental little devils. I discovered horror story after horror story from people on the Interwebs who had failed, flopped, or otherwise been extremely disappointed with the final result of all their labor in the kitchen.
It turns out that the folding of the ingredients is a very tricky and exacting step in the process. Just one fold too many, and you can ruin your entire batch of macarons. Too few folds, and your under-mixed concoction can yield disaster, as well. Also crucial, gross as it may seem, is to age your egg whites before using them. A good thing to do is to separate your eggs, yolks from whites, and leave your egg whites sitting out of the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours, or as long as 48 hours. Bizarre, but I figured if it was going to increase my chances of producing a good macaron, I was willing to try it!
So obviously by now, you have probably figured out that I decided to try my own hand at making macarons. It sounded so complicated, so potentially doomed to fail, that I just knew I had to do it. I loved this idea of a challenge, to maybe accomplish something in the kitchen that not everybody can. I was pretty much banking on a failure my first time, but I knew I'd have fun trying!
I did my research, and then I set out to do everything meticulously, carefully, so that I wouldn't miss anything or do anything to mess myself up. The egg whites were nice and old. My almonds had been ground with my powdered sugar, sifted to remove any larger pieces of nut, and then weighed and measured right up to the gram. I set up a pastry bag with a small round tip, took a deep breath, and began to whip my whites.
I knew that, at the very least, my macarons wouldn't look absolutely perfect. I was unable to find blanched almonds, which have the skin removed from them and have a nice, uniform color. Mine had skin and that would lend a speckled effect to my shells. But it wouldn't affect the taste any and I thought maybe it would add character to mine.
As I rolled along in my preparations, I became increasingly confident. Everything seemed to be going exactly as I would have hoped. When I folded my mixture (nervously, I might add), I stopped right when it appeared to be flowing in nature, but would smooth out if you were to drizzle some from your spatula back into the bowl. I actually had to roast some veggies right after I was finished piping my macaron circles, so the macarons had the opportunity to rest at room temperature for about 90 minutes before I could get them into the oven. I worried a bit that it was too long of a resting period, but I figured it would be okay since I had read somewhere that they could rest from 1 to 2 hours.
I set my oven timer for 10 minutes, slid my first batch in, and held my breath. The moment of truth, I've heard, comes at about 5 minutes in the oven. At that point, your macarons should just start developing their "feet," that little shelf they stand on once they're baked. They rise just so, and their feet form underneath them, and they begin to look just as they should. And when I checked mine, lo and behold, the feet were there! I was very ecstatic at that point, but I knew they weren't finished baking and I didn't want to count my chickens (my macarons) before they were hatched (...or baked?).
As you can see, they did turn out great! They came out all cute and "foot"-ed, and they came off the parchment paper I had baked them on incredibly easily. The bottoms even looked perfect; they weren't hollow or cracking or anything. I do acknowledge that I need lots of practice with piping these though. The tops aren't perfectly smooth, as they should be. That could either be a result of my batter being slightly underbeaten (thus not allowing the tops to smooth out or settle on their own) or my own shoddy piping work. Either way, this was my very first attempt at macarons and my results far exceeded my expectations! They turned out delicious, with a nice delicate crunch on the outside and a soft, pillowy inside. And they're cute, too!
After some debate, Andy and I decided that for a filling, a lavender-infused white chocolate ganache would be divine. I have to say, the white chocolate may not have been the best choice. I would have liked something maybe less sweet, to complement the light sweetness of the macaron shells. A bittersweet chocolate would have worked beautifully. Overall, though, I am very proud of my maiden voyage into the world of macarons, and I hope to be able to duplicate these results much more in the future!
I couldn't have done it without reading this. It's an article detailing how to make macarons, complete with pictures and step by step instructions. It was written by a seeming macaron expert by the name of Helen for a magazine a few years back. The fabulous blog Tartelette, written by Helen, is a great resource as well. The lady knows her macarons!
I used her basic macaron recipe, which is in her article, with the exception of adding a scant 1/8 tsp. of cream of tartar to my egg whites. My white chocolate ganache recipe came from her article, as well. I just added 1/2 tsp. dried lavender to my cream, heated the cream just to boiling, and then strained out the lavender right before pouring it over the chocolate. It couldn't have been simpler. I can't wait to try out some more flavor combinations!