Last year at evo’11, I had the chance to practice some food photography with Helen Dujardin. Yes, she is French; she has skills AND she has spark. In a few short hours together, we all made improvements in our craft. If Helen could help me conquer some inhibitions about photography, I decided she could help me conquer the Macaron.
I’ve always loved coconut, so when I hear Macaroon [rhymes with noon], I automatically think of the toasted, gooey coconut cookie.
Now, if I hear the garçon say macaron, I’m transported to the day my mom brought me my first box of macarons from Laudree in Paris. The cute purple box contained four delicate, crispy, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth morsels. Using my amazing powers of restraint, the cookies to last 10 hours on this continent. If you find yourself in Paris, you will find room in your carry on for these.
Demystifying Macarons, Helen’s free online publication, is a terrific tutorial on all aspects of making macarons. You’ll learn that beating down a meringue is actually okay AND a necessary step in the process. I invited a few girlfriends over and we made three batches, so we could each test the basic steps. The results? We had a lot of fun and two out of three recipes turned out recognizable and delicious macarons. Here’s a recipe for Hazelnut Macarons with a Strawberry Buttercream Filling we created.
3 egg whites, aged up to 3 days
2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup whole almonds, raw
1/2 cup whole hazelnuts, raw
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1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cream or milk
4 tablespoons quality strawberry jam
1 teaspoon vanilla
Egg whites are the central ingredient in a macaron. Allowing them to age in a chilled refrigerator will give you a cookie that can hold its shape. If you don’t have two to three days to wait, substitute up to 1 teaspoon of meringue powder to help stiffen your meringue.
Begin by making the flour out of the nuts. If you are mixing two nuts together, keep the almonds as at least 50 percent of the total. (They are the driest or least oily of nuts and moisture management is part of the macaron magic trick). Add the nuts and powdered sugar into a blender, small food processor or coffee grinder. Pulse the ingredients together to make a fine flour, about 2 minutes. Sift the flour into a medium bowl to prevent small bits of nuts from upsetting the smooth texture of your macaron.
Using a whisk attachment on a stand or hand mixer, create a meringue. On high speed, whip the egg whites to a soft foam. Sprinkle in the regular sugar gradually and continue to beat the eggs until glossy. Fold in the flour mixture using bold strokes to break down the meringue and slowing once the batter is combined. This step should take less than 2 minutes or 50 strokes. If you test a dollop and it still has a peak, try a couple more strokes.
Load a plain-tipped pastry bag with the batter and pipe 1 1/2-inch circles onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Allow the cookies to rest for an hour so the outer shells can set. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Bake for 18-20 minutes, watching for the shells to rise and leave a “foot”, the bumpy edge at the bottom of the cookie. Once cool, the cookies can be filled. Lift cookies off parchment to prevent from sticking. Arrange pairs of cookies to make a sandwich, one row up and one row down.
To prepare the filling, blend the softened butter with half of the powdered sugar. Add the cream, jam and vanilla. Gradually add the remaining powdered sugar until the filling is the desired consistency. The filling should be stiff enough to remain on the cookie but not so hard as to crush the shells. Spoon or pipe the filling onto the row of macaron bottoms and cover with a top. Makes 12-15 finished cookies.
Once you have a basic recipe down, it’s very easy to modify and mix your favorite flavors. Still not convinced macarons are for you? Most macarons are gluten-free (almond flour) and just reading the book for pleasure is calorie free!