Demystifying the Macaron
First and foremost I would like to wish the lovely Deb, a very happy birthday! Without question I had to bake something delicious for her this week, and when I invited my friend Jen over to help, she mentioned this would be a perfect opportunity to cross another item off her “27 under 28” to-do list; Making French macarons! Now, I must confess I didn’t know what a macaron was, or even seen/tasted one, until about a year ago. Up until then the only “macaroon” I knew of was the coconut variety that I’d often seen and enjoyed on our Passover table. Ashley, who also came over to bake yesterday, didn’t make this discovery until I began pulling out the ingredients!
Anyway, having kept my eye on a few macaron how-tos, it seemed to be a very daunting task! You have to leave the egg whites out overnight so as much extra water content as possible can evaporate. You have to pipe and bake them just so, in order to get the perfect glossed top and cracked “feet” at the bottom. Not to mention, that Swiss meringue buttercream is a challenging task for most amateur bakers to begin with. But after finding a recipe that seemed reliable enough, from francophile David Lebovitz, and another one for a delicious sounding salted caramel filling (via Not Quite Nigella), we were on our way to take on the challenge!
The first bump in the road we met was having to start our caramel filling over, because we initially over cooked the sugar. I recommend making your filling first, as this was the most science-experiment like in process and it can go from good to oh-so-bad very quickly! So make sure you heat your sugar slow and steady, and don’t worry too much about cooking all the sugar lumps down or you will get a burnt caramel that hardens into a stubborn, solid mess inside your sink! Once you get to the butter addition step in the process you can always pick out any remaining lumps.
The second small set back was our first batch, which included two trays, one that rose pretty nicely, while the other looked a bit sad and deformed. From then on we decided to just bake one tray at a time, and this proved more successful. In the end our cookies seemed to turn out okay, however I think the batter could’ve used a bit less dry ingredients so that it could have piped out cleaner to attain those sought-after shiny smooth tops. I also feel we could’ve baked them about 2 minutes less, as they were still a bit too crunchy after sitting in the refrigerator overnight- this step is intended to let the creamy filling soak into the shells to create the lovely chewy center, leaving just the outsides nice, dainty and crisp. However, our macarons tasted delicious, and I definitely look forward to making some other varieties in the future, with regards to what could’ve gone better this first time around. Overall the experience wasn’t as scary as I feared it would be, and I highly recommend giving it a go!
Salted Caramel Filling
- 1 Cup Cream
- 1 ½ Cups Granulated Sugar
- 2 tsp Fleur de Sel or Kosher Salt
- 1 ½ Cups Butter (3 sticks), cut into small cubes
In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil, and then remove from heat. In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to allow it to evenly caramelize. Do not over mix as you will create more lumps. Once your sugar reaches a nice dark golden color, remove from heat and slowly pour in the hot cream. BE CAREFUL in this step, as the second the cream hits the sugar it will seize up and splatter. Continue to carefully stir until the mixture is smooth. If you still have some lumps, don’t worry, you can pluck those out in the last step.
Let the caramel cool to around 113°F and then add the butter a few pieces at a time. Stir until smooth. Remove any lumps at this point and pour your caramel into a mixing bowl. Add the salt and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill your macarons.
Chocolate Macaron Shells (makes about 30 cookies)
- 2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup almond flour (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
- 6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature (preferably having sat in an open container out on the counter overnight)
- 10 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready. Using a pencil, draw 1-inch circles approximately 1-inch apart on your parchment paper.
Using a food processor, grind up the almond flour, confectioners sugar and cocoa powder until very fine. This is the part where I would’ve tried using less of the almond flour for a thinner batter. If you’re adventurous give it a go, maybe cut back by 1/4 cup to start and see how it works, and let me know how it goes!
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets, staying within your drawn circles. Try to twist the piping bag briskly at the end of piping to avoid too much of a peak. Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 13-16 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.
Pull the shells from the paper gently and turn them upside down. Lay out your macarons in similar-sized pairs. Take your caramel out of the fridge and whisk it vigorously until it becomes lighter in color, glossy and the consistency of buttercream frosting.
Fill one half of your paired macaron shells by piping the caramel generously but keeping a space of approximately 3mm from the edge of the shell. Pick up the macaron filled with caramel in one hand and the empty pair in the other and close the macaron by gently twisting the two shells together from left to right. Jen referred to this as the “reverse Oreo.”
Put the finished macarons on a tray and leave them in the fridge for a least 24 hours. Prior to serving, let the macarons return to room temperature. Enjoy!