You’ve seen them. Those crunchy yet puffy sandwich cookies prevalent in so many French cities. Macarons, no to be confused with Macaroons (which are typically coconut) are sweet meringue based cookies made with ground almonds, sugar and little else. Macarons are characterized by their smooth domed top and their frilly foot. They come in dozens of colors and can feature many different types of fillings. The good news is…you don’t have to fly to Paris and pay 2 euros each to enjoy them!
My introduction to baking Macarons at home came when I got this little book from the bargain bin of a bookstore. The technique in this book is really quite simple. You only need a few ingredients and some basic equipment to make some truly unique cookies.
Nearly all Macaron recipes call for ground almonds. I found some at my local Publix but they were $11.59 for a 1.5 lb. bag! The solution: grind your own! Just get a bag of slivered blanched almonds. Make sure you don’t get the sliced almonds which have the brown edges. Get the blanched slivered almonds. Next, dump the slivered almonds into a food processor and blend them into a slightly damp powder. That’s all you need to do!
You will also need some confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar), some superfine caster sugar and some food coloring. Don’t have caster sugar (which is available at Whole Foods or online)? Just put some regular granulated sugar in the food processor and pulse it a few times.
Depending on what flavor you want to make, you may need special ingredients. For the raspberry macarons, I needed some seedless raspberry jam and some heavy cream.
Mixing the batter is easy. You just whip 2 egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually dump in 1/4 cup of superfine sugar. Continue whipping them to stiff peaks. Regular granulated sugar wouldn’t work here because the crystals are too coarse.
Next, you mix 1 cup of the powdered sugar with 3/4 cup of the ground almonds and put it back in the food processor again. Process for 15 seconds to further refine the almonds and to bind them with the powdered sugar. Now you just fold in the almond mixture one-third at a time into the meringue. Toward the end, you add whatever food coloring you want and continue folding the meringue until a think, ribbon-like batter is formed.
At this point, you dump the sticky mess into a pastry bag (not easy) and pipe out 16 small circles of batter onto 2 parchment paper lined baking sheets (also not easy). Tapping the baking sheets on the counter flattens the batter into a round shape and removes cumbersome air bubbles. You can swirl some raspberry into the top of them with a toothpick at this point, or leave them plain.
After letting them sit for 30m, put them in a 325F oven for 10-12 minutes. When they are ready they will have a hard top and a frilly bottom. Let them cool for 10m, then remove them from the pans and let them totally cool.
The filling is easy. 2/3 cup heavy cream and a dash of vanilla extract go into the mixer bowl. Beat at highest speed until the cream thickens. To assemble the cookies, spread some vanilla cream on one cookie, then some raspberry jam on the other. Press them together…and you have Raspberry Macarons!
While you enjoy eating your Macarons, you can practice trying to pronounce their name in your best French accent. Hint: arguments about pronunciation can be decided by looking at YouTube videos featuring French chefs making Macarons for their confection shops. Bon appétit! <— the extent of my French vocabulary…