Marvelous Macarons

Ah, macarons, those lovely French confections.
3 macarons IMG_0258

No, these are not your grandmother’s macaroons, the cloyingly sweet coconut cookies that many Americans may recall from growing up and now avoid. With those macaroons the egg whites, sugar, and coconut are often simply stirred together or possibly added to a meringue.  Either way—not very exciting.

French macarons are based on egg whites whipped into a meringue with confectioners’ sugar; instead of coconut, ground almond or almond flour is stirred in, which results in a completely different product.

Like Forrest Gump’s lovely box of chocolates, you never know what you going to get until you bite into a macaron.  Of course, it will likely be airy and crisp on the outside; on the inside, some sort of tender-chewy mélange. It’s the combination of these textures and fillings that can surely send us right over the top.

I’ve tried my hand at macaron making and I am certainly impressed with those that are well executed.   It seems there are endless theories and techniques on ”the art of macarons” and much has to do with exacting weights of all ingredients, and of course, recognizing the proper stages of whisking egg whites into the meringue formation.

As it Meringue_Macaronsclings to the whisk, should the meringue be glossy and form peaks, or should it be clumpy and drier? If too dry, you may suffer from hollow macarons.   Of course, if your oven is too hot or does not heat evenly, your macarons may display cracks or uneven surfaces.

And what about your macaron’s feet?  Yes, when properly baked, the bottom of the macaron will have a distinct flat ‘crust’ and the remainder will puff and form an elegant, smooth dome on top.

Whatever.  The point is, macarons are delicious, affordable, and a delight on any table.  Unless you are planning to open a French bakery or compete in an international macaron baking competition, your macarons will still receive raves.  As Julia Child counsels, the end result is your intended creation, so don’t apologize.

Here’s a basic macaron recipe that will  yield 18-20 macmacarons crop tight IMG_0215aron ‘sandwiches’.  Coloring the cookies is purely optional, they will still taste incredible.

You can even sprinkle them with colored sugar or other decoration before baking.  For fillings, I made ahead a tangy Lemon Curd, Choco-Latte  Buttercream, and a simple Dulce de Leche filling.

Marvelous Macarons

  • 1-1/4 cup almond meal or almond flour (210 grams)
  • 1-3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (218 grams)
  • 4 large egg whites (120 grams)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract or other flavoring
  • gel food coloring, optional
  1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.  Prepare piping bag fitted with 1/2” tip.
  2. In a food process, pulse the almond meal until fine; add the confectioner’s sugar and pulse to combine.  Sift the sugar and meal into a bowl, re-process any residual meal in sifter and resift it into the bowl. Lightly toss the mixture to combine evenly.  Discard any remaining meal left in sifter.
  3.  In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk, combine the egg whites, granulated sugar, and salt on medium speed and whip for about 2-3 minutes, it will become fluffy.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat an additional 2 minutes, the meringue will hold its shape. Increase speed again to high and continue beating for another 2 minutes until it is stiff and glossy and the whisk will begin to hold the meringue in globs when held upside down.
  4. Whip in the extract, or other flavoring a teaspoon at a time, and dabs of food coloring gel until it is all incorporated, about 1 minute.
  5. Turn the almond-sugar mixture into the meringue.  With a spatula gently fold it in to thoroughly combine, pressing batter against the bowl and scraping the sides – to deflate it.    After about 40 turns there should be no peaks and have a fluid consistency similar to lava; it should still hold its shape and not be runny.
  6. Fill the pastry bag about half full with batter.  Pipe rounds, slight less than 1” onto parchment about 1 inch apart.  Lightly smooth the tops with a moist finger if necessary.  Wrap the pan on the counter a couple of times to release air bubbles.  They can be sprinkled with decorative sugar or other elements at this time.
  7. Place pan in lower third of oven, reduce heat to 300 degrees, and bake for 18-20 minutes, until set and a foot has formed on bottom of cookie.   They should not be sticky on bottom and should peel easily from the parchment.  Allow macarons to cool in pan then remove from parchment to rack and match cookies together according to size and shape.    You can bake one pan and prepare the second pan while it is baking.  It will not damage them.
  8. Pipe the filling in rounds on the flat bottom of one of the pair—just short of edges. When topped with the second cookie the filling will spread to edge.
  9. Store in airtight container and refrigerate.  Macarons actually ripen: they improve the second day and will hold up to a week.  Yield: approximately 20 sandwiched macarons.

Fillings

Lemon Curd

Choco-Latte Buttercream   Prepare  buttercream recipe and divide it in half; melt the bittersweet chocolate with 2 tablespoons strong hot coffee and add to the buttercream.  Use the remainder of the buttercream for a second filling (see suggestions) or freeze it.

Dulce de Leche Filling   Combine ½ cup prepared Dulce de Leche, 2 tablespoons soft butter, and a pinch salt; whip until smooth and light.

Buttercream and Camouflage Cake

Last night I spent some time testing and perfecting a butter cream recipe for an upcoming project.  While I was knee-deep in Swiss meringue and butter, one of my housemates came into the kitchen to bake a cake.   As I labored amongst simmering water and whirling mixer, she adeptly cleaned up her spoon and bowl, popped the cake in the oven, and was out in a flash.

CakeTurns out she was making a pink camouflage cake that she would ultimately top off with a quick frosting of Cool Whip and instant vanilla pudding mix.  If pink doesn’t suit you, this trendy cake mix offered by Duff Goldman features another option:  a hunter’s variation in shades of tan, brown and green, with a suggested bright orange frosting.

I briefly helped out by dabbing colorful splashes of cherry flavored fuchsia, hot pink, cotton candy, and creamy white batter into two cake pans—to create that splotchy look.   By the time I was done messing around with mocha buttercream she had whipped up her frosting. I gave it a quick taste. Even in my head-spinning, sugar-overloaded condition, I had to admit, it wasn’t bad:   creamy and light.

But, call me a purist; I still prefer the real deal.  With all this effort—I’d better prefer buttercream.

buttercreams

Buttercream is a light, fluffy frosting of sugar, whipped egg whites or yolks and butter which often incorporates meringue as its base.  In American bakeries, buttercream often consists of powdered sugar whipped until light with a fat such as margarine, heart-arresting shortening, or even lard.

Buttercream made with meringue has a creamy, silky texture.  In the Swiss-style meringue used here, egg whites and sugar are heated and then beaten to a fluffy state until cool; then the butter is beaten in a little at a time to form the bonded buttercream mixture.  Since it is easy to work with and stands up to considerable abuse, its endless adaptations make it an elegant addition to many cakes and cookies.

Buttercream

Ingredients

  •  2 large egg whites
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon portions; room temperature
  • ½ tsp. vanilla or other appropriate flavoring (see below)

Directions

  1.   Place egg whites and sugar in metal bowl of a standing mixer and whisk together.
  2. In a pot that fits the mixing bowl, bring water to a simmer over moderate heat.  Place the mixing bowl with egg whites over the pot and lightly whisk until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot, 130-140 degree, about two  minutes.
  3. Lock bowl in mixer and beat with wire whisk attachment on medium-high, until no longer hot and fluffy, glossy peaks have formed,  about five minutes.
  4. Beat in butter one tablespoon at a time, using paddle attachment, adding more when it has been incorporated.  If it breaks, continue beating, it will become smooth and creamy.
  5. Add the vanilla or other flavorings and beat to incorporate.  Yield:  about 2 cups.

Variations

Chocolate:  replace vanilla with 6 oz. Bittersweet chocolate, melted with 3 Tbsp. liquid such as milk or hot coffee; allow it to cool before using.

Rum or syrup:   replace vanilla with 2 Tbsp. rum, brandy, or favorite fruit syrup, whisk in a little at a time until incorporated.