First, a confession: before today, I had never tasted a French macaron.
So really, I had no frame of reference for the macaron phenomenon that is happening all over the interweb.
I decided, though, after months of seeing adorable photos of macarons in every color of the rainbow and every flavor imaginable on Tastespotting and Foodgawker, it was time to do some investigating into this mysterious little cookie.
From the various posts I read initially, it sounded as though this was an extremely difficult cookie to master. Oh, the tales of woe from bakers whose macarons failed to grow feet, or failed to grow at all for that matter. I read recommendations that said you needed to “age” your egg whites in the refrigerator for 48 hours, or that you needed to let your macarons sit for 30-45 minutes before baking to allow a skin to form on the outside. Then I’d click over to another site and read that none of that was necessary. Seriously. What’s the story here?
I decided to take my cue from Helen at Tartelette. She seems to be the go-to lady for everything macaron related. She also has numerous versions of this tasty treat on her site, so I figured I could find at least one basic recipe to start with.
I really wanted to use her recipe today, but all of her measurements are in grams, and when I went to get down my digital scale, I found the batteries were dead. So, I used another recipe she had on her site – the one that the Daring Bakers used in their challenge a while back. It seemed straightforward enough for a beginner.
I have to tell you – I was feeling pretty cocky. I mean, how difficult could this really be? I really couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. So, I didn’t age my egg whites (they weren’t even at room temperature). I didn’t let the macarons rest before baking (at least not for the amount of time that was recommended). I just jumped right in and made them, willy-nilly like.
First, I preheated my oven to 200F. I began by grinding two cups of raw almonds (skin on) in the food processor with a cup of confectioners sugar. I just turned it on and let it go until it looked like fine cornmeal. Then I added the other cup and half of confectioners sugar and pulsed a few times to combine. This mixture I poured into my seive.
Then I whipped my egg whites to soft peaks. I added the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, along with a few drops of orange extract and drop each of liquid red and yellow food coloring (next time I’ll add more food coloring – by the time they finished baking you couldn’t see any of the color). I continued beating the whites until they formed stiff peaks.
I sifted the almond flour mixture over the egg whites and folded it in in about five batches. When I got to the end of the flour, there was about a cup of almond meal that was too large to go through the seive, so I tossed it back in the food processor and let it run until it was a fine powder. This I folded in to the rest of the batter.
I piped the mix onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat using a gallon-sized ziploc bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain pastry tip. I was able to get about 24-30 cookies on a half-sheet pan.
The recipe instructions call for you to start the macarons in a 200F oven (for 5 minutes), then take them out, increase the temperature to 375F and return the macarons to the oven once it reaches the higher temperature and bake them for 7 minutes more.
I did this with the first batch, and I sat and watched them through the oven door once I put them back in the hotter oven. Seriously, I sat there for the full 7 minutes. And you know what? I saw them grow feet! I actually saw it happen. When the timer went off, I checked them and decided they needed another couple of minutes – the still seemed quite soft in the center. So I left them in for 2 minutes more.
Some of the difficulties I encountered: Almost all of them stuck to the silpat. I had to let them cool very thoroughly before trying to remove them to a cooling rack, and even then, some of the centers stuck. I remedied this with the very last batch by only increasing the oven temperature to 350F and leaving them in for 10-12 minutes instead of 7-9. Also, with the third batch, I didn’t let the oven temperature come down all the way to 200F before putting the macarons in for the first cycle of baking.
This resulted in a deflated center (see photo above).
All in all, though, I’d say it was a successful first outing in the world of macaron baking. I filled my orange-scented macarons with whipped Grand Marnier chocolate ganache.
Next time, I’ll try to grind my almond flour even finer (and perhaps use blanched almonds so that I avoid the skins). According to Serious Eats, mine probably fall into the “too chunky” category. However, I’m quite pleased with my first attempt. And, flavor-wise? They’re wonderful. Just enough orange flavor to peak through the almond and the chocolate, but not enough to overpower them.
Do I like them more than my favorite coconut macaroons? I’m not sure – they’re certainly a lot more work. I think I’ll try them again, though. I’m thinking of trying a peanut version, since my husband is allergic to almonds. I know that peanuts are a lot oilier than almonds, so I’m not sure how they’ll turn out, but I want to give it a go and see how they do.
I will say that I don’t find them nearly as difficult as I expected to. I’m glad I tried them. I’m glad I jumped on the macaron bandwagon. I’m glad I got my “feet” wet – so to speak:-).