Having spent several years working in the restaurant biz, I’ve made a lot of macarons. These sweet little almond-meringue sandwiches are a standard confection on fine-dining petit fours plates, so if I spend long enough at any one place, I know they are bound to come up in the rotation at some point. (I worked for one pastry chef who used to have side-by-side piping races with me everyday…he usually won, but then again, he had years more experience and he would always try to slow me down by making me giggle.) Macarons are also quite en vogue right now, both in pastry shops and in the blogoshpere, but this is their first appearance here…in fact, I had never made them at home before Ami chose them as this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge.
Macarons can be tricky little things, even when you have made countless batches. Sometimes you pipe them out and are convinced that they will be perfect, only to bake them and have them come out misshapen or with no feet. Other times you are convinced that something has gone wrong, and then they bake up spot-on. And you really never know how it will go when you make a recipe that is not the one you are used to. I will say that this is not my best batch ever, but…ummm…it’s not my worst either. I think I underbaked them a bit, but that is an easy enough problem to fix.
The recipe that follows makes very basic almond macarons. But think of it as just a starting point…you can experiment by combining different nut flours and flavorings or add coloring. Some good filling options include buttercream, ganache, caramel and jam. There are endless possibilities for experimentation here, and that, to me, is the cool thing about macarons.
I took inspiration from what I had in the house to come up with a strawberry cheesecake flavored macaron. I blitzed some freeze dried strawberries (bought at TJs) that I had in the cupboard to a fine dust in my spice grinder. I added a few grams of this powder, along with a tiny bit of powdered red food coloring to enhance the pink hue, in with my dry ingredients. To fill the macarons, since I didn’t feel like making a large batch of buttercream and I didn’t have any cream to make a ganache, I whipped a little cream cheese with some powdered sugar and vanilla bean paste. I piped a little blob of this “cheesecake” mixture onto one half of each macaron and smeared a little strawberry jam on the other half before sandwiching them together.
P.S.: The chocolates you see alongside my strawberry cheesecake macarons are from Bond Street Chocolate, a funky little shop here in the East Village.
adapted from The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming
2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) confectioners’ (icing) sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) almond flour
2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.) granulated sugar
5 egg whites (room temperature; whites that are a few days old are best)
-Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery. (Steph’s note: Even when using purchased almond four, I like to grind it, along with the full amount of confectoiners’ sugar and any other dry flavorings or colorings, in the food processor to throughly incorporate the dry ingredients.)
-Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
-Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
-Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
-Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
-Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
-Cool on a rack before filling.
The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.