Happy Thanksgiving Chitlins! Since I am almost positive not a soul is trolling the webs today and certainly no one is thinking of preparing any last minute recipes and everyone eats leftovers from now until Monday, I thought I would offer you a photo essay on how to make macarons. I’ve included the recipe below for those that are curious though.
Allow me to preface this post: I have only ever made macarons, as of this past Sunday, a grand total of 4 times. The first time I ever made them I took a cooking class in Tours, France and we made several varieties.
Obviously they were perfect, but the entire class was in French and at the time (and even now) my listening French capabilities are sub-par at best.
It would be another four years (gasp!) before I attempted to make macarons on my own. I kept coming across delicious sounding recipes on some of the fancier blogs, you know David Lebovitz and Tartlette (interestingly both French speakers and/or native Frenchies) and also Brave Tart (who makes macarons for a living).
Apparently red flags should have been popping up all over the place but I stumbled on heedlessly because dammit I felt like having a macaron and they aren’t cheap to buy. Plus it was like 9pm on a Friday night.
Obviously, it was a massive failure. Out of the 3 dozen cookies I made, roughly 25% of them achieved a foot, and the other 75% either sunk or were plastered to the cookie sheet (despite my silicone baking mat).
I tried this foolhardy tactic one more time with similar results, ending up with about 10 edible cookies out of dozens before I swore off macarons.
Then my good friend from college told me that her intern was adept at making macarons and thought that maybe she could give us lessons again. Courtney works at a French bank here in Manhattan (and has the most paid vacation days and holidays of anyone I know, lucky girl) and her intern, Marie, is obviously French. Sign me up.
So last Sunday, Court and Marie showed up with several bottles of champagne cider and tons of gumption and we set out to make macarons. It was an epic 5 hours of baking and waiting and praying.
In the end, the first batch were a little chewy, though still delicious (despite all the pouty faces Marie made, and the next day they tasted even better) and the second batch were cooked properly but all the tops had split.
None of this was Marie’s fault, and had everything to do with the fact that my oven isn’t calibrated and I rarely use it to cook under 350°F (and macarons cook at 300°F) so I wasn’t sure if the temperature was right the entire baking time.
So here are the lessons I have learned about making macarons that I will pass on to you:
1) Macarons are finicky little bastards and if you let down your guard for an instant they will turn on you maliciously (ok maybe it’s not that bad, but they really do take a lot of coddling to put together).
2) Sift that flour and almond meal like your life depends on it.
3) Make sure your egg whites have a nice stiff peak and be ultra slow and careful when folding in your flours. If you over mix the cookies won’t rise.
4) Let the cookies dry on the baking sheet until you can touch them without having your finger stick. If the cookies are too wet forget about it, your macarons are ruined.
5) The easiest part about making macarons are the fillings. Buy a jar of jam or nutella or melt a bar of chocolate with some butter and bam, you’re done.
*Just a note: Chitlins, macarons are not for the faint of heart nor the ultra casual/lazy baker. They take some serious time and patience. While the recipe is basic and simple, the amount of time and patience required is infuriating if you are impatient (like myself) so pop in a good movie while you work or find an awesome mix to rock out to. Anything to keep your sanity. Trust me.
This is Marie’s recipe, I’m not terribly certain where she got it from but she said it’s the one she always uses. I’d trust the French gal on this one.
3 egg whites, aged overnight (crack them in an airtight container at least 1 day ahead of when you want to make them)
200 g confectioners sugar
125 g almond meal/flour
30 g granulated sugar
Sift together your almond meal and confectioners sugar onto a large baking sheet covered with wax paper or parchment. Make sure they are completely blended by gently running a spatula through them so that it is one uniform consistency and color.
Beat your egg whites to a steak peak in a medium bowl. If you’re using food color (and for macarons it is best to use dry food coloring powder or a very tiny amount of gel food coloring, the drops prevent the batter from drying according to Marie) add it now with a little of the granulated sugar. Beat the eggs with about half the granulated sugar until stiff peaks form again. Add the remaining sugar and beat again.
Working very slowly and in small batches sift the almond meal and flour mixture again into the egg whites. Gently fold the flour in until just incorporated. Continue working this way until all the flour mixture is used up. Your dough will now be a little bit stiff and sticky. This whole process takes about 8-10 minutes.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with and 804 tip or fill a ziplock bag and cut a hole about ¼” wide in the corner. Line baking sheets with a silpat or parchment paper (this is extremely important for it makes getting the cookies off the sheet infinitely easier when they’re done baking). Using uniform pressure squeeze about half-dollar sized amounts of the batter, coming in at an angle and flicking your wrist at the end. The small tail that forms should fall and melt back into the batter. Try to make all the cookies the same size and as round as possible.
Let cookies stand on sheets until dry. This means you should be able to poke them with a finger gently and none of the batter will stick to your finger. They will also no longer be shiny but have a matte appearance. This will take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on the humidity and temperature of the day. If you don’t let them dry all the way, they’ll crack and split in the oven (like our second batch did which I have no pictures of because Marie looked so sad when they came out of the oven). When it looks like the cookies are almost dry, preheat the oven to 300°F.
Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes keeping a very close eye on them. According to Marie, the difference between a perfect cooking time and an extra 30 seconds could be disastrous. You’ll know the cookies are done because the tops will have a uniform color and the coveted “foot” will have formed on the bottom of the cookie, a small area around the base of the cookie that is kind of speckled and spotted in appearance. The edges should not be browned.
Let cookies cool on the sheet for about 3-4 minutes and then gently peel away the parchment or silpat. The bottoms of the cookies should be every to slightly soft and the tops still delicate. They’ll harden up as they cool and age a day. Fill with your favorite filling. These cookies are best a day after making them. Keep them in an airtight container at room temperature for a day. After that transfer them to the fridge, where they will keep for another 2-3 days (according to macaron masters Ladurée).