French Macarons

I have a love-hate relationship with a lot of things.

Infomercials. The post office. Running on the treadmill. Computers. Wedding registries. Back-to-school time. The city of Washington D.C. Mondays. Coffee. (No, that’s a lie. I just love coffee.) Macarons.

Yes, I have a love-hate relationship with macarons.

When these little French cookies first burst onto the culinary scene, I was obsessed.

Have you ever tried one? Eating a macaron is truly a religious experience. These dainty cream-filled cookies fill your whole being with childish joy after just one bite and leave you wondering how you ever lived before macarons. Like, whoa.

Sadly, my love for these heaven-sent pastries quickly turned to hatred the moment I started creating them myself. (See the love-hate relationship developing here?)

I should have known this was going to be a difficult (read: near impossible) task when David Lebovitz wrote that one of the most vexing tasks some bakers come across is making the perfect Parisian macaron. Most vexing? Ouch. Brace yourself–it gets worse. Tender, picture-perfect macarons are not easy to make. Les Macarons are all about technique, rather than about just following a recipe. Armed with a good recipe, almost anyone can make a decent brownie. Double ouch.

Did David Lebovitz scare me? Do I really need another pair of shoes? (The answer is yes. Always yes.)

I’m nothing if not stubborn. Just ask my husband. Or my parents. Or my sister. So I made them anyway.

Hundreds of them. For weeks, my kitchen was overflowing with macarons. I even had designated macaron zones in my house. The bad ones went to the living room for immediate consumption. The really bad ones went directly into the garbage can (I couldn’t even bring myself to feed that first batch to my husband, and he’ll eat anything). The half-decent ones went to the kitchen table for distribution. And the best ones got prime real estate in a box on my kitchen counter…until my kittens knocked the box over and destroyed the only semi-presentable dozen macarons I had managed to produce. The remaining few successes made the pilgrimage to my office, where they were loved and treated with the respect that a decent macaron deserves. Well, once we got through the “macaron? Don’t you mean macaroon? Not the same? Oh…Well, what ARE these, then?” conversation.

After my semi-success, I swore off macarons for a while. I’ll be honest: I was sick of them. I blamed my inability to create a perfect macaron on the fact that I didn’t posses a food processor…until my mother-in-law sent me one for Valentine’s Day. There goes excuse number one. I even blamed my kitchen scale…until my bestie in Virigina sent me a brand new digital one. Bless her heart.

Eight attempts later, here we are. I still haven’t mastered the technique. These are by no means picture-perfect. But they look like macarons. They taste like macarons.

We still have a love-hate relationship, macarons and I. Luckily, today is a “love” day.

Ready to experience a little macaron joy for yourself?

French Macarons
Adapted from A La Cuisine,
Martha StewartLaudree, and Tartlette*

Active time: 30 minutes
Start to finish:  2-3 hours (plus 1 day to age egg whites)
Makes about 2 dozen

Macaron Batter:
225 grams powdered sugar
125 grams ground almonds
110 grams egg whites (about 4), aged overnight at room temperature
30 grams granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons powered food coloring (optional)

Chocolate Filling:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup bittersweet chocolate

Allow egg whites to age by leaving them uncovered at room temperature overnight.

On three pieces of parchment, use a pencil to draw 1-inch (2.5 cm) circles about 2 inches apart. Flip each sheet over and place each sheet on a baking sheet.

Combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your almonds with it evenly. Set aside. If the mixture is not dry, spread on a baking sheet, and heat in oven at the lowest setting until dry.

In a the bowl of your stand mixer, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form—the whites should be firm and shiny. When small peaks dissolve to a flat surface, stop mixing.

With a flexible spatula, gently fold confectioner’s sugar mixture into egg whites until completely incorporated. The mixture should be shiny. If you wish to color your macarons, at this point add 2 tablespoons of powdered food coloring and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like a thick ribbon. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own, you are good to go. If there is a small peak, give the batter a couple additional folds.

Fit a piping bag with a 3/8-inch round tip. Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets, in the previously drawn circles. Tap the underside of the baking sheet to remove air bubbles. Let dry at room temperature for 1 or 2 hours to allow skins to form.

Bake, in a 300F oven for 8-10 minutes.

Remove macarons from oven and transfer parchment to a cooling rack. When cool, slide a metal offset spatula or pairing knife underneath the macaron to remove from parchment.

For the chocolate ganache filling: in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate to it. Let stand 2 minutes and then stir until fully combined. Let cool until firm enough to put in a small piping bag.

Pair macarons of similar size, and pipe about 1/2 teaspoon of the filling onto one of the macarons. Sandwich macarons, and refrigerate to allow flavors to blend together. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

*For a complete tutorial, check out Tartelette. She’s a bona fide macaron expert. And she’s French. So she knows what she’s talking about. One look at her awesome macarons and you’ll be a believer.

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