Item No. 14 of my 2016 Cooking Challenge
Who doesn’t love macarons? Even the look of them is whimsical and beloved, and they’ve got a taste and texture profile to match.
Of course the thing about macarons is that you’re paying close to two bucks for a tiny cookie sandwich that can be consumed in one bite. It’s a premium price, but most would argue that the price is merited, with the delicateness of the cookies that border on being meringues, and the potent flavors of whatever goodness is sandwiched in the middle.
In Eugene, our public market has a café that usually has a small selection of macarons with some really interesting flavors. I’ve tried mango, lavender, matcha, irish cream, and even red curry macarons, none of which were a disappointment. After trying to make a simple dulce de leche macaron, I can appreciate the effort that these things take, and might even suggest that at $1.75, their price is undervalued.
Thing I Learned #1 – Macarons are often confused with macaroons, a coconut and chocolate soft cookie that is also a good dessert in its own right. This gets more confusing because pronouncing macaron without a French accent translates into the same pronunciation as macaroon. (The French word ballon is anglicized as balloon, for example.)
When I designed myself a little bit of a challenge to learn 52 recipes pretty well throughout the year, I kind of intended for the skills I learned to build off each other. The year began with a bread recipe and the first few weeks included simple things like cocktails and coffee drinks.
It’s still relatively early in the year, which makes me wonder why I planned for macarons to be scheduled this early? Really. They should’ve been a boss level. These were potentially the most finicky and non-cooperative things I’ve ever tried to make.
Making macarons was a bit of a science. I was strongly advised to use a food scale to get all the ratios precise. Every step of the process featured several different ways to screw up the recipe.
This was definitely not the sort of recipe that you’re likely to nail right off the bat. In fact, I screwed up my first batch to the point that they were literally inedible. (Wax paper… not a substitute for a proper baking sheet, my friends.)
The biggest lesson regarding macarons that I took away from this experience was this- that the key ingredient is persistence.
I intended to make these last week, but because of the charity carload dinner I prepared. I ran out of cooking energy. I tried to find the time to make them all week, but didn’t until this weekend. Finally, when I had the chance of Friday night, I epically botched one batch before putting together some pretty decent macarons on Saturday night.
Actually I managed to make two- dulce de leche and chocolate, although the chocolate batch didn’t come out nearly as good.
Thing I Learned #2 – Macarons evolved from cookies made with ground almonds and egg whites during the renaissance. During the French Revolution, Carmelite nuns sought refuge in Nancy and ended up paying for their rent in macarón cookies. (Too bad that’s no longer currently accepted by landlords.) It wasn’t for another couple hundred years that these cookies would begin to be served as sandwiches with jams, creams, or liquers in the middle.
Start a couple days before by separating egg whites. You want to get these aging for a couple days in a refrigerator, or 24 hours at room temperature.
For my filling, I made “cheater’s dulce de leche” starting in the morning. Cook a can of condensed milk in a crock pot for eight hours on low. That’ll turn a single ingredient into some pretty good dulce de leche.
When you start to make the macarons, it helps to measure out all the ingredients so you’re good to go. I recommend a food scale to measure out almond flour, powdered sugar, and granulated sugar… and if you’re making chocolate macarons, cocoa powder.
Beat two aged egg whites for a minute at moderate-high speed, a minute at high speed, then a minute at moderate-high speed again. During the last minute, add the granulated sugar one spoonful at a time. You’ll know you’re done making the meringue when your egg whites can form a stiff peak.
Mix the remaining dry ingredients and sift them to get rid of any lumps. Fold in the dry ingredients into the egg whites one batch at a time. You want a “whipped” consistency that is no longer runny. Your dough should be soft, light, airy, and pliable, but solid enough to retain shape once it’s piped.
Spoon all the dough into a pastry bag. Pipe out small even rounds of the dough. These will become the macaron cookies.
Let them sit for an hour. 45 minutes is okay, an hour is better. Once they form, they’ll help the macarons keep a hard shell.
Bake the macarons for about five minutes at 350º, rotate the sheet, then bake for five more minutes.
Note that I’m mostly giving measurements in weight since macarons call for a greater degree of accuracy
For basic vanilla macaron cookies:
125 grams of powdered sugar
75 grams of almond flour
75 grams of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
For chocolate macarons:
25 grams of cocoa powder
For a dulce de leche filling:
1 can of condensed milk
Thing I Learned #3 – So with how expensive macarons can cost, what’s the most expensive price ever paid for some? A round package of macarons from French pastry chef Pierre Herme sold for $7,414 made up of ingredients like balsamic vinegar, flour de sel, red wine, and peanut butter.
This first part explains how to make vanilla/dulce de leche macarons. I’ll post the chocolate variation at the end.
A couple days before: Separate 2 egg whites (66g) and allow to age for at least 48 hours in a fridge or 24 hours at room temperature.
The morning of: Submerge the can of condensed milk in water within a crock-pot, and heat it at low for eight hours. The condensed milk will basically turn into dulce de leche over time. Let the can cool off in cold water for ten minutes and DO NOT open while it’s still hot. Bad stuff will probably happen.
- Measure out the following ingredients: 125g or powdered sugar, 75g of almond flour, 75g of powdered sugar, 75g of granulated sugar.
- Mix the powdered sugar and almond flour thoroughly. Sift so any clumps disappear.
- Beat two egg whites at moderate-high speed for a minute, then speed it up to high speed for another minute. Return it to moderate-high speed and beat for another minute. During this minute add in the granulated sugar a spoonful at a time. You’ll know you’ve sufficiently beat the egg whites when the resulting meringues form stiff peaks when lifting the beater. Hopefully this picture is helpful. Be careful not to overbeat.
- Use a rubber spatula to transfer the egg whites to a mixing bowl and fold in the mixed dry ingredients one batch at a time.
- Slowly make sure the dry ingredients are totally folded in. The consistency should resemble a whipped batter, soft enough to be piped and pliable but firm enough to hold its shape.
- Use a pastry bag to pipe out small rounds of the dough, about two inches wide, on top of a silicone baking sheet. Don’t use wax paper! Also, many people recommend tapping out the bottom to get rid of air bubbles.
- This isn’t really a step, but here are a few notes– you want your cookie rounds to have some foamy “feet.” There’s a tendency for these cookie rounds to rise a little bit, which is good news if you feel like your cookies look a bit flat, and something to look out for if they already look like pretty tall hemispheres.
- Let the rounds rest for 45 minutes, but preferably an hour so the hard shells can form out of the cookies.
- Bake the cookies for five minutes at 350º, rotate the sheet, then bake for another five minutes.
- Pull out the cookies and let them cool in the air for about 20 minutes before piping the filling.
- Pair off evenly sized cookies.
- Put the dulce de leche in another piping bag and squeeze onto one cookie half. Use another cookie and sandwich the filling. Press evenly to get the sides nice and oozing.
- Cool off the macarons in the fridge for a bit to get the shells to harden nicely.
For a chocolate macaron, replace 25 grams of the initial almond flour with 25 grams of cocoa powder.
Serving This Sucker
There isn’t much to it! Ideally macarons are light but rich in flavor so you don’t need much more than one.
In The Future
Looks like the next step is to experiment with some different flavors! Folding in a bit of food coloring and some different flavor extracts. Perhaps mango or coconut or even s’mores with some marshmallow puff in the middle.