like macaroni, but without the i…

23 Feb

les macarons français. or, if you prefer to not to be fancy, french macarons. pronounced like macaroni, but without the long e sound at the end. and not to be confused with macaroons, which are a coconut concoction.

no, french macarons (henceforth referred to as macs) have more to do with egg whites and almonds, meringue, bright colors, and scrummy fillings. i first became intrigued with these confections a few years ago when they started popping up on all my favorite food blogs.

and when i went to paris last year, smooth, brightly colored shells were piled high in every pâtisserie and boulangerie window i passed while strolling through montmartre. i stopped every time i saw them and just stared in admiration at such vibrant, lovely things.

when i came back, i did a bit of research on macs and bookmarked like crazy. inside a black apple served as the starting point for my obsession, which then directed me to a la cuisine. then, through bakerella, i found tartelette, a french pastry chef and blogger who has a very informative article on macs. and many, many more blogs were consulted through many, many google searches.

for one reason or another (or for fear of intricate baking), i never got around to making my macs last year. well no more putting off scary recipes (and i’d really like to give homemade macs to my friends as favors at my birthday) so, almost a year later, here it goes.

following advice from both tartelette and a la cuisine, start with eggs.

or, more specifically, egg whites. tartelette calls for 100g and a la cuisine calls for 6T. i cracked and separated four large eggs to be on the safe side. leave the eggs to age for at least twenty-four hours. if you are waiting more than twenty-four hours before making the macs, you can cover and refrigerate the egg whites after twenty-four hours (just be sure to bring the whites down to room temperature before using them). this process of aging the egg whites, from what i have read, is key in making successful macs.

i had a very hard time deciding what flavor of mac to make: cranberry, raspberry mascarpone, peppermint, caramel sea salt, chocolate hazelnut… the list could go on forever. i did know that i wanted to keep it fairly simple to begin, so i went with my all-time favorite. i will almost always choose lemon over any other flavor when it comes to cookies and cakes, so french macs with lemon buttercream filling it was.

almonds are an integral part of a mac. most resources suggested freshly ground almonds, so i measured out 4 oz. (1 cup) of blanched and slivered almonds. i followed a la cuisine’s measurements for the most part because i do not (yet) own a digital food scale, which is needed to prepare tartelette’s macs.

about thirty seconds worth of pulsing. too coarse.

about sixty seconds worth of pulsing. still a bit coarse, but the almonds weren’t getting any smaller.

i mixed 1/4 cup powdered sugar in with the almonds and pulsed a bit more.

the powdered sugar completely absorbs the oil from the almonds and allows the food processor to make a finer grind.

you have to sift the ground almond/powdered sugar mixture through a sieve to ensure that no lumps or chunks (a technical term, i’m sure) make it into the mixture. this is where things got a bit frustrating and time-consuming. after sifting, i was left with almond granules in the sieve and powdered sugar in the bowl. i repeated the 1/4 cup powdered sugar + ground almonds + pulsing four more times (using a total of 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, as the recipe calls for) before almost every speck of almond was fine enough to go through the sieve.

as this whole bit was a general annoyance and too fiddly for me, i purchased bob’s red mill almond meal/flour today at whole foods for future mac endeavors. problem solved.

these are the aged egg whites at room temperature. twenty-four hours on the counter (well, technically, the top of my washer because the laundry room is the coolest area of my apartment) and twenty-four hours covered in the refrigerator. can you tell that there are a few more swirly translucent bits than the fresh egg whites?

into the mixer on medium speed.

agitate until frothy and foamy.

it should be quite like the consistency of a bubble bath (who likes bubble baths? i hate water and soap getting in my ears. much more avoidable in the shower).

after the egg whites have reached bubble bath appearance, increase the speed to high and gradually add 1/4 cup white sugar.

the egg white mixture will begin to turn thick, glossy, and stiff.

when the egg whites reach stiff peak consistency, stop mixing.

you have stiff peaks when you can remove the beater and turn it upside down without the peaks moving or drooping.

*giving myself a pat on the back for resisting the urge to type that’s what she said.

i got a bit panicky after the stiff peaks stage and lost my blogger mentality, which translates to no photos. thus, fast-forward a few steps.

what you’ve missed: to the egg white mixture, add the powdered sugar/ground almond mixture. gently, though not necessarily slowly, fold the two mixtures together. if you want to add coloring, do so within the first few folding strokes. i used gel food coloring, but most mac recipes call for powdered food coloring.

tartelette is very specific and states that the process of folding the mixture should take place in no more than fifty strokes. this is why i got panicky. when you mix the two together, it looks very, very chunky and separate, like something has gone horribly wrong. but as you continue folding, things start to meld together. then, before you know it, you’re on stroke forty-six and it doesn’t look quite enough pulled together yet. i’m openly admitting to sixty-two strokes. maybe seventy. the batter (as it is now batter and no longer a fluffy bowl of egg white meringue) should, as several experts say, flow like magma. did anybody else instantly think of dr. evil?

to prepare for baking the macs, cut parchment paper for three cookie sheets. on the underside of each sheet of parchment, trace 1″ circles equally spaced. this step should not be skipped because it satisfies your innate anal retentive need for order and uniformity. oh, wait, that’s just me?

if you live alone (no shame in that, my friend) or if you do not want to bother anybody with whom you co-habitate, place a piping bag fitted with a #10 or #12 tip in a large cup and fill with the mac batter. it may seem obvious, but don’t fill the bag all the way as it will ooze and gush all over your hands as you begin to pipe. not that i know that for a fact or anything.

using the traced 1″ circles on the underside of the parchment paper as a guide, pipe the batter on the cookie sheets. making lovely, straight rows is very satisfying.

let the piped shells dry for at least an hour.

while the piped macs were drying out, i made the lemon buttercream filling.

here’s a helpful zesting tip. instead of moving the lemon over the zester, move the zester over the lemon. so simple. and yet it took me so long to figure out (actually, if i’m being completely honest, i picked up that tip from the pioneer woman).

this is why all the pictures i take are close-ups. i am a horribly messy cook, even more so with baking. it all gets cleaned up afterwards, of course, but during? dis. gus. ting.

moving on. i let my mac shells dry for almost two hours because i got distracted talking on the phone to my friends and lost track of time. two hours is fine, right?

put the macs into a 325 degree oven for 10-11 minutes, turning halfway though the cooking time.

after five minutes, my mac shells were beginning to sprout feet. ! this calls for an exclamation point because feet on macs are crucial. the feet are the ruffly bits under the smooth tops. see them? a good sign.

out of the oven and not a single cracked cap.

i let the shells cool for a few minutes before removing them from the parchment paper.

i matched like sizes and prepared to spoon on the lemon buttercream between the two shells.

and then it was over. and i had yummy, pretty macarons that were delightfully chewy and melted in my mouth like cotton candy. only it was a tart, citrus-y cotton candy. why did i wait so long?

on an interesting side note, see the darker macs? they were on the top rack and the lighter, brighter macs were on the bottom rack in the oven. i think next time i’ll only put one sheet of macs in the oven at a time in the hopes of uniformly vibrant colors.

because, oh, yes, there will be a next time.


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