french macarons

I've always been a little enchanted by macarons. They are one of those things that just scream simple elegance - which perhaps is the opposite of how I would describe myself. You look at them and they are just marvelous. Plus, ever since that morning in Chicago ... I couldn't get these suckers out of my head. The idea of paying $2+ for something that is gone in less than 4 bites seems like a project I want to conquer.

I did a bit of research on how to best make macaroons before I got started. My key takeaways? There are a million theories and beliefs about what makes the best macaroon and that you absolutely must do it that way.
  • aging egg whites for 24+ hours
  • double sifting flour and powdered sugar
  • whacking the baking sheet against the table
But, honestly.... this blog post I just found (after I made them myself) really sums all the myths up. I had spent the previous 4 or 5 days reading a few different posts over and over and then pretty much tossed them all aside and completely when I got down to business. It wasn't a conscious decision truly, it was more that I had "aged" my egg whites while I had an afternoon in Southie and hated the idea that I would have just wasted 3 eggs. Plus, I had made the trip to Polcari's for almond flour.... so that's what led me to attempting macarons for the first time after 8pm on a Monday evening.

This particular posting was so amazing and thorough with detail, you should read it if you decide to make a go of macarons. Her pictures are one million times better than mine, plus she cares about measuring.

My friend Lauren asked me if I needed anything special to make macaroons. Answer ..... not really .... but kind of. You absolutely need an electric mixer, a stand mixer would be crazy helpful but not required. You need some method of combining your flour and powdered sugar. Ideally, you have a flour sifter but obviously I don't. I used a fine mesh strainer and it was fine but not amazing. Other things? A pipping bag is unnecessary if you have a gallon size ziploc and a pair of scissors. You must have a spatula.

So here's how it goes.
(Step 1) Set your oven to 375 F
(Step 2) Combine your almond flour and powdered sugar in a sifter and sift until you have a nice, pretty pile. I have never believed in sifting before but I was amazed at how it changed the consistency. This is one million times worth it.
(Step 3) In a mixing bowl, beat your egg whites with an electric mixer until nice and foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar until they develop stiff, glossy peaks. I added my sugar in 1 tablespoon at a time. If you think your egg whites are stiff enough, they probably aren't. Keep going. One blog I read said you should be able to flip your bowl upside down ... I make enough of mess in the kitchen without doing this step, but you get the idea.
(Step 4) Add vanilla and mix gently. If the mixture gets a little less stiff (TWSS), just toss that mixer on again for a jiffy.
(Step 5) After the meringue is stiff and glossy, you essentially get to mix it all up again - but none of that "folding in the egg whites" business. This is straight mixing folks and I loved it. Add about half of the flour/sugar mixture and stir with your spatula until mixed. Then, add the rest and stir again.
(Step 6) This is now a "crucial" part in the macaron process.... you need to stir until the mixture is even and smooth. A smooth mixer makes for good meringues and that is what this is all about folks. What you do is spread the batter against the sides of the bowl, then flip it back into the middle, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat times 15 or so times. Just like the flour sifting process, I thought this would be all phony and silly and not worth it, I was wrong. You can see the difference in the batter.

(Step 7) Fill your "pastry" bag with the batter and squeeze it out gently into small circles on your parchment lined baking sheet. Note: the batter will settle a bit so, don't worry too too much about having a "tip" in the middle of your circle. Just try and keep your circles in similar small sized circles - about 1-1.5 inches.
(Step 8) After you have filled you pan with little circles, whack the sheet against the counter several times. According to the post I read, "This will set the pied or little pastry lip at the base of the cookie (an essential for an authentic macaron)." Crucial. Now, set the tray aside for 30 minutes to dry. You'll know they are dry when you tap the surface of the circle and it does not stick to your finger.

(Step 9) Place in the oven for about 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, turn the sheet so that the front-facing macarons are now towards the back of the oven for an even bake. If after 14 minutes, they are still super-soft, reduce heat to 325°, cover in aluminum foil and bake for 2 more minutes. 

I knew this part of the process was critical, so I watched them really closely. As you can see I had two sheets of merengues and I attempted to bake them both at the same time. While it theoretically worked out, the bottom sheet was slightly more cooked than the top which came out perfectly. So, keep this in mind... maybe take the time to do two batches.

(Step 10) When the macarons are done baking, take them out of the oven and let sit until cool. When they are cool, they'll pop right off the parchment but they won't before then. I got anxious and used a fish spatula (thin and metal) to pop off a few early.
(Step 11) Fill a new pastry bag with the buttercream and create about 1/2 inch dot on one macaron cookie, then sandwich another on top. Be careful not to squeeze the buttercream out on the sides. (To make the buttercream just combine the powered sugar, butter, flavored extract (almond or vanilla).

And then you are done. One of the great things about macarons is that they can be even better the next day ... that didn't stop me from eating 4 the first night.

I stored the uneaten delights in tupperware in my fridge overnight and then took them out the day I was going to share them. Worked like a gem. Although they are the best on day 1 or 2, they are still amazing on day 3. My grandparents had them on day 7 and still raved about them .... but that might be because we are related. Or because I made amazing macarons. You can decide.

Shopping List2/3 cup almond meal/flour
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar.
3 egg whites
5 tablespoons of white, granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 stick of softened butter (8 tablespoons)
about 5 ounces of powdered sugar, or 2/3 cup
about 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract

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