I've always said - the sweetest of surprises are most precious and come in small boxes. This time it's no different.
The macarons story began on Twitter, when a few of us started discussing the delicacy of macarons and the high failure rate many have faced. As the discussions evolved it turned into a kind of challenge. Are we "mac retards?" was a question that was posed.
My own try was not much of an effort. I had read a bit about macarons and remembered enjoying them from the trés chic locations in Paris and Salzburg. One Sunday afternoon Soeren and I just threw a few ingredients together that I thought would make macarons. I did not consult any recipes just went ahead - well what I got instead were these lime kisses. While they were delicious and made perfect little crispy meringue cookies they were not macarons.
As I began seeing several macarons popping up around the blogs I decided to read up a bit more and realized there was more to the macaron legacy. And that's the problem - the more I read the more averse I became towards them. Until I finally decided that I feared them and could not make macarons without even giving it a serious try. With that chapter closed my only angst was having it assigned as a Daring Bakers' challenge. Truth be told, I even thought of selecting it myself when I hosted last year to get it out of the way, but my courage abandoned me and I chose the éclairs instead.
However, I do like taking on a challenge and enjoy jumping over my own shadow to prove to myself that I can do it. I dislike saying "I cannot!" without even having had a go and that's exactly what I was doing.
Courage and inspiration came in the form of Jamie, Hilda and Deeba, who were all on different mac stages. Some had tried and succeeded others had failed and I had failed without trying. As we lit up Twitter with our mac talk many others came out of the closet and decided to join our mac express as we called it. Soon Ilva, Aparna, Deborah and Barbara also joined in and we were all happily riding the mac express.
Deeba actually got the challenge going and Jamie took action and we decided to defy our bête noire by making macarons.
OK, what is a macaron already? I hear a few ask. While I am not an expert, I usually have the urge to demystify my subject by researching it. Since I did do my fair share of reading on the subject, I would like to pass on the information to those who are considering tackling the macaron.
For starters it has nothing to do with the American macaroons, which is a chewy coconutty cookie. In Germany we also have something very similar to these type of macaroons called Kokosmakaronen often available during Christmas time.
French macarons are somewhat of a legend and they should not be dishonored by being called a cookie. The macaron is a pastry, a delight of a dessert where there are two pastry shells made of ground almonds, egg whites, icing sugar and sugar. These pastry shells encase a delicate filling flavored in a symphony of different varieties.
It is believed that they made their way to France from Italy as early as 1533 by the chefs of Catherine di Medici and finally came to their fame in 1792 when two nuns seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution baked and sold macarons to support themselves. They became known as the macaron sisters! At that time the macaron was just plain pastry no flavor and no filling. It wasn't until the 1900s Ladurée's Pierre Desfontaines revolutionized the macarons by taking two pastry shells and filling them with ganache. Today besides Ladurée there is, of course, Pierre Hermé, both have elevated the macarons to a new level and made them legendary. For the history buffs you'll find more information on The Nibble.
Before we jump into the recipe here are a few tips I collected along the way.
Prep work: Macarons are fine little rounds and if you are not a trained macaron maker it might be a good idea to draw a stencil for perfect rounds. I simply flipped my baking paper around and drew circles using a (mathematical) compass about 3.5 cm in diameter. Then I placed some white parchment paper on the baking tray flipped my baking paper back around and was able to pipe close to perfect circles. Make sure you gently remove the white parchment paper from beneath the baking paper. Otherwise you’ll have a nice flame in the oven!
Macaron Template For easy piping you might find this macaron template useful.
Sift your ingredients: If required multiple times. What you want is powdery ground nuts with no lumps. The almond and icing sugar mixture may be pulsed in a food processor to make finer. I sifted my nut and icing sugar mixture again after it was pulsed in the food processor.
Use aged egg whites: This is not a joke. Leave them to age for one to three days at room temperature or up to five days in the fridge. Fresh egg whites are more likely to result in macarons that are too fragile and flat. Veronica has a great post about aging egg whites for macarons that I found interesting.
Consistency of magma: I've read this phrase often and wondered what it was supposed to mean. Having made my macarons I understand. The final macaron batter should basically not be too liquidy nor too stiff. When you lift your spatula from the batter it should basically flow back in thick ribbons. The perfect test is to place a dab of batter on a plate and it should slowly sink back without leaving peaks. If it does form peaks give the batter a few more folds.
Macronnage: This is the key step – the folding technique to achieve the shiny, smooth and pliable mixture. Once the meringue is added to the almond mixture it needs to be incorporated. With a spatula start from the middle, work the spatula from the bottom toward the top, almost as if you were cutting the mixture, then fold.
Let the batter rest and form skins: Another phrase that always got me wondering. After the shells have been piped on the cookie trays, let them sit for 30 minutes to a maximum of 1 hour so that they form skins and dry. Although many recipes call for it, some say it’s not necessary. I tried thinking logically (for a change) and decided that it makes sense – the skin that forms probably keeps the macaron from floating away once it hits the heat of the oven – my logic.
Removing the macarons from the paper: This is where I did experience my first problems. Some of my shells got a little stuck to the baking paper. So, I was thankful to have read about a little trick to make it easier to remove the macarons. After baking, pour a little bit of water underneath the paper. After a while the steam will have loosened the macarons. However, do not let them sit in the water or else they will become soggy.
Let the macarons rest for a day: They're supposed to taste better with a bit of rest. However, I am not too sure that will an easy rule to follow!
One of the articles I read and re-read like my macaron bible was from Mercotte – Desperately seeking macarons. I recommend it to all of you who want to take on the challenge of making macarons in your own kitchens.
I had very much decided on pistachios fairly early in the challenge – my affinity to the nuts is not a secret. Let’s just say I am nuts about those delicate green nuts. The very first place to go to for a recipe inspiration when it comes to macarons is none other than the amazing Helen of Tartelette. I trust her recipes and knew that if I used one of her recipes my macarons just could not fail. Luck was on my side because she did indeed have a recipe for pistachio macarons.
I decided to play around with the filling and settled on a lemon flavored creamy kind. My head began spinning with ideas and as I wrote them down I decided on a simple cream cheese, a bit of butter and some lemon curd. Pistachio and lemon cream macarons – my first macaron creation!
Pistachio and Lemon Cream Macarons[Printable version of recipe here.]
For the pistachio macaron shells
90g egg white (approx. 4 eggs), aged for a little over 24 hours on the countertop
30g fine granulated sugar
200g icing sugar
few drops of green food coloring to make the green pop a bit more
For the lemon cream cheese filling
225g cream cheese
2-3 tablespoons butter, softened
60g lemon curd recipe
For the pistachio macaron shells
- Prepare your baking tray and baking sheets with a stencil of circles as described above.
- In a large mixing bowl mix the egg whites with an electric hand beater (alternatively you can use a stand mixer with the whisk attachment) until it is thick and frothy. Gradually add the sugar, whisking all the while, until the mixture turns into a thick glossy meringue. The consistency should be similar to hair mousse or shaving foam. Make sure the the meringue is not overbeaten or else it will be too dry.
- In a food processor pulse together icing sugar, almonds and pistachios until the nuts are finely ground and powdery. Sift the mixture to make sure there are not lumps.
- Place the dry ingredients into a bowl, then add a few drops of the green food coloring. Add the meringue and give it a quick fold using the macronnage technique described above. Fold a few times to break the air. Continue until you get a smooth and supple mixture, thick in consistency so that when you lift the spatula in flows back in thick ribbons. Test a small amount on a plate – should the tops fall back and flatten by themselves then it is ready, if not give it a few more folds.
- Fill a piping bag with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small rounds (3.5 cm in diameter) on your prepared baking paper. Leave the macarons to rest and dry for about 45 minutes.
- In the meantime preheat the the oven to 140 degrees C. When the macarons are ready bake the shells for 15-20 minutes depending on their size. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Use a flat offset spatula to gently remove the shells from the baking paper and allow to cool further on a rack.
If you are not going to be using them right away you can store the shells in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.
They freeze well too but it is recommended to freeze them unfilled. To fill them take the shells out of the freezer 48 hours prior to serving and without defrosting fill them. This way the flavors will be allowed to blend as they thaw.
For the lemon cream cheese filling
Assembling the macarons
- In a bowl beat all of the ingredients at medium speed until thick and creamy. Chill for two to three hours.´
Fill the lemon cream in a plain tipped piping bag and pipe small dollops the size of small macadamia nuts on one of the shells then gently cover with another. Do not press. Continue to do this until you have used up all of the filling and shells.
And finally …
How to eat a macaron
Do not dare to pop the whole macaron in your mouth. These babies are meant to be savored slowly and appreciated with every bite. Take a macaron and hold it between your thumb and forefinger. Please take time to notice the “feet”. Take your first small bite – notice the crunch followed by the chewy and moist almost cake-like interior. Now take the last bite and sit back and savor these little pillows of delight.
Enjoy Veronica’s candid step by step instructions of how to eat an macaron.
While a macaron critic will probably scrutinize and say these are not domed enough, but I am still strutting my stuff (yes all over again ;-)) at the success of these macarons. My sweet surprise came when I peaked into the oven and saw the build up of macaron happy feet. They tasted sensational. The crunchy pistachio and the tangy lemony filling went perfectly well together. After an overdose of macarons I packed a few in small boxes and gave a the sweet surprises to two of my dearest friends – AK and D. Both have been a huge support and motivation to me during the past months. I love you, ladies!
Soeren was also delighted with these macarons as he piped out his long shaped shells and waited for them to rest and form skins he danced the happy feet dance with me as the macarons began looking good. He was not much for the filling and gladly munched on the shells.
I have a few great flavor ideas for my next macarons! Practice makes perfect and with the first success I am a willing learner.
You'll be able to see all the people who took part and conquered the challenge after the 15th September over at Life's A Feast. Enjoy!
Cookie Cravings from WFLH:
|Milan Cookies||Ginger Shortbread||Lime Bars|
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