French Macarons

Have you ever had a French macaron? Anyone with a Pintrest or Tumblr account has seen these elegant and beautifully colored cookies pop up in their feed. I always wondered about their actual texture and taste - things I couldn't gather from a picture on the internet. To be clear, French macarons are not coconut macaroons. The French version is extremely technical and requires preparation, patience, and proper form. The cookie begins with almond flour and through steps explained below, the batter becomes an lava-like almond meringue. After baking, the exterior forms a shiny shell. At the obottom of each cookie should be a "foot" which is the ruffled, bubble-y looking part. I'm sure my roommates were confused when I kept telling them "I got feet!!!" excitedly. When you bite into the shell, the cookie emits the slightest crunch and collapses to give way to a mouthful of spongy cake-like interior and smooth, flavorful filling. They are endlessly customizable in many different ways including color, flavor, and filling.

I had not enjoyed French macarons until I was actually in the country of France, but I am sure glad that I waited. I made it a mission to seek out Laudrée which is one of the more famous patisseries in Paris and are especially known for their macarons. From here I got a salted caramel macaron that was pale yellow with rich salted caramel filling and a chocolate macaron that was deep brown and filled with insanely creamy chocolate ganache. We had them for breakfast on a quiet bench on the bank of the Seine river right outside of the Lourve - a picture is above. It was one of the most perfect breakfasts I've ever had.

Shortly after I got back to Gainesville, it was my travel-mate and friend's birthday. I thought it would be a good idea to replicate this tiny treat we had come to love and enjoy throughout our time in Paris. I chose a raspberry (or framboise in French!) cookie with a raspberry-jam butter cream filling. The process was definitely time-consuming and not all the cookies came out exactly to form. However, a lot of them did and critic's reviews (attendees of the birthday party) all came back raving for their taste and texture. I would only recommend attempting these cookies to serious bakers - something as simple as your kitchen being too hot or cold can ruin the batch. They are temperamental and frustrating but I cannot tell you how proud I was to see the first perfect batch emerge from my oven. Getting these French macarons right is a huge personal accomplishment and I am looking forward to exploring the art of other French pastries! Know this: If you are brave enough to try these, I am here cheering you on! Bon Appetite!

French Macarons

Photo credit: Zac Wolf Photography

French Macarons
Adapted from: Yum Sugar 

2/3 cup almond flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 large egg whites at room temperature and preferably aged up to 3 days
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIY: Make almond flour yourself by getting a bag of blanched almonds and grinding them up in a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Make sure not to grind too long or you'll end up with almond butter!

1. Preheat the oven to 280 degrees and position two racks in the lower section of the oven. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. If you have time, draw 1-inch circles on the back of each sheet, spacing the circles at least 1/2-inch apart. (I recommend doing this)

2. If you store bought your almond flour, combine it with the powdered sugar and sift twice through a mesh sieve. If you made almond flour yourself, sift almond flour and powdered sugar twice each, but separately - then combine the two.

3. Place egg whites in a bowl and use a hand mixer on medium-high to beat the eggs until they become frothy. After this, gradually add granulated sugar one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Continue to beat the egg white mixture until glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the beaters. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Be careful to not overbeat the meringue (e.g., the meringue takes on a clumpy texture). At this point, you can add any flavorings and colors. I added a few drops of raspberry extract and a drop of red food coloring to give it a pale pink color.

4. Add half of the sifted almond-powdered sugar mixture and gently fold it into the meringue using a flexible silicone spatula. Lift from the bottom, up around the sides, and toward the middle, being careful to not overagitate the meringue and lose too much air. Once the almond mixture is predominantly incorporated, add the second half and repeat the folding motion.

5. When the almond mixture is just incorporated, you will need to transform the batter into the appropriate texture. Using the flat of the spatula, "punch" down into the center of the batter, then scrape more batter from the sides to the center, and punch again. You will need to repeat this 10-15 times (or more, depending on your arm strength and the beginning texture of your batter) until the batter slowly and continuously drips back into the bowl when you scoop it up with the spatula. Think of the consistency of molten lava. For the best results, punch the batter a few times, check the consistency, then punch a few more times, etc. Do not make the batter too runny or the macarons won't rise as they should, and you could end up with oil stains on the surface.

6. Pour batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 0.4-inch tip. In a pinch, you can also use a gallon size Ziploc bag: just snip a teeny bit from one of the bottom corners. Twist and clip the top of the bag to avoid overflow. On your prepared baking sheets, pipe out 1-inch rounds in the circles you drew (remember to draw the circles on the back side of your parchment to avoid ink or pencil stains on your macarons!).

7. Holding the baking sheet in both hands, rap each baking sheet firmly on the counter two or three times. This smooths out the tops and helps form the "feet" on the bottoms of the macarons. Allow the piped macarons to dry, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes. The macarons should form a very thin, smooth crust where, if you tap it lightly with your finger, the batter will not stick to your finger (same way you would test if nail polish is dry). If after 15 minutes, the batter is still sticky, let it dry longer. This may take up to an hour on humid days (watch out Floridians!).

8. Place both baking sheets in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. After the first 2 minutes, open the oven to allow any excess humidity to escape. Halfway through, swap oven racks and rotate the sheets for even baking. The macarons are done when they are baked all the way through and the shells are just hard. Take care to not underbake (insides will still be mushy) or overbake (tops will begin to brown). Remove them from the oven, and cool on baking sheet placed on a wire rack.

9. When fully cooled, assemble the macarons with your choice of filling. The assembled macarons can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Makes about 4 dozen macaron halves (about 2 dozen complete macarons).

Filling: For raspberry-jam butter cream just add a bit of raspberry jam to basic butter cream. I also added another drop of red food coloring so it would be pale pink. Try other flavored butter creams, ganache, Italian meringue, or jams!

When you're ready, pipe a flat circle of filling on one half of the cookie. Try not to do a big dollop in the middle because the macarons are not strong enough to keep their form when you press the other half on top to spread out the filling.

Storage Tip: empty egg cartons are PERFECT for holding French macarons