Today we roll up our sleeves and tackle one of the more trickyconfectioneries; The Macaron! But do not fear, stay true to the ingredients and do not stray from the instructions, We will see these through! Before we break out the stand mixer, let’s take a minute to go over a few basics.
The Origin: While we can’t know for certain, most agree that these lovely little cookies were brought to France by the Italian pastry chef of Catherine de Medici (King Henry II’s Queen) in 1533. Over the years they have evolved in to the butter cream filled sandwich style cookie we know today.
Macaron or Macaroon? It’s amazing what a difference one little o can make. A macron is best described as a light and airy cookie sandwich. Made with almond flour and egg whites, you will most often see them filled with some type of ganache or butter cream. A macaroon on the other hand, is generally more of a “hay stack” type cookie. While still made with egg whites, they usually have coconut/chocolate chips folded into them and are baked until golden brown.
Why Bother Making Them Yourself? Even more so than many baked goods, macarons are best fresh. After a day or so, the meringue drys out, and your beautiful cookie turns into a spongy mess. For this reason as well as the fact that generally in North America a properly made, fresh macaron can cost more than $3.00 each, these cookies are worth a try! (Not to mention the bragging rights!) Also, it’s mild flavour makes it the perfect vessel for personalization! Why not fill them with lemon and lavender? Sea salt and caramel? Or maybe cayenne and lime!
French vs Italian Macarons:
There are many methods for whipping egg whites and creating meringue. Being as meringue is one of the main components of macarons, it stands to reason there will be many recipes to choose from. The Italian meringue incorporates a hot sugar mixture into the egg whites while steadily whipping. Although the hot sugar adds more stability to the end product, this adds one more step to an already tricky cookie. For a beginner, the best style to attempt is the French macaron. This recipe generally calls for meringue powder (AKA powdered egg whites) for its stability, and skips a pot full of melted sugar completely.
Necessities for Baking Macarons: These cookies are one of those recipes which require a few special tools. While they are most defiantly doable without them, they become much more temperamental, so I highly recommend tracking these down:
#1. A piping bag and tip:
Being egg white based, batter is quite sticky, having a large piping bag (14”-16”) lets you avoid opening the bag to refill it. A simple round tip, with the hole being about the size of your pinky finger, will give you nice, cleanly piped cookie.
# 2. Fine mesh sieve:
Almond flour is slightly moist, so to avoid lumps, you will want to pass it through a sieve of some sort. (A flour sifter works too, but is more time consuming)
#3 A Silpat:
The first in silicone bake ware, these baking sheets are highly revered by the baking/cooking community. They are super high heat safe and still made in France, so no worries about off gasses, or any plasticy flavour. They are totally non stick, and also great for candy making, cookies, ribs, chicken wings and much more. This is a MUST for macarons!
Alright, now that we’re all macaron scholars, it’s time to dive in!
French Style Macarons with Cayenne Lime Ganache:
Makes 50-60 shells, or 25-30 filled macarons
2 ¾ cups (250 g) Almond flour
2 ¾ cups (350 g) Powdered (icing) Sugar
1 cup (7-8 eggs) Egg whites
2 tsp Meringue powder
A pinch of salt
¾ cup (150g) Super fine (berry) sugar
5-7 drops Gel food colouring
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate, in chips or small chunks
1 1/3 cups Heavy cream
1 Tbsp Honey or other liquid sweetener
2 Tbsp un salted butter
a pinch of salt
a dash of cayenne
a few drops of lime extract or a tsp of lime zest
Before starting the recipe, rinse any whisks, bowls, spatuals ect with a mild vinegar and warm water solution. This will assure there is no grease on your tools.
Ready 2 large cookies sheets with parchment paper or silpats and set aside.
Blend powdered sugar and almond flour in a food processor until well mixed. Pass through a sieve to remove any lumps. Set aside in a large bowl (If no food processor is avaiable, sift together and remove any lumps. Add a bit more sugar/almond flour to compensate for the loss)
In a stand mixer using a whip attachment. whip egg whites, salt and meringue powder starting low and moving to medium high speed. Whip until whites began to rise.
Slowly add the granulated sugar and food colouring. Whip until stiff shiny peaks form.
Pour the egg white mixture on to the almond flour, gently folding together. Once the batter falls ribbon like from your spatual, no crumbs of almond flour are visable, and the batter is shiny and flowing, the batter is ready.
Fill a piping bag, and pipe 2 ½” circles on to your silpat. If any peaks have formed give the sheet a few light taps to knock them into shape.
Allow batter to rest for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 F.
Bake for 14 minutes, opening the oven at 5 minutes to release any steam that has built up.
Let the macarons cool completely before trying to remove from the silpat. The bottom of the shell should be slightly soft to the touch.
Combine chocolate, cream and honey in a sauce pan, heat on low until cream is warm, and chocolate is melted. Stir until smooth.
Remove from heat, and stir in butter.
Add cayenne, lime and salt (or any other flavouring you want)
Transfer into a glass bowl an allow to cool until it becomes a pipeable consistency (15-30 minutes)
Pipe ganache onto shells, creating little sandwiches.
Cover tightly, and allow to sit for 12 hours for the shell to absorb some of the flavours of the ganache.