Note from Elizabeth: Today our guest writer is Megan Halpern, one of my sister’s closest friends and an enthusiastic foodie. A while back, Meg blogged about her experiences eating and cooking in Brooklyn, introducing herself as someone who “spends what little free time she has in the kitchen, where she is passionate about cooking, oblivious to the mess she is making, and overly pretentious about food presentation.” In her guest post, Meg shares with us her recipe and tips for mastering her favorite sweet — macarons. As she advises, be prepared to make mistakes and possibly to fail on your first try, but as you practice and become more familiar with the baking process, you will surely be rewarded!
There is no dessert these days more ‘trendy’ than macarons. How did I finally come to realize this? As the meringue cookie’s biggest fan and an embarrassingly passionate Francophile, I’ve made my fair share of Parisian pilgrimages just to taste the best of the best. And so when La Duree opened their first US store in New York, I thought I would swing by to sample a few – see if they held up on their transatlantic journey (yes, they actually fly them over from Paris!). But when I approached the tree-lined Upper East Side block that the store opens up onto, all I could see were people. The line wrapped clear around the corner and when I finally reached the end of it, I was told that the person in front of me had already been there for an hour. And expected to be there for another one! I turned and left, but not before my friend remarked that ‘you should only be allowed to wait in this line if you’ve even attempted to bake these things!’
Maybe not, but she did have a point. Making macarons is not for the fainthearted, or the short on time. Your first batch probably won’t turn out looking the way that it’s supposed to look. But that’s part of the challenge, and probably one of the reasons that they are so delicious! Macarons are delicate, sensitive cookies but you should be neither when you attempt them. That said, there are a multitude of tips and tricks that bring the stress level down the first (or second, or third) time you make them. And if you ‘get feet’ the first time around? Congratulate yourself. You’ve done it!
‘Feet?’ you might ask? Let’s rewind a bit. Making macarons requires quite a bit of planning and aren’t the kind of cookie you can just make on the spot, at least not at first. Give yourself a couple of days to prepare. I like to separate the egg whites 2-3 days before I cook. Then I just sit them out on the counter, the bowl covered in saran wrap. This will make the whites easier to handle and better guarantee a well-risen meringue. Macarons also require a decent amount of baking ‘equipment’, so make sure that’s all in hand as well.
Parchment Paper (and pencil)
Linen or plastic pastry sleeve with a round tip (1/4″ – 1/2″ opening)
Powdered Food Dye (optional) – if you want to color your cookies, you must use powdered – liquid food dye will affect the batter consistency
And now the ingredients! Because you want to be as precise as possible when it comes to ratio, I use a kitchen scale and measure ingredients by weight instead of volume. Note that this is the most basic macaron shell recipe, and you can use whatever sort of filling you want. After you get comfortable with this recipe, you can play around with the shell recipe a bit – substituting some of the ground almonds for ground pistachios, adding a dash of espresso powder, etc.).
110g Almond flour (you can either buy this at a specialty market or grind your own almonds at home–I recommend the latter if you have time, as it is more flavorful and I find that the macarons have a nicer texture)
200g Confectioners Sugar
25g Granulated Sugar
90g Egg Whites
Before you start the batter, prep your baking sheets. On the parchment paper, trace circles in pencil, about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Be sure to flip the paper over before putting it on the sheet. You’ll want to see the pencil through the paper, but not have it bake into the cookie!
Preheat your oven to 300 F.
Combine the confectioners sugar with the almond flour. Set aside. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they are foaming; then begin to add the sugar, a little bit at a time, beating it until the combination is glossy. (If you are using a stand mixer, be sure to use the whisk attachment.) Once the egg white mixture is shiny, fold in the sugar/flour mixture. You want to make sure that you don’t overmix the batter and the whites stay light, so don’t fold more than 50 times. Be quick and delicate; don’t worry if the batter doesn’t appear fully ‘mixed.’ You’ll know the batter is ready when it folds back on itself and smooths out in about 5-10 seconds.
Attach your tip to your baking sleeve and fill it with the batter. Slowly pipe the batter onto the tray, and stay within the lines of the circles you drew earlier. Macarons don’t expand outward, so the size that you make them on the tray will be the size of the finished cookie as well. Let the cookies sit out for at least a half an hour before baking them. You’ll want them to harden a bit before putting them into the oven.
Bake them for about 15 minutes at 300 F. Be sure to keep an eye on them though – depending on their size, they could cook in anywhere from 12 – 20 minutes. When they rise off the tray, the part supporting the shell is the ‘feet.’ This will happen towards the end of the baking process and is very important! If you don’t get feet the first time, make some adjustments to your batter (let the shells harden for longer, make sure your oven is evenly heated, use less strokes when folding your batter, etc.) When the shells are done, let them cool on the parchment while you make your filling.
You can really fill your cookie with anything you’d like! Jams, creams, caramels, gelees – the world is your oyster. To keep it simple, I just filled these with a basic buttercream.
1 1/2 sticks butter (unsalted), slightly softened and cut into tablespoon-size pieces
2 egg whites
1 tsp bourbon vanilla extract
Whisk the sugar and the egg whites in a double boiler, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot. Transfer the mixture to a larger mixing bowl and beat until glossy (just like we started the shells!). Then begin adding the butter, piece by piece. Add the vanilla. Beat for about 5 more minutes, until the buttercream is thick and smooth. That’s it!
To assemble the macarons, wait until the shells are completely cool. Pipe the buttercream (or filling of your choosing!) onto one shell and top it off with another.
Now take a big bite and enjoy!
[Notes on storing macarons: they should be placed in an airtight container and kept at room temperature. They'll last for a few days. If you would like them to keep for longer, freeze them.]