Hello! (Imagine that being high pitched and piercing, just like Julia.) This week, the French inspiration continues. What can I say, it’s just the home of so many great things! That’s right folks, I made macarons. No, not macaroons, like the heavenly coconut chocolate clusters, but macarons, like the crisp and crunchy cookie sandwiches. Now, I’ve been planning on this for a while. And each time I thought that it was finally time, my inner Negative Nancy kicked in and told me, “Gosh Erin, you’ll never be able to get those cute little feet on your macarons. Who do you think you are, Pierre Herme!?” Well, as of lately, Negative Nancy has learned to shut it.
Last week, I was watching the semi-final of the Great British Bake Off. Surprising, I know. It was Chocolate Week, and the bakers were tasked with making chocolate tarts. Sure, that part was great, but what I found to be the most interesting was the fact that a few of them made macarons as garnishes for their even grander pastries. No, no. Not as the centerpieces themselves…but as embellishments, I tell you! Flora, the overachiever, was all like, “Oh, I’ll just throw some macarons on there for some pizzazz, nbd or anything.” (Feel free to imagine that in a British accent and with more British-y sounding vocabulary). My point here is that making macarons really isn’t all that difficult! Granted, the bakers on the show have quite a few more capabilities than your average hobby baker, but still, it turns out that making the cookies you’d normally pay three dollars each for, really isn’t as arduous as it seems! Not to mention, if I’m being honest, this project was the most fun to do and was certainly the most gratifying. In fact, If you’re going to try one recipe I’ve done this summer, I’d recommend you choose this one. Hands. Down.
One thing you’ll realize when you start researching this dessert, is how customizable it is. You can literally do any flavor combo or color. And, to fill them, you can use buttercreams, ganaches, jellies, curds, etc. What’s even better, is that you can use basically the same base recipe for all of it. For example, my original plan was to simply make lemon blueberry macarons. But, you know me… nothing can ever be simple. So, to be as carefree and spontaneous as my overachieving (make-believe) friend, Flora, I decided to do a second flavor: chocolate orange! The recipe for the former is below, but if you want to make the chocolate orange variety, all you’ll need to do is color your cookies differently, have some orange marmalade instead of lemon curd, and use chocolate ganache instead of blueberry buttercream. Other than that, the recipe for the cookie part of the macaron itself, stays exactly the same.
So, without further ado, let’s go! Or, better yet, allons-y!
I started by making some of my fillings: the lemon curd and chocolate ganache. First, curd. One of the main components of curd is egg. Because egg cooks so easily, some recipes call for cooking it directly on the bottom of a saucepan over medium heat, while others point to that move as absurd. Instead, they swear by using a double boiler. Well, in the past, I’ve used direct heat, and I’ve lived. Sure, I had to strain the curd to see if there were any cooked egg pieces in there, but it’s turned out perfectly, even with this little added step. But, in the spirit of experimentation, this time, I tried the double boiler method. Like most other curds, you really just throw all of your ingredients (except the butter) into the bowl, and whisk until it thickens up. Then, you mix in the butter to make it a little shinier and creamier, and voila, you have curd (…that still needs to be cooled with cling wrap laying directly over the surface of it…) I will say though, I enjoyed not having to worry about straining the curd for chunks. Or, not having to clean the strainer later. Therefore, I may just end up using that double boiler method again.
The first filling for the second variety of macarons is a chocolate ganache. Like I mentioned in my post about chocolate peanut butter eclairs, ganache is so easy. Steam milk, pour, mix. Ca y est!
Okay, guys, this is when it got real. Time to make the cookies. You might notice in the recipe, that the amounts of each ingredient are in ounces instead of being measured by US cups. That’s how precise you’ll need to be when making these guys. Otherwise, they just don’t turn out the way they should. Essentially, to start, you’ll make your tant por tant: a dry mix of half almond meal and half confectioners’ sugar. Take the two, which have been measured accurately by weight using a scale instead of your best judgement, and process them until they are a very fine powder. Then, you’ll sift it through a sieve three times. That’s right. Read it and weep. Three. Don’t skip this, or else you’ll have some clumpy cookies. Don’t nobody like no clumps in their macarons.
Then, comes the meringue. Fun fact: Technically, you’ll be making a French meringue, because you’ll have room temperature egg whites being whipped with fine sugar, instead of a sugary syrup that you’d find in an Italian meringue. In a stand mixer, whip your egg whites and cream of tartar until it becomes foamy. Then, add your sugar little by little. You’ll want to keep the machine whipping the mixture on a high setting until you can detach your whisk and see stiff peaks of meringue that resemble shaving cream. The last step to making the meringue is coloring. Add a little bit at a time until you have your desired shade. Remember, it’s always easier to add more. Also, I recommend gel coloring instead of liquid… it’s less likely to affect the consistency of your meringue.
Okay, ready for another new term? Macaronnage. It’s a verb, to be used like, “let’s macaronnage the crap out of this flour!” Really, what you’re doing is just folding the dry ingredients into the meringue. The key here is to do it gently, without knocking out the air you’ve worked so hard to whip in.
Up next, piping! Personally, I have no sense of geometry, so making perfect circles repeatedly just wasn’t going to happen for me. To prevent a mismatched macaron tragedy, I made a template which I put underneath the parchment paper as I was piping. I highly recommend doing something similar, unless your a circle genius of course. In which case, you do you. Anyways, put your batter in a piping bag with a 1/2 inch tip and pipe the batter into the circles by holding the bag directly over the circle, about a half inch above the surface. Once the batter has reached the outer edge of the circle, quickly stop applying pressure and sweep your tip up and to the side.
Once you’ve finished piping, you’ll need to let your macarons sit for a little while to dry out. They will be ready to bake in about 30-45 minutes, or when they have a tough skin on the top of them. Then, it’s into a 300 degree oven for about 14-16 minutes. Make sure you rotate your pans half way through, just in case your oven cooks unevenly like mine does. When they come out, you’ll see that they have pied, or risen enough to leave a foot along the bottom. Let them cool completely before filling.
While the macarons were baking, I made the blueberry buttercream. Guess what, you can make this buttercream for any fruit flavor…just change the preserves you use! It’s really simple. Beat your butter and shortening until smooth and creamy. Add in 2 cups of your confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth again, about 5 minutes. Then, add your preserves until you achieve the taste you want. Last, add more sugar to thicken it up a tad. Or don’t, if runny is your thing!
Assembly time! This is where I started feeling the satisfaction. If I hadn’t screwed up the hardest part… baking the cookies… what could go wrong now?! Depending on what flavor combinations you choose, this might look a little different for you, but here was my process for assembly.
- Pair the cookies with others that are similarly sized or shaped.
- Pipe a ring of blueberry buttercream around the border.
- Drizzle lemon curd into the nest made by the buttercream.
- Lightly put two sides together.
- Pair ‘em up!
- Spread one side with orange marmalade.
- Spread the other with ganache.
- Sandwich those bad boys.
And there they are! Crispy, chewy, fruity, chocolatey, fancy-as-heck, French macarons that Julia would be proud of. And, you won’t have to pay three dollars for each!
Because I was so impressed with them just because they were complete, I needed a second opinion to tell me how edible they really were. For this tough job, I turned to macaron connoisseur extraordinaire, Bryan. Together, we taste tested based on three categories: texture (were they crispy, crunchy, and then chewy?), taste (did the flavors go together and balance each other well?), and appearance (were they appealing to look at?) Here were the results:
Bryan rated them at a tie, citing the symmetrical domes, cute little feet, and balanced flavor of each. I gave the lemon blueberry a slightly higher rating because I thought you could really taste both the curd and buttercream equally. In the chocolate orange, I wish there was a little more orange flavor to counteract the ganache. In the future, I might use a darker chocolate for less sweetness, or more orange marmalade on both sides instead of one, for more of a citrusy flavor. But, I thought the chocolate orange was stronger texture-wise, because it was first crispy, then chewy. This was different than the lemon blueberry, which was chewier overall. Maybe this was because I let the chocolate orange dry out for more time while I was piping the others… (ah, now I get the whole drying step…)
Either way, these were both freaking delicious. Seriously. So. Delicieux. As in, make them now.
Next week, I enter a baking competition! While I’m getting my game face on, stay tuned and stay hungry!