The first time I had a French macaron was in Paris at Ladurée and what a magical experience it was. I wasn't too sure what I was eating, but all I knew was that it was sweet (überly sweet, in fact), sticky and simply perfect.
Ever since that first taste of a French macaron, I have been hesitant to try to make them at home. I didn't even know where to start. I have made macaroons (note the two "o"s) and those are easy, but I had never tried my hand at making the classic and popular French pastry. Yes, the French define these as pastries, not cookies.
After watching the MasterChef contestants make them during a pressure test challenge, I mustered up the courage to make them myself, and let me tell you, they aren't as hard as they seem.
Here's how you can make French macarons in your own kitchen; no need to wait until your dream trip to Paris to taste the real deal.
These are the basic ingredients you will need for a macaron:
- Egg whites
- Superfine sugar
- Confectioners' sugar
- Almond flour
- Cream of tartar
- Choice of filling
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees, then start preparing the ingredients. First, sift two cups of confectioners' sugar with one cup of almond flour. Almond flour is basically finely ground blanched, skinless almonds. So if you want to make your own almond flour, grind almonds until they're basically pulverized. The difference between almond flour and almond meal is that the almond flour is ground much finer. Place this sifted mixture aside.
Next, you will need to beat the egg whites. Beat three room-temperature egg whites in a dry mixing bowl (no water, oil or any other residue) at medium speed until they are foamy. At this point, add a pinch of salt and ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, as well as ¼ cup of superfine sugar.
Note: superfine sugar is different from granulated sugar -- it has much smaller crystals.
Once the other three ingredients are added to the egg whites, beat on medium to high speed until stiff peaks form. You will know you have stiff peaks when the egg whites stick straight out from the mixer head without sliding off.
As soon as the egg whites are at the consistency you need them to be, you can add the gel food coloring to give your macarons that beautiful signature look. I decided to add a little bit of peach gel food coloring to make light pink/orange macarons. The color is up to you; if you want vibrant colors, add more food coloring. Macarons are supposed to be beautiful, so don't be afraid to mix in purple food coloring or a bright yellow dye.
After the food coloring is evenly incorporated into the egg whites, gently fold in the sifted almond flour and confectioners' sugar mixture. Fold the egg whites with the flour and sugar approximately 50 or 60 times. When folding a batter, flip your wrist to turn one side of the bowl's mixture onto the other.
As soon as you reach about 50 folds, the batter will be quite sticky and shiny; this is what you are aiming for.
Place the macaron mixture into a piping bag with a ½-inch piping tip. You don't want to be like Jonny on MasterChef, who used the tiniest piping tip and wasted a lot of energy piping 20 macarons, leading to his getting booted off the show.
Place a silicon mat or parchment paper on a cookie sheet and pipe 3/4-inch or 1-inch circles spaced about an inch apart from each other onto the tray. Pipe the macarons by letting the piping bag do the work for you; don't swirl the tip too much -- just let the piping bag dispense the batter onto the tray. Pull away to the side once you have created the correctly sized macaron.
When you have filled the tray with macarons, bang the tray on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles trapped in the batter. Let the macarons rest for 25 minutes; this will take away the uber stickiness and will prepare them for baking.
After the resting time, lower the heat on the oven to 275 degrees and bake the macarons on the middle rack for 20 minutes. If you are making several batches of macarons, prepare the next sheet while the other macarons bake in the oven. While one batch bakes, the other rests. Rotate the sheet halfway through the baking process.
Bring the macarons out of the oven once they are done and let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer the silicone mat or parchment paper to a cookie rack so the macarons can completely cool before you place the filling between two macarons.
Before you bake the next trays, heat the oven back to 300 degrees for five minutes, then drop the oven's temperature to 275 and place the next sheet in the oven for 20 minutes.
As soon as the macarons are completely cool, you are ready to stick two together with the filling.
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Typical fillings include buttercreams, ganache, dulce de leche and fruit jams. I decided to fill half of the macarons with white chocolate buttercream and the other half with raspberry jam.
A little bit goes a long way, so place a dollop of buttercream or jam into the middle of one macaron and top with another same-sized macaron. When you press the two together, the filling will spread to the sides, adding another element of texture and color to the macaroon.
When you bite into these delicate French pastries, you will be hit with something extremely sweet, a little sticky and simply divine. The top of each macaron should be crispy and crunchy, yet the insides are soft and slightly sticky. The filling balances the whole dessert - it's sweet, creamy and makes the macaron complete.