Sunday, November 6, 2011

French Macarons for Beginners

French Macarons are so trendy right now.  It consists of two sweet, crispy and airy almond cookies that are sandwiched together by an even sweeter filling.  They are visually stunning but one bite into them results in a collapse of that beautiful structure, and the cookie quickly dissolves into your mouth like sugar in hot water.  

Look at those pretty feet, or pied as they're called in French.  The pied/feet
are the ruffled looking edges on the bottom sides of the cookies!
I will be the first to tell you that I am by no means a professional baker.  This blog post isn't supposed to tell you the rights and wrongs to baking your own batch of macarons.  I can tell you that I have read through dozens of sites from our fellow bloggers about these tricky cookies.  I read and seen photos from the failed attempts to the successful ones.  It was because of this research that I was successful with baking my first and only batch to date of these French cookies.  I want to tell you what I did and offer you a recipe that will hopefully help you to acheive the same results I have.  The absolutely wonderful thing about this recipe is that it's perfect for beginners in the sense that it will give you the right proportions you need but also it's scaled down so you can produce exactly six sandwiched macarons, which means that if you should happen to fail, you didn't waste that much in ingredients!  And thereby making this a great recipe as a starting point, and once you've mastered the techniques you can venture off into the wild with more adventurous flavors and combinations!

It's generally recommended that you refrigerate these cookies before
consuming so it doesn't break apart like this when you bite into them!
Rather than provide you with a list a rules on how to bake up a batch of macarons (as many other bloggers may tell you), I'm just going to tell you what I did if you would like to practice re-creating these six sandwich cookies yourself!
  1. I used a digital baking scale.  Macarons are so finicky that everything has to be precise.  The exact ratio of each ingredient is needed for a successful batch otherwise it's anyone's guessing game.
  2. I prepared my own almond flour by grinding silvered almonds.  I did it with a food processor so the almonds were fine enough to pass through a sieve.  Macarons are such delicate and dainty cookies that they cannot handle large and sharp bits of almond, which will inevitably create large cracks through the shell.  I wanted smooth and shiny cookie tops!
  3. I used egg whites that were aged for 10 days in the refrigerator, which were placed in a tupperware container with a lid on.  The reason why I waited 10 days wasn't particular; it just happened to be 10 days when I was finally ready to bake a batch.  But it's important to have aged egg whites because the whites lose their elasticity upon aging so they're  to easier whip to soft peaks without turning grainy.
  4. Macarons are incredibly sweet.  Unfortunately that's just the way it is.  This exact ratio of sweetness is prudent because there is a relationship between sugar itself and egg whites.  In order to maintain the stability in our egg white meringue, I needed the sugar to aid in holding up its shape, which is crucial for the classic macaron appearance!
  5. I constantly scraped the sides of the bowl during "macaronage."  That's just hoity-toity talk for the stage at which all ingredients are incorporated.  When I folded all ingredients together with a silicone spatula I made sure that all the batter was combined.  Any portion that wasn't will destroy the ingredient ratio and result in ugly cookies.  Remember, the macarons are all about appearances.
  6. After piping the cookies on parchment paper, I allowed them to settle on the counter for 60 minutes.  That is, after tapping the sheet multiple times on the counter to release any air bubbles floating throughout the batter.  I tapped so the no air bubbles will rise during baking and break that flat top on the cookies.  And I rested them on the counter after piping so the cookies can form a strong and sturdy crust/skin before baking.  So tap baking sheet first, then let them rest.
  7. I allowed the macarons to mature after baking and filling, but before consuming.  (Ok, that's not true as seen the second photograph of this entry.  I had to have a taste.)  Generally, you should mature them for 24 hours and you'll get crispy cookies with chewy filling. 
See how this cookie maintained its shape after it was bitten into?
That's because it was allowed a maturation period in the fridge!