There's only four ingredients in a basic recipe for macaron cookies. But those four pack a fantastic punch.
The almond flour, egg whites and sugar - they marry together in sweet symphony. The flavor is punctuated by harmonious notes of sweet and savory.
And that's just the cookie.
The filling - which can be completely unique to the creator - offers up an entirely new level of delight.
The simplicity of these little treats, however, is deceiving. Worth the time? That's subjective.
After four hours, nine dirty bowls, three sticky spatulas and a thin coating of powdered sugar on every surface of my kitchen, I'd do it all over again - and again.
It's absolutely worth it.
So I've compiled what worked for me, and what didn't. The pitfalls and potential solutions.
My macarons didn't turn out looking like the color-punctuated ones found in Parisian pastry windows. They certainly wouldn't be fit for the kings and queens of the 16th century, who elevated them to a "prized delicacy."
But they tasted good, really good.
It's easy to taste why these are growing rapidly in popularity and commonly being called the next "cupcake" by food enthusiasts.
The final product is best once chilled overnight, then eaten the next day at room temperature. So I hear. Ours didn't last that long.
2 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature (best if aged overnight)
1. Preheat the oven to 320. Combine the confectioners' sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery. Sift to remove chunks. Set aside.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Add a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don't overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off (don't cut the corner until it's filled). It's easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper, do not use wax paper - I did and found myself picking tiny pieces of wax off the cookie bases).
6. Let them rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Bake the macaroon for 15-25 minutes. Check to see if macarons are done by grabbing the top of one macaron and trying to shake it. They are done when the top barely slides against the skirt. If they are not done, extend baking time by two minutes intervals, checking after each extension.
7. Slide mat and cookies onto a cooling rack. Once completely cool, flip cookies over to begin filling.
Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons. My own attempts yielded 2 dozen filled, sandwiched cookies. Some were lost to collapsed caps, others to the husband who hovered nearby.
For the filling I merely used a frosting recipe because late into the evening I realized I didn't have the ingredients for the chocolate ganache I had intended to make.
Below are two fillings: The dark chocolate frosting (I used) and a chocolate ganache.
Dark chocolate frosting:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
⅔ cup dark cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
⅓ cup milk
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
1. Melt butter, then add cocoa powder. Combine completely
2. Add salt. Then, alternate adding the milk and powdered sugar, until smooth.
3. Add vanilla if desired.
4. If needed, add more milk by one tablespoon at a time until consistency is spreadable.
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
4 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1. Place the chocolate in a bowl that's large enough to hold the ingredients and keep it close at hand. Bring the cream to a full boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. While the cream is coming to the boil, work the butter with a rubber spatula until it is very soft and creamy. Keep the butter aside for the moment.
2. While the cream is at the boil, remove the pan from the heat and, working with the rubber spatula, gently stir the cream into the chocolate. Start stirring in the center of the mixture and work your way out in widening concentric circles. Continue to stir - without creating bubbles - until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Leave the bowl on the counter for a minute or two to cool the mixture down a little before adding the butter.
3. Add the butter to the mixture in two additions, mixing with the spatula from the center of the mixture out in widening concentric circles. When the butter is fully incorporated, the ganache should be smooth and glossy. Depending on what you're making with the ganache, you can use it now, leave it on the counter to set to a spreadable or pipeable consistency (a process that could take over an hour, depending on your room's temperature) or chill it in the refrigerator, stirring now and then. (If the ganache chills too much and becomes too firm, you can give it a very quick zap in the microwave to bring it back to the desired consistency, or just let it stand at room temperature.)