…And Called It Macaron-i

Yankee Doodle rode his pony to town, probably subsisting on hard tack or an occasional meat pie.  He would have been quite fortunate to have had a macaron or two–and may have in fact.  They were invented in 1533, and Monsieur Doodle didn’t come along until around 1760.

I didn’t misspell it–it’s macaron with one “o”, and it’s an elegant little French sandwich cookie that has been catching on here in America over the last few years, albeit slowly.  Macarons are the predecessor to coconut macaroons (which I detest), but much, much different–and so much better!

Macarons, also known by some as Gerbers, are reputed to have been created by none other than the chef of Catherine de Medici, and the term means “fine dough”–same as macaroni.

Originally they were simple little biscuits made of almond flour, sugar, and egg whites, cracked on top, and occasionally flavored with liqueur.  These are the macarons that I learned in school many years ago, and they remind me of Lazzaroni Amaretti cookies in the decorative red tin.

During the early 20th century a French chef named Pierre Desfontaines thought to sandwich two of them together with a little ganache, and today’s refined and colorful macaron wasn’t far behind.

In fact, Chef Pierre’s grandfather was Louis Ernest Laduree, owner of a pastry and tea salon in Paris.  Laduree‘s doors are still open, and the shop is considered to be the epicenter of macarons today!

Italian Jews adopted macarons as a sweet because they have no flour or leavening and can be eaten during Passover (also safe for the gluten-free crowd!).  In time some bakers began to replace the almonds with coconut–and we got those awful, sticky, too sweet, nasty little sawdust textured, haystack looking things that I loathe so much.

I’m probably the last guy to write about macarons, but I’m excited because I just made some tonight for the first time, and I had to do something with my hands to keep from eating the whole plate.  They’re flippin’ good!

I’m not going to write much, but I will post a couple cool links after I give you the recipe that I used just hours ago.  I actually got it from another website that attributes it to Pierre Herme, a young and brilliant French pastry chef that has made quite a name for himself making macarons.  I have adapted the recipe with a couple changes I made (and to avoid plagiarism).

Joan has been obsessed with these little buggers lately, and I had to jump on the band wagon to share her trials and joys from 960 miles away.  I’m glad I did!  She has tried a couple of different recipes that differ from mine, and who knows which one is right or best?  Laduree offers one online as well (or at least someone offers one that they claim is Laduree’s).  I’m a results guy, and these are excellent!

I’ll say that mine browned a little bit, which they aren’t supposed to.  They could use more food coloring.  They’re a little crispy (although they need to “ripen” for 24 hours), and they’re a bit irregular–but I gotta tell you that they taste amazing, the texture will improve overnight, and they’ll do just fine for a first try!

This recipe made 48 finished sandwiches (96 cookies), and I threw a little batter away because I ran out of pans.

Basic Macarons

300 g Almond Flour, or finely ground Almonds
300 g Powdered Sugar
110 g Liquified Egg Whites*
300 g Granulated Sugar
75 g Water
110 g Liquified Egg Whites*

Sift together the powdered sugar and almond flour.  Pour the first egg whites over the mixture of sugar and almond flour but do not stir.

Bring the water and sugar to boil at 118 deg C (244 deg F). When the syrup reaches 115 deg C (239 deg F) start whisking the second portion of egg whites on medium speed.

When the sugar syrup reaches 118 deg C (244 deg F) pour it into the egg whites while whisking slowly. Increase the speed and whip to medium peaks, then fold into the almond/sugar mixture.

Add food coloring as desired and mix well, or separate into smaller portions to make multiple colors (I made three colors from one batch).

Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a medium-sized plain tip.

Pipe rounds of batter about 3.5 cm in diameter, spacing them 2 cm apart on baking trays lined with baking parchment.

Leave to stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes until a skin forms on the top (mine took more like an hour).

Preheat oven to 180 deg C (356 deg F), then put the trays in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes, quickly opening and shutting the oven door twice during cooking time.

Remove from oven and allow to set for about an hour before filling.

Prepare a filling of your choice (the one I used today is below).  Pipe or spread about a 1/2 teaspoon of filling on the bottom  of one cookie.  Top with another cookie to make a sandwich and press lightly to even the filling out to the edges.

Store the macarons in the refrigerator for 24 hours, bringing them back out two hours before serving.

* Apparently this works best with egg whites that are aged and no longer “hold together”, therefore becoming “liquified”.  Separate your eggs and let the whites sit in the refrigerator for a few days or a week.  I didn’t do this, but the whites were at room temperature when I started.

Macarons are filled with anything from jams and preserves to ganache, caramel, or buttercream.  Modern pastry chefs have come up with some pretty amazing combinations and concoctions.  Play around with it, but you do want something with a little viscosity that will hold up to being bitten into without squirting out all over your favorite shirt or blouse!

I used ganache, a little heavier than I might use for a glaze or a truffle filling.  I also flavored my ganache with oil-based raspberry flavoring, which is very strong and mixes well with high-fat bases like chocolate.  It is available from Chef Rubber (at least that’s where I got mine).  Can’t tell you how much.  Just add a few drops at a time until you get the flavor you’re looking for. A little goes a long way.

My experience with herbs, spices, liquors, and alcohol based extracts is that the chocolate overpowers them, and they thin the ganache too much by the time you’ve achieved the desired flavor.  The oil doesn’t do that.

Basic Ganache Filling for Macarons

125 g Heavy Cream
175 g Bittersweet Chocolate
25 g Butter

Place the chocolate and butter in a small bowl.  Bring the cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate and butter.  Let sit for 5 minutes and then whisk until the chocolate is completely dissolved and creamy.  Let the ganache sit at room temperature until it is cooled to a thick, pipeable consistency (about 2-3 hours).

As promised here are a few great sites I found where you can learn more about macarons, and maybe even buy some.  I want to thank each of them for providing information and inspiration for this blog, and for my happy and healthy appetite for macarons!

Stick that in your hat Yankee Doodle!

 

The History of Macarons (and store) from Mad Mac in New York City

More History of Macarons

Laduree’s Macaron Recipe (supposedly)

Macarons at Wikipedia

Laduree Paris (English version)

The original recipe that I modified

Pierre Herme Paris (English version)

Pierre Herme’s Macaron book at Amazon.com