Some Damn Sexy Macarons

Macarons are so very, very good. The french kind, delicate crisp shells that shatter when you bite into them, giving way to a chewy almond center, sandwiched together with a thin layer of buttercream. They are addictive and wonderful and generally run between $3-4 dollars apiece at fancy bakeries.

But I can make them at home. And so can you. And your friends will love you even more. And you may get marriage proposals: I’ve had two macaron-induced offers.

They aren’t simple. I wish they were, but no, this is an advanced project. I’ve been working on truly mastering them for a little over a year, and I’m a good baker to start with, and I’m just now ready to post about them. Go ahead and try, though…even so-so macarons are better than no macarons.

Start the night before, by separating your eggs. Repurpose the yolks. Leave the whites on the counter, loosely covered, overnight, to age. This allows some of the water content of the eggs to evaporate, creating a more concentrated albumin, which is essential to the unique structure of macarons. I’ve tried a couple of times to make them with fresh egg whites, and they were good, but definitely more meringue-ish and less macaron-ish.

While you are at it, weigh out the rest of your ingredients. What? No scale? Really? Either buy or borrow one. Macarons are finicky and eggs vary in size and powdered sugar has a very inconsistent volume… need to weigh your ingredients to get these right. Plus, you’ll use a scale all the time once you have it. I love my OXO version. Also, if you are going the salted caramel route, it is a good idea to make the caramel sauce the night before to ensure that it cools completely to room temperature.

In the morning, leap out of bed like a kid at Christmas. We’re making macarons today! Step one: line two rimmed cookie sheets with parchment. Set up a piping bag with a 1/4″ plain tip (or a reasonable approximation thereof). Make sure your mixer bowl is super clean, since we are whipping egg whites.

Step two: buzz the almond meal and powered sugar together in a food processor. Or whisk really well to get out any lumps, if you don’t have a food processor. The almond meal I buy is a little coarse for macarons, so the food processor step actually mills it down a bit, too.

Now: whip those whites! Using a stand mixer, whip the aged egg whites to stiff peaks, sprinkling in the granulated sugar around the soft peaks point. You want thick, pearly, hold-it-upside-down meringue at this point. Don’t give up too early.

Then: fold in the almond meal mixture. Fold until everything is evenly mixed, then keep going, folding and schmearing against the side of the bowl, until the mixture falls in ribbons, not blops, off your spatula. Remember Newtonian solids? That’s what you are going for….a solid that flows almost imperceivably. You achieve this by essentially beating the air back out of the egg mixture, which goes against baker’s conventional wisdom, but has its own frenchy name: macaronnage. You are such a pro!

Scrape your macaron batter into the piping bag, and pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, actually touching the tip to the sheet and piping at an angle. I found this YouTube video to be a revelation, after several rounds of imperfect piping. My piping is still imperfect, but that’s because I’m not a perfectionist and I like playing “Macaron Matchup” when it comes time to make sandwiches. But the shaping works much better using this tip-on-tray technique, rather than piping from above in a circle.

Age them again. I know. But think of how delicious they will be! And how people will be so very impressed! Just leave the piped trays on the counter for an hour, to allow a thin crust to form on the shells.

Bake ‘em. You need to play with this a bit. In my wonky oven, 300 degrees for 14 minutes is just right, but keep an eye on them. Too dark=too chewy.

Cool the shells on a cooling rack, then match them up and sandwich with about a teaspoon of your delicious and sticky filling of choice. I’ve used jam and ganache, but buttercream—especially salted caramel buttercream—is my favorite. Chill these guys in the fridge, but serve them at room temperature.

So good.

Salted Caramel Macarons
Compiled from many, many versions on the internet
Makes about 30 macaron sandwiches

For the shells:
125 grams almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
100 grams aged egg whites
60 grams granulated sugar

For the salted caramel buttercream:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

To make the shells, combine almond meal and powdered sugar in a food processor and buzz until well combined, about 30 seconds. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. While continuing to whip, sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and whip the mixture to stiff peaks. Fold in the almond mixture with a spatula until well incorporated, then continue to fold and beat the mixture until it is a thick fluid, falling off the spatula in ribbons.

Pipe the mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and set aside, uncovered, until shells are no longer tacky to the touch, about 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 14 minutes, rotating once during baking to ensure even heat.

Cool baked shells on a cooling rack.

Make the buttercream:
In a small heavy saucepan, combine the water and granulated sugar. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil. Once the mixture begins boiling, stop stirring, and just watch it as colors to a deep amber shade. Remove from heat, add cream (it will sputter and spit) and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt, and cool completely.

Cream the butter with a stand mixer, then drizzle in the cooled caramel sauce. Crank the mixer and whip until light, about 2 minutes. Pipe about a teaspoon of buttercream onto the bottom of half the macaron shells, then top with a same-sized shell, pressing to spread filling to the edges. Chill to set filling then serve at room temperature. There will not be leftovers, but if, theoretically, there were, store chilled.

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