If you read any food blogs, food magazines or new cookbooks, you'll have seen French macaroons. They are all the rage these days, lined up in their multicolored glory, with fillings across the flavor spectrum. If you've seen them, you'll also know that they are billed as a baker's worst nightmare: finicky, inconsistent, requiring precision that will bring the most talented pastry chef to tears. Or so I thought. Then I came across Brave Tart's (also known as Stella Parks) amazing "Macaroon Myths," where she debunks all these silly ideas of macaroon perfection: does the humidity matter? The egg whites? The powdered sugar? The time of the day? The color of your apron? In a word: no.
So once I discovered that macaroons may be a manageable feat, plus they're gluten free and perfect for Passover, they landed on my short list of things to bake. So I tackled the confections one day and came away almost completely satisfied.
You can color and flavor macaroons in practically any combination. I flavored the cookies with raspberry and vanilla, and filled them with chocolate ganache - because I already had some in the fridge. The little flecks you see in the macaroons come because I used pre-ground almonds, that were ground with the skins on. They don't bother me, but if you prefer a more uniform look, buy whole almonds and remove the skin before grinding them up.
Remember when I said that I was almost completely satisfied? Well firstly, these were meant to be pink. I did dye them pink, and they were subtly pink when they went in the oven, and afterwards...well if you squint you can see it.
And then there was this.
Every macaroon baker speaks of getting "feet." That refers to the spongy, raised layer that forms at the bottom of a well-executed macaroon. And for most of my macaroons, I got the perfect look. However the first batch I made, I placed two trays in the oven at the same time. The top tray looked perfect, and the bottom tray - well you can see that result on the left above. It's almost as if they got their "feet" on their heads. Since it was exactly the same otherwise, I can only assume it was the oven placement/dual sheets that caused the problem.
So it wasn't a rainy day, it wasn't a sunny day, I didn't age my egg whites, I didn't let the macaroons sit before baking and I didn't send up a prayer to the macaroon gods before I made them. Chances are I was wearing pajamas, listening to Adele, getting flour all over my computer and contemplating Passover appropriate substitutions for corn syrup.
The reality is, there are only two things you have to get right for macaroons. First - you need an ultra-stiff meringue. None of this - "well it looks about right now, and I have to leave in 20 minutes" - attitude. Second - you have to properly mix the egg whites with the ground almonds - no undermixing and no overmixing. It should be about the consistency where after you make a fold with your spatula, it holds its shape for just a moment before slowly sliding back to cover the bowl.
Tip of the Day: I'm not usually one for exact measurements of ingredients, but I think here it is quite warranted. So I gave approximate cup measurements, but I highly recommend using scale to weigh your ingredients here. If you don't have one already, this is a good investment.
Recipe: (adapted from Brave Tart)
4 egg whites
2 1/2 ounces granulated sugar (~1/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons raspberry extract
food coloring 4 ounces ground almonds or almond flour (~1 cup)
8 ounces confectioners sugar* (~2 cups)
On a piece of parchment paper (about 3 for this recipe), trace 1 1/2" circles with a pen or pencil, then flip over, and fit to a cookie sheet.
Beat the egg whites, granulated sugar and salt together on medium speed for 3 minutes. Then beat on high for about 6 minutes. It should be very stiff at this point. Add in any flavorings and colorings you want, then beat on high for another minute to ensure everything is incorporated.
Add in the confectioners sugar and ground nuts and begin folding. You should be gently incorporating the ingredients together but also gently deflating the egg whites. Continue folding, slowly, until the mixture is uniform. Then keep folding, one stroke at a time, until the mixture holds its shape for just one moment before spreading.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip with half the mixture. Pipe rounds on to your parchment paper, stopping just before the lines you traced.
Bake, one sheet at a time, on 300 F for 18 minutes. Let cool and remove from parchment paper.
When cool, fill with chocolate ganache and sandwich two together. Store in an airtight container.
*For Passover, confectioners sugar should contain potato starch instead of corn starch. You can also make your own.