Ask many visitors to Paris to name one of their "absolutely must try" foods, and they will tell you macarons. The debate is endless over whose macaron is best--Ladurée, Jean-Paul Hévin, la Maison du Chocolat, even Angélina. Nothing frightens macaron lovers--not even Pierre Hermé's recent foray into foie gras macarons filled with chocolate ganache. And if you have to ask--yes, they are delicious. Yes, I will make them again. Yes, I'll try different flavor combinations. And yes, I'll still buy a couple made by someone who knows what they're doing the next time I'm in Paris!
The perfect macaron is evenly round, with a slightly flattened dome. The outer surfaces are slightly shiny and have a flaky texture nearly like puff pastry. The bottom edge of each dome has a crispy, bubbly ridge. The inside of the dome is slightly chewy. And the whole thing is held together with a generous amount of dense, creamy filling. They can come in nearly any flavor combination imagineable, but chocolate is probably the most classic of the classic. Other favorites are pistachio, lemon, raspberry, rose and violet.
Last week, pâtisiers throughout France gave away free macarons to raise money to fight rare diseases. OurParis' very own Anne helped spread the word and created quite a stir on SlowTalk. A recipe was posted in French and then translated into English. A chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" went up. The recipe was dissected and discussed. Questions about ingredient sourcing were put forward and substitutions debated. The outcomes were hypothesized. And...nobody...not even Our Paris' own Anne...stepped forward to try the recipe!
So, what's a guy to do? There's now a small mound of homemade chocolate macarons with bitter chocolate and maple ganache "curing" in our fridge. Remember my description of the perfect macaron? These aren't perfect!! In fact, they're downright homely.
The first challenge is dealing with the amandes en poudre problem. Available at the corner store in Paris, there's apparently not a single store in all the fifty United States that sells it. Trader Joe's has almond meal, King Arthur Flours makes toasted almond flour, but nobody has simple powdered almonds. You can order it online from L'Epicerie, but that's really not very helpful when you suddenly decide to whip up a batch of macarons.
So, the first thing is that you have to make your own almond flour from blanched, raw almonds. Just put them in a food processor or coffee grinder along with the sugar and grind with the on/off button until they're powdered. The hard part is that the almond powder can become almond paste in the blink of an eye. (And then you've got to think about making homemade marzipan....and that's a whole different blog.)
Sift together 275 grams of powdered sugar, 140 grams of almond flour, and 25 grams of unsweetened cocoa powder. Put aside. In an electric mixer, beat 4 egg whites at low speed until foamy. Increase the speed to moderately high and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the almond mixture until completely combined.
Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag with the macaron batter and pipe rounds of batter onto the sheets. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 11-12 minutes, leaving the oven door slightly ajar.
Pour a little water between the parchment paper and the metal baking pan. The moisture will help the macarons release from the paper without tearing. Cool the macarons on the tray and then carefully transfer to a wire rack.
While the macarons are baking, bring 300 grams of heavy cream to a boil over moderate heat. Pour the cream over 325 grams of finely chopped chocolate, and stir with a silicone spoon until cooled to around 80 degrees. Stir in 75 grams of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. Stir until the butter is melted, and the mixture is shiny. Cover and refrigerate until thickened enough to spread.
Spread half the macarons with a coating of the ganache and place another macaron on top to make a sandwich. Refrigerate the macarons overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
Et voilà, you have macarons!
Here's what I learned:
And if you have to ask--yes, they are delicious. Yes, I will make them again. Yes, I'll try different flavor combinations. And yes, I'll still buy a couple made by someone who knows what they're doing the next time I'm in Paris!