During a visit to Pierre Hermé's patisserie in Paris last year, I discovered the greatness that is a French macaron and my life changed forever. Dorothy Greenspan recently wrote a fantastic article for the LA Times about macarons and what makes them so special and unique. One taste of a well made macaron and you too will be hooked forever! Since going to Paris every time I craved macarons is obviously not a practical or affordable option, I sent away for Pierre Hermés macaron cookbook and taught myself how to make these little goodies at home. The following recipe is based on his method. Syrup and Tang's website was also really helpful in learning how to avoid common rookie mistakes.
The basic ingredients in macarons not including the filling are sugar, almonds, eggs & flavorings. How precisely you measure your ingredients and how you whip the egg whites will determine the difference between success and defeat. There are two types of meringue that are used to make macarons - French meringue or Italian meringue. The former is egg whites whipped with granulated sugar and and the latter is whipped egg whites cooked with a boiled sugar syrup. Since the Italian meringue is what Pierre Hermé suggests, that is what I go with. I've never tried the French meringue method but I have a hunch it might be less stable and therefore more likely to collapse which can result in a flat or cracked shell.
You will need a few key pieces of equipment: an electronic scale, thermometer, standing mixer, food processor, sifter, pastry bag with a circular tip & heavy duty baking sheets covered in wax paper or a silpat. The electronic scale is a must and I don't know how to make this recipe without it.
Recipe (makes about 50 shells for 25 macarons)
Preheat oven to 180 Celsius (approximately 358 degrees F)
150g Powdered Sugar
150g Peeled Whole Almonds
110 g Room Temperature Egg Whites (older egg whites work better, you can "age" them in your refrigerator for up to 2 days. This reduces the water content in the whites).
2-3 drops of food coloring gel. I used green.
Measure 150 grams each of whole almonds and powdered sugar (some recipes call for ground almonds but I find that whole almonds tend to be fresher and yield a finer texture to the macaron). Pulse in a food processor until very fine and sift mixture to remove any large particles.
Measure 150 grams granulated sugar and place in a heavy bottom pan with 38 grams of water and heat until mixture reaches 118 Celsius then remove from heat and cool until temperature reaches 115 Celsius.
While the sugar syrup cools, start the mixer and beat egg whites to soft peaks. Keep the mixer running and when the syrup cools to 115C slowly pour it down the side of the mixer and keep mixing until the meringue cools to 50C. It is important to not over mix the meringue or make it too stiff otherwise the macaron shells will have peaks when you pipe them on to the sheet.
Place macaron mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe out circles approx 1.5 inch in diameter onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. You can use a small glass or button to trace a circle as well but remember to flip the paper around before piping otherwise the pencil marks will transfer to your shells. It is recommended that you use a heavy duty baking sheet or two stacked sheets. Tap the sheet to remove any air bubbles and allow the shells to dry for 30 minutes. This step gives the shells a firm skin.
Bake shells for 12 minutes. Open and close oven door quickly at the 8 and 5 minute mark. This helps regulate the temperature. The shells should rise a little and develop a crispy ring or feet around the edges.
Allow the shells to cool before removing from the sheet. Sometimes they can stick but don't force them otherwise you will damage the shell. An offset spatula is especially handy here. Using a pastry bag, sandwich the shells together with a little filling. I used white chocolate ganache for this recipe, plain chocolate ganache or flavored buttercream are also popular choices.
As you can see here, the shells are slightly crunchy on the outside but once you take a bite the texture gives way to the soft undercoating and creamy filling, pure heaven.
These macarons are indeed a lot of work to make but they take me to my happy place, standing outside Pierre Hermé's pastry temple in Paris. It's worth the trip.