My particular obsession with macarons, an obsession many Americans apparently share, began many years ago, when I was a child. My Dad would bring home VHS tapes containing recorded TV shows of Iron Chef, Julia Child, and many other cooking-related topics, and I was enthralled. Not only because I wanted to cook, but I wanted to EAT! And macarons, mmmmm… colorful, toy-like confections that you could see dissolve in the mouth of the lucky snacker: I would have bought a ticket to Paris just to experience a dainty bite like that.
In the US there is a shopping market called Trader Joe’s. This place is a purveyor of perfection (or as close to perfection as you can get without being homemade). They used to stock these teeny, tiny little French macarons in their frozen section, and, for the price, a macaron-starved person can pretend to be satisfied. But that kind of appetite remains unsatiated until the real thing has finally been experienced, and that is why I set out to make the real thing myself.
Just to clarify: I am not speaking of the dense, coconutty macaroon, brought to Americans by their Jewish friends. In fact, the French call the American macaroon rocher à la noix de coco… coconut rocks, an apt description, if I may say so. French macaroons are delightfully different and better, in my opinion. Slightly resistant to the tooth and chewy because of the candied egg white and sugar cookie layers, between which is a rich ganache, flavored in a hundred different ways. In other words, this ain’t yo mama’s macaroon.
Not being a photographer, I have nary a picture of my macaron making experience, so this will not be a step-by-step pictorial of macaron making genius. But I do have a pretty picture of the macarons that I eventually served at a baby shower for a friend of mine, to which you shall be rewarded at the end.
When I researched out I needed, in an ill-equipped kitchen such as mine, I quickly realized that one does not simply… open one’s cupboards and make macarons. Why I ever thought that would be the case is beyond me, as most authentic French cooking just doesn’t work that way for Americans. I wanted these to be as authentically French as possible, which is why I chose a Martha Stewart recipe (sarcasm employed here… I am a funny person).
I’m not going to rewrite the entire recipe in my own words here (that’s what hyperlinks are for) but I will throw in a few light bulb moments I had, which should make your macaron making experience a bit easier, should you decide to make them yourself instead of tracking down a Trader Joe’s. By the by, Trader Joe’s only carries certain things during certain seasons, which is why I was forced to make these… so perhaps you share a similar happenstance. Oh happy day, now you get to make macarons!
You need to use cream of tartar. Don’t think that because you’ve never heard of it, you don’t have to use it. If you’ve ever studied food science, you’ll find that cream of tartar is actually an acidic substance that creates magic with sugar and egg whites. You need it, so put it on the list. Also on the list should be a proper pastry bag with a wide mouth tip. If you want pretty, uniform, perfect macarons, they need to be piped onto the parchment, not scooped with a spoon. We were making organic baby shower treats, and sugar was being avoided at all costs, so I used honey in my ganache. I did use sugar for the macaron parts, as honey attracts moisture and that would ruin the whole thing. A low-sugar macaron can be achieved, however, in this fashion.
Strawberry, Lime, Vanilla and Chocolate were the flavors I chose to use, and in order to get our colors I used natural ingredients, which is why the colors are kind of… off. For the pink, I used a pinch of beetroot powder (incidentally, this is probably the most authentic food coloring I could have used!). For the green, a touch of liquid chlorophyll (it was suggested to use chlorella or spirulina powder, but that stuff, being seaweed, smells too strongly for me to even consider in a sweet). The chocolate and vanilla spoke for themselves, but the chocolate ones came out very light brown. Next time, I will use dutch processed cocoa powder.
Some of them stuck to the parchment, which resulted in a few ugly ones that I, sadly (not!), had to eat myself. I want to buy a silicon baking mat for these touchy little things I make now and then. So, plan to make some extra just in case you have sticky ones. Make sure the ganache ends up on the thick side. If it’s runny, it will make the macarons soggy. Let the macarons cool completely, because steam is your enemy. Other than those tips, follow the recipes, and enjoy!
My macarons were good, to be sure, but taste isn’t everything about eating. Eating a macaron in Paris is an entirely lovely experience. The moisture in the cool air as you lounge on a bistro chair by a rock wall that is a couple hundred years old is something a tiny American kitchen just… fails, miserably, to echo. However, we had fun eating them at the baby shower, along with all of the other tasty treats I and my girlfriends put together. Tea was a perfect accompaniment, but cafe au lait in a quiet Parisian street would have been superb.