It’s the 15th of the month, that means it’s time for this month’s Baking Partners Challenge. The theme for this month is Macarons.
I know you guys, I gave up sugar for Lent but luckily for me I whipped these up a few weekends ago when I was still indulging in the white stuff.
I think I’ve only eaten macarons twice in my life and neither time was I all that impressed, so naturally I wasn’t excited for this challenge; I’d rather be eating macaroons instead (mmm… macaroons). But in a way I was excited because otherwise I probably would have gone my whole life without making macarons and that would have been a damn shame.
They were enjoyable, delicate, and eating them felt really indulgent though that last part may be because making them myself allowed me to fully appreciate all the effort that went into making these fickle little sandwich cookies.
I did a bit of research on macaron making before diving into it since I’ve heard they can be a bitch to make. I read blogs and books and magazines and watched the Sandwich Cookie Episode of Bake with Anna Olson more times than I care to mention.
Finally I was ready to start.
What is a Macaron?
Basically it’s a fancy sandwich cookie. The cookie part is made from almond meal, sugar, and well beaten egg whites to make a sweet biscuit that’s crisp on the outside but chewy on the inside. They’re so delicate that they pretty much have to be sandwiched together to hold up.
The filling is usually a jam or curd or ganache but I went with a buttercream which was really rich and very sweet (too sweet for some, but not for my sugar loving family).
The recipe I used was Martha Stewart’s recipe for French Macarons not to be confused with her recipe for Parisian Macarons which is somehow different in ways I fail to understand. (Are Parisians not French, Martha?)
Now of course a macaron is nothing without its filling and Martha has a number of recommendations that are just as complicated (if not more so) than the macarons themselves.
I liked the sound of Martha’s coconut filling because it is a Swiss meringue buttercream filling with coconut flakes stirred in . . . and I myself am equal parts buttercream and coconut fanatic.
I’ve never made Swiss meringue buttercream before since it involves complicated things, like double broilers and candy thermometers, of which I like to steer clear. So before starting I consulted my sister, the buttercream guru. (Legend has it she once made 18 different buttercream variations to find the perfect recipe.) She confirmed that Swiss meringue is a bit time consuming but figured I could manage it without experience. And manage it I did.
The Swiss meringue buttercream took a bit more attention than other frostings, but it had a nice smooth consistency that’ll get me making it the next time I tackle a cake.
With a successful buttercream under my belt (Quite literally. I ate a lot of it by the spoon.) I moved on to tackle the main event – the cookies. Making them wasn’t as complicated as I thought. I followed the recipe exactly, using a few extra tips that I learned along the way and I got good results.
The only issues I had were:
1) Piping perfect circles took a bit of practice and I was practically out of batter by the time I got the hang of it.
2) It was difficult to get the baking time right. I wish that I would have baked them maybe one minute longer because many of them were too soft and stuck to the parchment when I tried to pry them off.
Immediately after I made a batch, I wanted to make another. I wanted to get them perfectly right (ie. perfectly round and baked slightly longer) and I wanted to try adding a different flavour to the cookie and I wanted to experiment with different fillings. I liked the buttercream a lot, but if you’re not a fan of super sweet things , then try a ganache or a citrus curd filling instead.
Obviously I’m going to be making these again. . . in 40 days.
Tips and Techniques
Here are a few posts I found useful when it came to making my macarons.
Top 10 Macaron Myths
Sandwich Cookie Episode of Bake with Anna Olson
Nick Malgieri takes on Macarons: The Preliminaries, The Shells, The Filling
Coconut Cardamom Macarons
From Martha Stewart
For the Filling:
1 egg white
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
For The Macarons:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour (aka ground almonds)
Pinch of freshly ground black cardamom seeds
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
For the Filling:
Place egg white and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, and whisk on high speed until mixture is cool and stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes.
Leave meringue in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, on low speed, mixing after each addition. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in the coconut.
For the Macarons:
Preheat the oven to 375F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Pulse the cardamom, confectioners’ sugar, and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift the mixture 2 times (don’t skip this step, sometimes there are big chunks of almond in the almond flour and you don’t want those).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add the sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on the baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks.
Tap bottom the of each backing sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let the cookies stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to 30 minutes prior to baking so that a sheen forms on the cookie and you can touch it with your finger without the batter sticking.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 8-10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.
Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)
Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.