I think I first saw macarons on Helen's blog and remember wondering why her "macaroons" looked different! Until I realized that a macaron wasn't even remotely related to a macaroon.
A macaron and a macaroon are both cookies, though I'm sure quite a macaron afficionado would be shocked to see me referring to the macaron as "just another cookie"!
A "macaron" is made with beaten egg whites, powdered almonds and sugar whereas a "macaroon" is a sticky and sweet coconut cookie. So totally different yet they are apparently connected in their origins.
Some say that the macaron is French while others think it is Italian but the general consensus is that they both get their name from the Italian word "maccherone" which means flour-and-water paste. This, incidentally, is where the elbow shaped pasta macaroni also derives its name from!
As the story goes, the macaroon (not macaron) was taken out of Italy to France by two Carmelite nuns who baked almond and egg white cookies for a living, and by Italian Jews to Europe where these flourless cookies were baked for Passover. These cookies eventually reached the U.S. where the almonds were substituted with coconut and became macaroons.
So maccherone basically refers to a paste which in the case of the macaron, is an egg white-nut paste. The French macaron as it is known today in its various hues and flavours, with buttercream (or ganache) sandwiched between two almond meringue cookies, is attributed to Pierre Hermé.
Updated (12th Sept., 2009) : Hilda tells me that it wasn't Pierre Hermè who revived the macaron but the French pastry shop Ladurée who were responsible for this. Pierre Hermé worked with Ladurée early in his career and became well known for the unusual and exotic flavour combinations he brought to the world of macarons.
Ladurée, incidentally, spells it's macarons as "macaroons". So I guess the debate as to whether the macaron is to be spelt as "macaron" or "macaroon", is very much alive!
In the past year and a half or so since I started blogging, I've been seeing more than my fair share of macarons in an unbelievable number of colours and exotic flavours. It was natural that all this made me want to hop onto the macaron bandwagon too, but lacked the courage to do so. I had also been reading a lot about how difficult it was to achieve "the" macaron.
So how difficult can a cookie made with some egg-whites, powdered almonds and sugar get, right? You have to try this one out to answer that question.
And there are only two answers to this. Either you're lucky (and have lots, I mean lots!) and are in the group that gets it right and it’s a breeze, or you're in the group that doesn't get it right and wonders how something so simple can become such a nightmare!!
After a couple of miserable attempts, I was on Twitter and asked Deeba if we could get together and do this one? You know, "united we stand………"!
She agreed and that's how we started. Deeba then spread the word and next thing we knew was there was this "Mac Gang", as we call ourselves, out there discussing all things macaron. Where would we be without Twitter?
Jamie was put in charge and she found us Helen's recipe. So Jamie, Meeta, Hilda, Deeba, and I started making our macarons while setting ourselves 15th September as a posting deadline.
Ilva, Barbara, Ria, The Happy Cook, Erin, Deb, Shelley, FujiMama, The Cooking Ninja and Rachael also joined us and we're now one big happy "Mac Gang".
I am a person who cooks and blogs without a kitchen scale so I chose to use David Lebovitz's chocolate macaron recipe (which is also a French macaron recipe like Helen's) as a starting point as that deals with cups and spoons. I slightly adapted the recipe as I made coffee macarons (which was Jamie's chosen flavour) instead of chocolate macarons. My macarons were filled with a dark chocolate-Nutella ganache.
Bolstered by the heady feeling of my coffee macaron success, even if they weren't perfect but somewhat chubby, I decided to experiment with flavours. Let me tell you, this wasn't one of my best decisions.
I dreamt of making rose macarons with a cardamom flavoured white chocolate ganache filling. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? I thought so too. Dream it shall remain, for now at least, as it never happened.
My rose macarons came out very pretty, like pink meringue cookies but had no"feet". I was a bit disappointed here but felt reassured as I at least had cookies! So once they were cool, I peeled them off the foil and they seemed alright. Then I tried to fill them and found out they were so soft that they caved in, collapsed in my hands and I was left holding a slightly sticky and crumbling mass!
The rose meringue cookies (can't call them macarons, I guess) tasted good however, and I managed to rescue just 3 cookies to take a picture.
This picture does give me some consolation as it shows what original French macarons looked like. At least my "rose macarons" looked right, all the way down to the slightly cracked tops!
What follows are some of my thoughts on making macarons, and then the recipe I used.
Some thoughts on making macarons:
~ There are different methods of making macarons.
This one, the French method, is supposed to be the easiest (though temperamental, some say). Here the almond mixture is added to beaten egg whites.
In the Italian method (supposed to be most fool-proof method), the almond mixture is added is added to beaten egg whites to which a cooked sugar syrup has been added.
And in the Spanish method, the almond mixture is added to beaten egg whites which have a higher sugar content.
~ As silly as this one sounds, make macarons when you have time on your hands and things are a bit peaceful. It may have only four ingredients (plus flavour/ colour) but there are so many variables involved here.
This is definitely not one of those recipes you want to work with in between sending your kids off to school, attending to the washing, fixing lunch or answering the phone!
~ Egg whites have to be aged before they're used. Now there is a lot of discussion on this matter. Some people work well with whites aged for 24 hours whereas some prefer them aged for 2 or 3 days.
To age egg whites, separate them and keep them in a bowl at room temperature over night or in the fridge for 2 to 5 days.
You can also age fresh egg whites in the microwave by zapping them at medium power for 20 seconds.
~ We don't get almond meal here, so I powdered my own almonds and I didn't bother blanching them.
To powder your own almonds, run them in the small jar of your mixer/ blender or coffee grinder. Adding a little sugar helps prevent the almonds from releasing its oil and becoming pasty. Sieve well, and powder the small pieces again
~ Parchment paper is one of the things I don't get here, so I used aluminium foil to line my baking sheets. I find it works very well. Once the macarons had cooled, it is easy to peel them off the foil.
~ Once the egg whites have been beaten till they form stiff peaks, the almond mixture has to be folded in. It is very important to do the folding properly. Do not use more than 50 strokes. Over folding can ruin macarons.
When correctly folded, the batter should be not too thick or thin. The correct consistency is described as "magma-like". Test a small amount by dropping it on a plate. If the top flattens on its own it's fine. If a small beak forms, give the batter a couple more folds.
~ Piping the macaron batter requires a bit of practice if you haven't done it before. If you need it, place a template of 1" circles under the parchment (don't forget to remove this after you have finished piping) to get uniform macarons.
This is important when you have to match them to sandwich the filling. You could otherwise end up with very "wonky" looking macarons which isn't quite the thing, aesthetically.
Hold the piping bag vertically and pipe in a smooth motion. If any slight "beaks" don't subside, you can lightly flatten it with a moist finger. Take care not leave any moisture on your piped macaron or the tops of your baked macarons will not be smooth.
~ Tap or rap the trays with the piped batter quite strongly against your work surface to eliminate air bubbles.
~ Rest the piped macrons at room temperature till a skin forms on top. Now there are differing opinions on this. Some macaron masters bake the macarons as soon as they're piped with great results, while others swear by "resting time".
I rested my piped macarons for almost 2 hours because that’s how long it took my macarons to develop a skin on a rainy day. Most people recommend 45 minutes to an hour.
~ Check the temperature of your oven. Temperature is another variable that can make or break your macarons. Different recipes specify different temperatures and times. Stick to the one your recipe tells you and bake one small lot initially. This will enable you to make adjustments.
My recipe said 180C for 15 to18 minutes. I baked mine at 170C for 15 minutes, but I think a slightly lower temperature (150/ 160) would be good. Many in the "Mac Gang" baked their macarons at 140C/ 150C.
~ Use two trays stacked (the one with macarons on another tray on the oven rack) to bake the macarons. This helps distribute the heat so the macarons are cooked properly, puff up and form "feet".
~ I decided to use a ganache rather than the buttercream filling that is usually used for two reasons. The first one is that we are not really buttercream fans.
The second reason was that we found the macrons very sweet, almost too sweet to enjoy. So I thought using a semi-sweet chocolate ganache would reduce the over all sweetness a bit and make them more enjoyable.
~ And most importantly, read up as much as you can find on making macarons. There is no dearth of matter on this subject on the net. I can tell you that I have read up so much on making macarons that I don't remember working this hard on my books in school or college!
~ Also, be prepared for failure. It takes a lot of practise (and some luck too) to make successful macarons. But persistence does pay, so don't give up.
For a pretty comprehensive collection of links to all things macarons, visit David Lebovitz's "Making French Macarons".
It also helps also helps if you're lucky to have friends who are willing to share their experiences and advice with you.
I certainly was and wouldn't have made mine without the following people who jumped in to offer me advice, answer all my questions and clear my confusion.
Helen of Tartelette, Mark of No Special Effects, Y of Lemonpi, Sandra of Le Petrin, Caitlin of Engineer Baker and the members of my "Mac Gang" especially Hilda of Saffron& Blueberry, who was the only one in the Gang who had made macarons before.
And here's the David Lebovitz recipe I tweaked a little and used.
1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup powdered almonds
1 tsp instant coffee powder
2 egg whites, at room temperature (aged for 2 days)
5 tbsps granulated sugar
Chocolate-Nutella ganache filling:
1/2 cup finely chopped dark/ semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup cream (25% fat)
3 tbsp Nutella
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready. You may also use a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off, for piping.
Grind together the powdered sugar, the powdered almonds and coffee powder so there are no lumps.
With a hand held electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm (about 2 minutes).
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag/ Ziploc bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons. Keep them at room temperature for about an hour till a thin film forms on the macaron batter. If you lightly touch a macron and the batter doesn't stick to your finger, then it is ready.
Bake them at 160C or 170C for minutes. Let the macarons cool completely then slowly peel off the parchment paper.
Store the macarons in airtight containers till ready to fill.
To make the ganache filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Add the Nutella and mix well. Let cool completely before using.
Assembling the macarons:
Spread (or pipe) a bit of ganache on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together.
You may or may not use all the filling, depending on how much you use in the macarons. Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This recipe makes 30 shells/ 15 macarons.
Jamie will be doing a round-up on her blog on the 16th of this month, so please drop by there to see what the "Mac Gang" macarons look like.I
I shall go back to trying macarons in other methods, colours and flavours. Should I never manage another perfect macaron (I'm sure I will!), I can always say, "I did make some coffee and chocolate macarons, one day in the September of 2009!".