French Friday: Baking The Fussiest French Cookie
There are multiple diagrams online of the Perfect French Macaron. Not to be confused with “macaroon” which involves coconut and is a whole lot less particular. But the Macaron. The fussy French cookie that has taken over New York and Paris, and has finally made its way to the West Coast, costing over $2 per bite-sized cookie. Heck with that, I’ll bake them myself!
Macarons are the baker’s ultimate challenge. A meringue gauntlet thrown down. Never having described myself as a baker (love cooking, but baking is too much like High School Chemistry – which I almost failed) – Could I conquer the cookie?
Let’s look at the culture surrounding the Macaron. Remember those diagrams? Macaron lovers are perfectionists. This one’s “too airy,” that one isn’t equally pied, this one is “too bumpy.” Baking the perfect Macaron is a finely tuned science unique to each kitchen, and each elevation (yes, if you live on a mountain top, your recipe will be different than mine. If you’re in Bhutan, fuggetaboutit.)
I like a challenge though, so I bought my almond meal, ignored the naysayers, and took a whack at the Macaron.
Here are the resources I used.
- Cake Journal – How to make Macarons
- Tangerine Eats – Basic French Macaron Shell
- Smiley’s Sweets & Creations – Deconstructing the Perfect Macaron
- BoomiesKitchen – Almond flour for French Macarons
Instead of reprinting one of their recipes, I’ll just give you the secrets to perfecting the Macaron. Success lies in the details.
5 Tips for an Almost-Perfect Macaron
- Powdered sugar. Cheap normal powdered sugar is mixed with corn starch of up to 30%. Corn starch tastes nasty, especially if it’s been sitting around for a while. But, if you look carefully, you can find organic powdered sugar with a label that reads only “sugar.” Sugar cut with corn starch makes the tops crack.
- The almond flour you find in the store probably isn’t ground fine enough. That’s why my macarons turned out so lumpy. Use a coffee grinder – it produces the finest grain without reducing the almond flour into butter. Now you have the problem of your almond flour coming out coffee flavored. Solution? Go with it. Who doesn’t love a coffee-flavored macaron? (Purists, that’s who).
- The directions “Sift together” does not mean throwing the almond meal and the powdered sugar together in a sieve and man-handling them through. It really means: sift the sugar first to remove clumps, then mix the sifted sugar together with the almond meal by hand.
- Don’t over mix. Once you make the meringue, you have to incorporate the almond-meal & powdered sugar mixture. You’d think you would want to mix them together until nice and smooth. You’d be wrong. Basically, you dump part of the almond mix in with the meringue, fold the meringue over a couple times, and repeat until all the almond mix is in the meringue looking anything but incorporated. Then you stop and gently put dollops into your pastry bag for piping.
- Piping. Yikes. There’s technique involved in getting those round cookie circles. It takes practice. A wet finger will flatten down any pointy tops.
My macarons came out a little lumpy and a little cracked. Some pied, many didn’t. Two out of three batches came out looking like Coco Chanel on holiday – tan. But, as my husband said after stuffing two in his mouth, “These taste great!” They do.
Best quote of the day came from my Father-in-law:
“What are you guys doing? Are these dog treats or what?”
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