In The Opera Kitchen – Making Macarons
By Chef Jack Crawford-
French macarons are an awesome treat that is easy and fun to make. It requires only a few simple ingredients, a little practice, and imagination to produce rainbow colors and delightful flavors. These little almond meringue sandwiches make great desserts, treats, gift boxes contents, wedding favor, and light snacks. The wide array of possible combinations keep people intrigued and excited, and the bite-size portions are perfect to compliment a diverse dessert buffet or stand on their own as a variety basket.
Even though they involve only a few simple steps, macarons can test the mettle of many a kitchen chef. A great deal of successful macaron-making depends on solid basic techniques. And properly executing each step in the process is vital to creating beautiful, tasty, and colorful macarons.
Always begin with the best ingredients, of course. And the ingredients are very simple: Almond meal (often called almond flour or ground almonds), confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar), egg whites (best brought to room temperature), food colorings and flavorings which can include cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, saffron, and just about anything else you can imagine. Other ingredients for the tasting fillings of the macarons can include sugar, butter, cream cheese, chocolate chips… Again, you are limited only by your imagination.
Generally, even finely ground almond meal is too coarse to make perfect macarons. To begin with, put your almond meal and confectioner’s sugar in a food processor and blend for about 30 – 45 seconds, until the mixture is fine and powdery. Combining the sugar with the almonds will prevent the almond meal from pureeing into almond butter. Using a fine mesh strainer, sift the powder into a bowl. You will likely have little clumps of almond that still did not process enough. These can be discarded, or you can process these small bits further in a clean spice grinder, and sift them again. Don’t add the larger pieces of almonds to your mix; it will only give you poor quality macarons.
Use a hand mixer or a stand mixer to whip egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Gradually add in confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract (if using), and continue whipping until the whites are glossy and hold firm peaks. Fold 1/3 of the almond mixture into the whipped egg whites using a rubber spatula. Folding is an important step because you want to fully integrate the ingredients, but maintain the fluffy texture of the egg whites. Gently fold in the second third of the almond mix, combine, and then fold in the last of the mix. You will notice the meringue will get firmer as you incorporate the dry ingredients. This is expected, and where practice will eventually make perfect. The batter needs to be folded enough to loosen, but not to collapse and become runny. Gently fold the batter over until smooth and glossy, and a ribbon-like stream of batter runs off the spatula, making very soft peaks that fall after about 30 seconds. Under mixing will result in a batter that is too firm and macarons will not pipe smoothly, leaving peaks. Over mixing, will result in a runny batter that will not hold its shape when piped, and not rise sufficiently when baked (No one’s automatically an expert at this, it takes practice and experience).
Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Gently spoon your batter into a large piping bag fitted with a ½ inch flat tip. Pipe 1 ¼ -inch circles onto the prepared baking sheet. The best circles are started in the center and swirl outward, but practice with a method that works best for you. The macarons will spread slightly, so make sure to leave space between them.
A lot of air is trapped in the egg whites of the meringue, and that can lead to large air pockets inside your macarons. To dislodge the larger air bubbles, tap the underside of the baking sheet firmly with the palm of your hand. Let the macarons stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or until the surface is dry. You should be able to touch it lightly without having batter stick to your fingers. This is an important step in forming the smooth crust of the macaron, and forming the frilly, signature “foot” along the bottom of each macaron.
Bake the macarons for 10 – 15 minutes, depending upon your oven and temperature. They are ready when they have a crisp shell and the frilly foot, and don’t wobble or shake when the sheet is gently jostled.
Once cooked, let the macarons cool on the baking sheet, then they can be carefully lifted off with a metal spatula. The surfaces will be delicate, so be careful not to crush or crack them while handling. When macarons are fully cooled, your choice of filling can be used to sandwich them together. Unfilled macarons will last 2-3 days in an air-tight container and up to 1 month in the freezer. Filled macarons will keep for 2-3 days, covered, in the refrigerator, depending upon the type of filling.
An easy, yet engaging way to spend an afternoon, with elegant and tasty results.
BASIC VANILLA MACARON RECIPE:
Makes 16 finished macarons
¾ cup ground almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 large egg whites, room temperature
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, sifted to remove lumps
Place ground almonds and 1 cup confectioner’s sugar in food processor and process for 30-45 seconds. Sift the mixture into a bowl and discard larger pieces, or process smooth in clean spice grinder and sift again. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Place the eggs in a mixer bowl and whip until holding soft peaks. Gradually beat in the ¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar to make a glossy meringue that holds firm peaks. Beat in the ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the almond mixture into the meringue by one-thirds. When all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, continue to fold the mixture until it forms a shiny batter with thick, ribbon-like consistency.
Spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a ½ inch flat tip. Pipe 1 ¼-inch circles onto the parchment. Firmly tap the bottom of the pan on a work surface or with the palm of the hand to release air bubbles. Let the batter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, until it can be gently touched without sticking.
Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until firm. Cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the macaroons from the pan with a metal spatula and let them cool completely.
To make the filling, beat the butter and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract in a mixer bowl until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar until smooth and creamy. Use the filling to sandwich pairs of macarons together.