Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Making French Macaroons

Some things are just naturally intimidating. Things like going for your first big-girl job interview and bringing your significant other home to meet your family and climbing rock walls. These are moments we try not to think about because they are scary and make us feel insecure.

In the world of cooking, there are equally as intimidating feats we may or may not choose to take on. Baking in general is a world full of precise measurements and little room for error.

Perhaps one of the greatest taboos is French Macaroons. My friend and I recently set out on an adventure to find French Macaroons in Boston. We came to realize that they aren't available in abundance, and no matter where you get them you're going to pay a high price for a tiny yet undeniably tasty bite.

This French Macaroon mission turned into a discussion on why the heck they are so expensive and so hard to find? Why don't more people make macaroons at home? How do macaroons get that impossibly light and delicate crunch on the outside and rich, chewy inside?

My research led to one conclusion: French Macaroons are all about technique...too little of one thing, and they lack the chewy, gooey texture. Too much of another, and they become rough and too crunchy all the way through. And if you are crazy enough to make them at home, you had better prepare yourself for a few batches of failure before success; you should also be sure to not take a single line in any recipe for granted. EVERYTHING is important. PATIENCE is a virtue.

Egg whites whipping

Because I consider myself just crazy enough, I searched and searched until finally I found what felt like a genuine and easy to follow French Macaroon recipe. Chef David Lebovitz spells it out quite clearly--he tried seven different batches of macaroons. Some were great, some were ok, others just did not work. At the end of the day, this French Chocolate Macaroon recipe is what he considered the best. Being that I am a certified choco-holic, everything just felt right.

Before baking

Challenge accepted.

And after...notice my inconsistencies

After everything was said and done, I have to say that I blew myself away with these cookies. Although not all of my cookies looked perfect, with a flat round top and that little foot on the bottom, they all had that undeniable crunch and chewy center.  My pictures reveal the imperfections in my cookies, but the look doesn't compromise the taste.

The chocolate ganache makes these cookies a truly decadent treat. I have this urge to make more macaroons and experiment with different flavors. I think the fact that I am not discouraged after this first batch is a really good sign.

In the recipe below, I want to spell out exactly what the recipe said as well as precisely how I approached it. I hope that the overabundance of details will give you confidence to make these cookies! This is my attempt to convince my fellow home cooks that we can, if we set our minds to it, make delicious French Macaroons in a our own kitchen. They may not be picture perfect at first, but they sure are tasty regardless. And they will certainly help you impress your family, friends, and coworkers--trust me!

Here's what you need for Chocolate French Macaroons:

The equipment:

Food processor
Stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or hand mixer and a boatload of patience)
Rubber spatula (the more flexible the better)
1 piping bag, fitted with a medium circular tip
2 baking sheets, lined with parchment paper

The ingredients:

For the Cookies
1/2 cup almond meal -- I used a scant cup of blanched sliced almonds and pulsed them in the food processor until most were powdery. Using a sifter, I sifted this mixture until I had 1/2 cup of the finest particles and returned this 1/2 cup almond meal to the food processor.
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Here's what you do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the almond meal, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is very fine and well combined with no large lumps.

Add the egg whites to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks start to form, about 1 minute. Gradually add in the granulated sugar and whisk continuously until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. You can tell that it is ready if you remove the attachment and a bit of the egg whites get caught in the whisk. There should also be a nice peak on the tip of the whisk.

Combine the dry ingredients into the egg whites in two batches. I actually sifted my dry mixture each time before mixing it into the egg whites. You should combine them by carefully folding the egg whites over the dry mixture, cutting down the center, and folder again. Combine the second batch just until there are no streaks of egg whites left and the batter is smooth.

Scrape the batter into the pastry bag. Pipe the batter onto the lined baking sheets, spaced about 1 inch apart. They should be about 1 inch circles. Try swirling the batter after piping each cookie to remove any peaks from the tops of the cookies. There is no need to rush this part -- just be patient and try to be as precise as possible.

Gently rap the baking sheets on the counter top or table to release air pockets. I did this about 5 times, just to be safe. You want to do this evenly and on a flat surface. Try lifting up the baking sheets just about an inch off your work surface and drop it gently. You don't want to jostle the cookies around.

Bake the cookies in the upper third of your oven for 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet before removing.

In the meantime, make the chocolate ganache. Heat the cream and corn syrup over low heat until the cream is just slightly boiling around the edges. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to sit for 30 seconds, then stir until smooth. Stir in the butter. Allow to cool completely before filling the macaroons.

To build the cookies, use a butter knife to spread about a teaspoon or more of the chocolate on one flat side of one macaroon. Sandwich another cookie on top of that.

Store in an airtight container in the refridgerator overnight to set and blend the flavors. Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before serving. You can also freeze the cookies for a few weeks and defrost them completely before serving.

Source: Chef David Lebovitz

1 comment:

  1. Well, you could start by calling them what they are: MACARONS. "Macaroons" are coconut cookies.