Ou là là! The French macaron makes its debut on the blog. These cookies are beautiful, trendy, delicious, crispy on the outside to chewy then soft on the inside. Whipped egg whites are folded into them making the texture light and airy. Macarons are traditionally sandwiched with a filling of buttercream, ganache, curd, custard, jam, nut butter or just about anything. They come in a limitless array of colours and flavours.
Not to be confused with macaroons, which are quite different. Macaroons are balls of dried coconut and sweetened condensed milk, baked and usually dipped and/or drizzled in chocolate. They look something like this:
No, the macaron (or French macaroon, depending on who you talk to) is considered by many to be the hardest cookie to make. I'm not lying. There are several finicky steps where conditions need to be just so or everything will go wrong. It does take a few tries to get the hang of them. Or so I'm told, at least. This was my very first attempt at making them. Overall, I'm pleased with my effort. Mine had little bumps on most of them (most likely meaning that my almond flour wasn't sifted properly, although I sifted it twice), they were a minute or so underbaked and a little too sweet for my taste. Then again, many of my coworkers seemed to really enjoy them. I'm counting my graces because so many other things could have gone awry. They could spread out flat, they could crack, they could dry out, they could brown, they could not grow ridges along the bottom (called "feet"). If this sounds like too much of a hassle then this recipe is probably not for you. Although, if you are up for the challenge then you might find this a lot of fun and you should feel very proud no matter how they turn out so long as you tried. Not to mention they are one of the most delicious desserts ever created!
Most, if not all, of the few desserts that have been featured on the blog have had chocolate in them. Chocolate is wonderful, but it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone. I decided to go with a fruit flavour and it didn't take me long to come up with a pairing of banana and passionfruit. Since the end of World War II you can find bananas just about anywhere in the world. They are a familiar, mildly sweet, comforting ingredient we associate with the tropics. Something tart would work well to balance the sweetness of the banana and since passionfruit was also tropical, yellow and tart then it was the perfect match. I love passionfruit. We ate them fresh with breakfast almost every morning when I was in East Africa in 2007. The flavour always brings me back to that experience. The banana flavour comes in the form of artificial extract in the cookie. There may be a way to fold mashed ripened bananas into the egg whites but since this was my first attempt I didn't want to get too experimental just yet.
I'm going to share the recipe and all the tips that I learned so that you can try this yourself. I will try to make them again sometime so there will likely be more macaron recipes in the future. The ability to perfect these says a lot about a person as a cook
There's a lot we have to go over in this post so let's jump right into it. Let's begin with the fresh passionfruit curd. Since it needs to be completely cool when you pipe them into your macarons I suggest making this part first. You could even make this a day or two ahead. If you plan to store it for later, lightly press a piece of cling film over the top to keep it from producing a skin.
This recipe yields 20 macaron cookies.
Ingredients for Passionfruit Curd
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh passionfruit juice (8-10 passionfruit)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Begin by gathering your passionfruit and cutting them in half. Their rind is dark purple and the inside is full of black seeds each encapsulated in a golden pod filled with tart and sweet nectar.
Use a spoon to scoop out all of the yellow flesh from the passionfruit and place in a sieve over a steel or glass bowl. Use a spatula or a spoon to press the passionfruit juice through the sieve, leaving the seeds and pulp behind. You should end up with about 1/2 cup of liquid.
Discard the passionfruit seeds. To your bowl of freshly squeezed passionfruit juice add the egg yolks, eggs and sugar. Don't worry if a little bit of egg shell ends up in the bowl (like mine did). There is a step at the end that will take care of that.
Use the bowl to make a bain marie, which means place it over a pan filled with a little water and bring to a gentle boil. The water should not be enough to actually touch the bowl. The trapped steam will allow the mixture to cook gently while you whisk without scrambling the eggs. This part of the recipe is very similar to the method of making hollandaise.
Keep whisking constantly and remain patient. I'm not even sure how many times I've used this technique before. Sometimes it feels like five minutes, sometimes it feels like twenty-five minutes. Just keep whisking. Whisking not only aerates the mixture but keeps the eggs from seizing. As the eggs cook they will thicken instead of scramble.
Eventually the curd will lighten in colour and thicken to the consistency of pudding. The whisk should leave clear tracks in the curd. At this point you can take it off the heat.
Then add the cold butter to the curd and stir until it has melted. The butter will not only help to cool the curd down a little but it will add a dimension of richness.
At this point the curd is looking pretty good. Although remember, there's a little bit of egg shell in this batch. Also, even though the curd was whisked the entire time it cooked in the bain marie there will likely still be tiny bits of egg that may have solidified a little.
To take care of this and perfect the curd, pass it through a fine sieve using a spoon or rubber spatula while it's still warm.
Doing this will not only catch any egg solids or shells, but perfect the texture of the curd.
Store your curd in the fridge until ready to use.
Ingredients for Banana Macarons
1 cup icing sugar (aka "powdered sugar")
3/4 cup almond flour (aka "almond meal")
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 pinch fine salt
1/4 cup fine sugar
2 tsp banana extract
Yellow food colouring
Preheat oven to 300F/149C.
First thing you want to do is sieve your icing sugar and your almond flour and do it twice. Having a light, powdery base is crucial to beautiful, smooth macarons. I did this and my macarons still ended up with little bumps on most of them. Something I hope to figure out with time. Every source that I checked while doing my research emphasized this. Start by sieving the icing sugar in a large bowl, followed by the almond flour. There will probably be small pieces of almond that do not pass through the sieve. Just discard them as they will be too large/coarse to use in this recipe. Then pour the icing sugar and almond flour combination back through the sieve once again.
Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the sifted icing sugar and almond flour until fully incorporated. Set aside.
Add your egg whites to a very clean and dry glass or steel bowl. Unlike cream, it is crucial that they be at room temperature in order to whip up perfectly. Some sources I checked recommend separating the egg whites and leaving them at room temperature for a day or two before continuing with this recipe, though it's not required. If you have cold eggs and need them at room temperature fast, leave them in a glass of warm water for 10 minutes. That should do it.
The next few photos in this post are a little sketchy because I don't have a stand mixer or a friend at the time to help me take pictures. I was doing a two hand job while trying to take photos at the same time. lol.
Using an egg beater, hand mixer or stand mixer beat the egg whites for 30-60 seconds until they become foamy. Add the salt (to enhance flavour) and cream of tartar (acid to stabilize the whites). Continue to beat constantly.
Add the sugar, but not all at once. Slowly incorporate it while beating, otherwise they will ruin the whipping process and you'll have to start all over. I also recommend adding the banana extract and the food colouring before the soft peak stage. If you try to add liquid to egg whites after they've been whipped stiff they will soften again and you won't be able to get them stiff again. The amount of food colouring you add depends entirely on how vibrant you want your macarons to be in colour. Personally, I prefer pastel colours on macarons (a few drops). I think they look more elegant that way. If you want a deeper or brighter colour add more colouring. You don't want to add a lot of liquid colouring to eggs while you beat them. For a deeper colour you're better off using the gel food colouring as they will provide the same pigment without watering down your mixture.
Continue to beat the eggs until you achieve stiff peaks. You'll know when the egg whites are stiff when they are glossy and hold just about any shape. If you turn the bowl upside down, they should stay in the bowl.
Now you have a bowl of sifted icing sugar and almond flour and a bowl of stiff, sweetened yellow egg whites.
The next process is referred to as "le macaronage". Take half of the egg whites and add them to the powdered mixture. Do not stir. Gently fold the eggs into the mixture with long, fluid strokes. If you stir you will lose all of the air that you just beat into the egg whites. Scrape the sides of the bowl as you fold.
Once incorporated, add the remaining egg whites and fold those in using the same long, gentle strokes. This is another very crucial part of the macaron making process. If you don't fold them enough then your macarons will crack when they bake. If you overmix them, they will spread out in the oven instead of rising and creating the trademark ridges (or "feet") along the bottom. This part is likely to take some practice. You'll know when you've reached the right consistency when the ingredients are fully incorporated and when you scoop up the mixture with your spatula, the batter should be thick and slowly drop with a bit of elasticity, much like the consistency of molten lava.
Fill a piping bag with a rounded tip with the macaron batter. The only rounded tip that I have is actually too small for this. As a result I literally had to draw my macaron circles and fill them in rather than piping smooth ones. Another reason why mine didn't turn out perfect. Ideally, the hole in the rounded tip should be about the size of a dime. Put the piping bag in a tall glass to help hold it in place while you fill it. Fold the opening of the bag over and twist to seal it.
Line two baking trays with either a Silpat (pictured) or parchment paper. You don't want to use cooking spray, butter or any kind of fat or they won't work. Pipe 1" circles onto the lined baking trays with at least 1/2" of space between each one.
I hope that your macarons turn out rounder and more even than mine (lol). Take the cooking tray and tap it against a hard surface. It's best to tap it a couple of times, turn the tray 180 degrees and give it two more taps. This will release any trapped air bubbles in the batter.
Allow the macarons to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before putting them in the oven. At this point, the batter is very wet and sticky. Letting it sit out will allow it to dry slightly and develop a somewhat tacky skin. This resting period is essential to the texture of the macaron. Do not skip this step!
Then place your macarons in your preheated oven and cook for 18-20 minutes. I cooked mine for 16 or 17 minutes and they were just underdone (a few of them stuck to my Silpat). Keep an eye on them as you don't want them to brown. If all goes well, they shouldn't crack and they should grow the little "feet" along the bottoms of each one.
Remove the macarons from the oven and allow them to cool for 2-3 minutes on the trays. Note how the feet (ridges) have formed creating the classic macaron look.
Transport the macarons to a wire rack to cool completely.
In the meantime, fill another piping bag with a rounded tip with the passionfruit custard that you made earlier. Use a glass to hold the bag still while you fill it.
This is the best part! Each cookie requires two of the macaron shells. Lay two of the shells down with the flat bottoms facing up.
Pipe some of the curd in the center of one of the cookies, leaving a border around the outside.
Then sandwich the filling with the other cookie to create a completed macaron! Adding the second cookie should displace the curd and spread it out to the sides.
Repeat until all your macarons are completed! There, it was a lengthy and somewhat complex process but that is how French macarons are made. Do you have a better understanding of why they are considered the hardest cookies to make? They require some patience, confidence and skill but I believe in you! You will impress anybody if you can pull these off. Remember that pulling it off perfectly on your first try is near impossible. I certainly wasn't one of them. Again, if you enjoy cooking/baking then these are fun to make. Enough about making them, what is it like to eat them??
This photo should help to give you a better understanding of their texture. There is a crispy outer layer, followed by a slightly chewy and airy filling, with a rich and smooth curd in the middle. They are divine!
Even if you don't try this recipe, I hope you enjoyed reading about it and the photographs. There was a lot to explain in this one so I tried to ensure that there were a lot of helpful pictures. This post took me days to put together (hence why there hasn't been much on the blog since my jerk chicken recipe). Material will be return to its regular frequency now.
Until next time, everybody. Thanks again for checking out the blog!