Macarons: The Next Cupcake Craze

For Huffington Post | Whether walking the streets throughout Europe where bakeries and patisseries are a part of everyday life; or strolling among the streets of New York, DC, Chicago and Los Angeles, it’s difficult to miss this love affair many have for the macaron. Not the grocery store American coconut macaroons with double “o’s.” but the small European confection with a big impact. Almost bite sized and easy to eat on the go, they are ideal when looking for something sweet to perfectly complement your afternoon cup of coffee. Macarons1_Courtesy Greg Powers

Goodbye Cupcakes – Hello Macarons:

Though I do enjoy a moist cupcake as much as the next guy, now seeing storefronts elegantly decorated with the beautiful colors from the many flavors of these macarons is a refreshing update from the past few years where cupcakes seem to be advertised on every corner. These delicate confections are presented in pyramids, trees, or simply packaged in the store’s fashionable boxes; making it perfect for shipping or gifts. After all, it’s summer 2013 and while cupcakes are delicious on occasion, the “cupcake craze” is now behind us.

Why To Love Macarons:

If you’ve been under a log for the past few years and still not familiar with the macaron, I encourage you to be bold and get yourself a macaron… or a dozen to stay with even numbers. In a recent conversation with Ana Claudia Lopez and Michel Giaon, owners of Olivia Macaron opening in Georgetown DC this September, Ana summarized macarons perfectly when she said, “Macarons offer a perfect balance of flavor, size, texture and color in a small beautiful package.” Regardless of where you live, shipping is usually an option from the more popular shops today… leaving you zero excuses to delay your very own macaron experience.

The Makings Of A Macaron:

These meringue-based confections are often not as sweet as people expect them to be, which I find very refreshing. Mostly consisting of eggs, sugars, almond-based powder and food coloring, these top and bottom cakes/biscuits are then sandwiched with a ganache, buttercream or jam in the middle. Many pastry chefs today are very inventive with these flavors. Several personal favorites are the pistachio, lavender and espresso, but you can also find creative concoctions like rhubarb, peanut butter and even foie gras. Ana Claudia Lopez is excited to visit Paris again to experience the caviar macaron, which in her words is, “the perfect pairing of these two delicacies.” Another popular flavor component that is quickly becoming another favorite is matcha green tea for an intensely unique flavor. The flavor variations and combinations seem to be absolutely endless; allowing professional chefs, or you, to be inventive and discover your own favorite flavor.

The History of Macarons:

Though many details of the history surrounding the macaron is still a debate between Italy and France, most can agree that they were originally Italian, before being introduced (and perfected) by the French as early as the 1500’s. However, some still hold strong to the belief that it was created in a convent in Cormery (central France) in 1791. Regardless, there is still a notable difference today between the macarons in Italy and France, with the French variation being most widely adopted internationally. The Italian macaron tends to be a little heavier and sweeter with more substantial meringues as it uses hot syrup instead of granulated sugar.

Get To Know Macarons:

With so many variations and flavors available today, it’s difficult to choose a favorite macaron. However, there are several shops that are without-fail several of my favorites because of their inventiveness, freshness, consistency and their ability to ship internationally for gifts; or when I need a few macarons to get me through the days. At this point, you can pull on the chef’s coat and spend the day in the kitchen perfecting your ideal macaron recipe while referring to these specialized recipes, or simply jump online to order yourself a few macarons to begin the official taste testing. Either way, Bon Appétit!

Laduree_Logo_Final

Macarons Chocolat | Courtesy Ladurée

Chocolate ganache

10 oz | 290 g chocolate (minimum 70% cacao solids)
1 cup + 2 tbsp | 270 ml heavy (double) cream
4 tbsp | 60 g butter

Macaron shells

2 ¾ cups | 260 g ground almonds (almond flour)
2 cups + 1 tbsp | 250 g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
2 ¾ tbsp (15 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz | 65 g chocolate (minimum 70% cacao solids)
6 egg whites + ½ egg white
1 cup + 1 tbsp | 210 g granulated sugar

Equipment

Piping bag fitted with a ½-inch | 10-mm plain tip

Chocolate ganache

1 ••• Prepare the ganache. Using a knife, finely chop the chocolate on a cutting board and place in a large bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Pour the hot cream in 3 parts over the chopped chocolate, mixing with a wooden spatula between each addition to homogenize the preparation. Cut the butter into small pieces and stir into the ganache until very smooth. Transfer to a baking dish and cover with plastic wrap, so that the plastic is in contact with the ganache. Allow the ganache to cool at room temperature and then refrigerate for 1 hour until it has a thick, creamy consistency.

Macaron shells

2 ••• Combine the ground almonds, confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor and pulse to obtain a fine powder. Sift or strain through a sieve to remove any lumps. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water or in the microwave oven until it is lukewarm (approx. 95˚F | 35˚C).

3 ••• In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the 6 egg whites to a foam. Once they are frothy, add a third of the granulated sugar and whip until sugar is dissolved; add another third of the granulated sugar, whip for another minute; finally add the remaining granulated sugar and whip for 1 more minute. Pour the melted chocolate over the whipped egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, roughly incorporate the chocolate, and then immediately and delicately fold the sifted mixture of ground almonds, confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder into the chocolate and egg white mixture. In a separate small bowl, beat the remaining 1/2 egg white until just frothy. Then add to the final mixture, folding gently to slightly loosen the batter.

4 ••• Transfer mixture to the piping bag fitted with a plain tip. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pipe small macaron rounds 1 1/4- 1 1/2 inches | 3-4 cm in diameter. Lightly tap the sheet so the macarons spread fully. Preheat the oven to 300˚F | 150˚C | gas mark 2. Allow the macarons to sit uncovered for 10 minutes and then place in the oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes until they form a slight crust

5 ••• Remove baking sheet from the oven, and with a small glass, carefully pour a tiny amount of water in between the sheet and the parchment paper (lift the paper ever so slightly corner by corner). The moisture and steam that result from the water on the hot baking sheet will allow the macarons to peel off more easily once they are cool. Do not pour too much water as this could cause the macarons to become soggy. Allow to cool completely. Remove half of the macaron shells and place them upside down on a plate.

6 ••• When the ganache has a creamy consistency, pour into a clean piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe a coin of ganache onto the macaron shells resting upside down. Top each with the remaining macaron shells. Keep macarons in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 12 hours before tasting.

Chef’s tips

It is possible that your macaron shells will slightly crack on top for many different reasons. This could be the result of the ingredients, the oven or how the preparation was mixed. Whatever the reason, do not be discouraged! Rest assured: cracked or not, your macarons will be just as delicious.

With experience, you will succeed and have beautiful, smooth macarons. It is strongly recommended that you allow the finished macarons to rest one night in the refrigerator. During this time, a reaction takes place among the ingredients, further enhancing and refining the flavor and texture.

MacaronCafe_LogoLavender Buttercream Macarons | Courtesy Macaron Café

Before you bake:

To make a template for piping your macaron shells, draw 2½- inch circles on a large sheet of paper, using a compass or tracing around a cookie cutter or a small glass. Space the circles 1 inch apart. Position this pattern on your baking sheet, then place parchment paper on top of it. After piping your shells, carefully pull out the pattern to use on the next baking sheet.

French meringue macarons

Makes 50 to 60 shells, for 25 to 30 filled macarons

2¾ cups (8.8 ounces/250 grams) almond flour
2¾ cups (12.4 ounces/350 grams) powdered sugar
1 cup egg whites (from 7 or 8 eggs), at room temperature
1 pinch of salt
2 teaspoons powdered egg whites, if weather is humid
¾ cup (5.3 ounces/150 grams) superfine granulated sugar
5 to 7 drops gel paste food coloring (optional)

Step 1: Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

Step 2: Blend the almond flour with the powdered sugar in the food processor to make a fine powder (or sift together, discarding any large crumbs and adding a bit more almond flour and powdered sugar as needed to compensate). Then sift the mixture through a strainer until it’s as fine as you can get it. This keeps crumbs from forming on the macaron tops as they bake.

Step 3: With the wire whip attachment on the electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt and the powdered egg whites (if you’re using them), starting slowly and then increasing speed as the whites start to rise. Add the granulated sugar and the food coloring. Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks and your meringue is firm and shiny.

Step 4: Pour the beaten egg whites onto your almond flour mixture and gently fold them in, using a rubber spatula. Move your spatula from the bottom of the bowl to the edges with one hand, using your other hand to rotate the bowl. Now hit the spatula against the rim of the bowl until the batter falls in a wide ribbon when you raise the spatula. When you can’t see any crumbs of almond flour and the mixture is shiny and flowing, you’re ready to start piping.

The French have a special word–macaronner–to describe the physical action of mixing all the ingredients for macarons. This has to be done by hand. You cannot do it with your mixer–you must be able to feel the consistency of the macaron batter.

Step 5: Fit your pastry bag with a number-8 tip and fill with batter. Start by squeezing out a small amount of mix onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to form a 2½-inch circle. Be sure to leave 1 inch of space between macarons so they will not touch each other while they bake.

If the peak that forms on the top of the macaron does not disappear after piping, it means the batter could have been beaten a little more. To eliminate the peaks, tap the baking sheet on the tabletop, making sure to hold the parchment paper in place with your thumbs.

Let the piped macarons rest for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 300°F (325°F for a non-convection oven).

Using a pastry bag requires some practice. It may seem awkward at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Prepare the bag (if it hasn’t been used before) by cutting about 2 inches off the narrow end–just enough so that when you insert a number-8 decorating tip, about a third of the tip extends outside the bag. Push the tip firmly in place and spoon in your filling, leaving enough room at the top to twist the bag shut. It’s best to fill the bag with half of the batter at a time so it’s not too heavy. To make it easier to fill your pastry bag, place it upright in an empty jar or other straight-sided container. This will help steady the bag while you fill it with batter.

Squeezing the bag slowly, pipe each macaron shell out in a single dollop. Lift the bag quickly to finish.

Step 6: Bake for 14 minutes. After the first 5 minutes, open the oven door briefly to let the steam out.

Let the macarons cool completely on a rack before taking them off the parchment paper. Press the bottom of a cooled baked macaron shell with your finger; it should be soft. If the bottom of the shell is hard, reduce the baking time for the rest of your macarons from 14 minutes to 13 minutes.

Lavender buttercream

3 eggs
1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) superfine granulated sugar
1 cup lavender water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2¼ sticks;
9 ounces/230 grams) chilled unsalted butter, preferably European-style
5 to 8 drops edible essential lavender oil (optional)

Beat together the eggs and the sugar with the electric mixer at high speed; you want your batter to double in volume and become fluffy.

Pour into a saucepan, add the lavender water, and heat at medium temperature, stirring, until the liquid evaporates and the mixture forms a compact batter. Pour into a shallow dish, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator.

Cut the cold butter into small pieces and beat at a high speed with the mixer’s wire whip attachment. When the butter starts to increase in volume and become fluffy, add the cold lavender batter and whip again. For a stronger lavender flavor, add a few drops of edible essential lavender oil; how much you need depends on the brand.

Lavender water: Rinse several fresh lavender stems and pour boiling water over them in a bowl; steep for 5 minutes. Strain.

Credit: Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes from the MacarOn Cafe (Ulysses Press, 2010) by Cecile Cannone

ToutSweetFrench Macaron | Courtesy Chef Yigit Pura | Tout Sweet

Almond flour 249 grams
Icing sugar/powdered sugar 249 grams
Egg whites, fresh, at room temperature 112 grams
Water 62 grams
Granulated sugar 249 grams
Egg whites, frozen, at room temperature 108 grams
Egg white powder 1 gram
Color

1. Sift the almond flour and icing sugar into a bowl, using a fine mesh sieve.

2. Using a hand scraper, mix in the fresh egg whites at room temperature to the almond flour and icing sugar mixture, until evenly mixed. You should have an even wet mass. If using coloring, add it in with the egg whites at this point.

3. Bring the pre frozen egg whites to room temperature and combine with the egg white powder in a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Turn mixer on to low speed. Meanwhile place granulated sugar and water in a pot on the stove. Once it reaches 223F/112C turn mixer to medium speed. Continue cooking to 234F/115C then turn mixer to medium-high speed. Egg whites should be at full volume and begin to pull from sides and ripple towards center. Once cooked syrup is at 241F/116C slowly drizzle into the whipped whites while still on medium speed. Once all the syrup is added, put the mixer up to high speed.

4. Keep whisking meringue until it has cooled to 122F/50C. Once cooled take one-third of meringue and mix it with the almond flour mixture to lighten the batter. Mix in the remainder of meringue carefully without deflating. Once no more streaks of meringue are visible begin to deflate until proper consistency is reached. Check this by lifting some of the batter and letting it flow off of spatula/bowl scraper. It should flow slowly and thick like honey and not fast and fluid like water.

5. Add the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #3 round tip. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about 1⁄2-inch above the surface of the sheet pan. Steadily pipe rounds about 11⁄2- inches in diameter. Tap the sheet pans slightly to tap out the air, to avoid air pockets once baked.

6. If using a dry garnish on top, add it at this point.

7. Next, let the macaron rounds stand at room temperature, allowing them to dry out, forming a skin. While they are resting, preheat the oven to 345F. Once a skin has formed and the top of the macaron is firm when touched, place in a 345F oven and reduce the heat to 325F. Bake for 10 minutes and 30 seconds.

8. Completely cool the macarons before peeling them off the silpat in order to fill them.

Note: Macaron are thing of constant work, so you may find you’ll have to adjust the recipe slightly through out the year as the almond flour has different humidity and fat content through out different seasons affected by rainfall. Also the time duration it takes to dry them out once piped will vary depending on the season and the natural humidity in the air, unless you working in a controlled environment. Also I it is sometimes optimal to age the macaron in the refrigerator for one day after having been baked, in order to obtain a perfect texture: crunchy on the outside, while still chewy and soft on the inside.

Macarons2_Courtesy Greg Powers

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