And Happy New Year!
A French Macaron (pronounced mac-a-ron), made with almond meal and egg whites, is not a Macaroon (pronounced mac-a-roon) made with coconut and egg whites (and often other stuff). What you see here is a macaron. I've been surprised at how many people I know have never heard of a macaron.
And of course, they're naturally gluten-free.
I put off making these babies for a long time because, well, I was intimidated. I knew they were challenging, but I knew that eventually I would try. I finally tried, and failed. Twice. It's all about getting the batter at the right consistency. First time I overmixed it (and then I overbaked), and second time I undermixed it. I think I had to get it wrong both ways before I figured out the right consistency.
The good news is they tasted great, even though they looked funny (no, I did not take pictures).
The ones here are made with blanched Almond meal/flour (and while I love Bob's Red Mill company and products, I buy my blanched Almond meal from Honeyville Farms at almost half the price). But I have also made them Trader Joes Almond Meal with skins on, and it works as long as you sift it a couple of times.
I have probably read 30 blogs and websites about making macarons, and I found it interesting to see the slightly different techniques used (and not used). But somehow they all seemed to end up with beautiful pictures of Macarons.
The blog I found the most helpful, and who's recipe I used (with minor tweaks) is from Stella at Bravetart, who is a professional macaron baker (hello.... can you say 'dream job'). Really good and sometimes amusing explanations and descriptions, with an emphasis on what's important when making macarons, and what's not. Worth a read (or two) if you're considering making macarons.
From what she describes, and from what I've read other places, and most importantly, from what I found in my own Macaron-baking experience, here's what stands out for me:
- I've used both almond meal with skin on and blanched Almond Meal. They both work just fine - but it's important to sift it first, no matter which one you use, but especially for the meal with the skin on. If you're left with a few bits that simply won't sift, just add it in - it won't hurt the batter.
- The temperature of your egg whites really doesn't matter. I've used them just a few minutes after taking them out of the refrigerator. Most recipes say they need to get to room temperature or set out for a day or more. Yikes!
- Unless you have a big commercial oven - don't try and bake more than one tray at a time, at least, that's been my experience.
- The good news is you can pipe the macarons and put the first tray in the oven immediately while the other(s) sit out and wait their turn. Most recipes say the piped macarons should sit out for 30-minutes or more. I have found it makes no difference.
- Great tip: trace circles onto your parchment paper using a cookie cutter (1 1/2"), and then turn paper over onto your baking sheet. You can still see the circles to use as a guide when you're piping the batter.
- Great tip: Get everything prepped before you actually start mixing it up. I get my ingredients weighed, my circles drawn, by my pastry bag ready, etc. so that once I start the process I don't have to stop in the middle to prepare an ingredient.
- Great tip: To fill your pastry bag without it all smooshing out the tip, twist the bag right above the tip and clip it closed with a binder clip. Set it in a tall glass or container. Fill the bag with the batter. When you're ready to pipe, just lift and remove the clip.
- These taste great when they are freshly made, BUT, something magically happens to the flavor and texture when you refrigerate them for a few hours or overnight, and then let them come to room temperature. Really. Amazing.
Here's the recipe from Bravetart (slightly modified)
- 4 oz Almond Meal/Flour
- 8 oz Powdered Sugar
- 5 oz Egg Whites
- 2 1/2 oz Sugar
- 1 Vanilla Bean, scrapped, or 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 tsp Almond Extract (not in original recipe)
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees, line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and have your pastry bag with tip ready.
- Add the almond meal and powdered sugar to your food processor and process for 15 seconds or so. Then sift, adding any bits that don't sift into the mix.
- Combine egg whites, sugar, vanilla bean scrapings (not extract) and salt in your stand mixer bowl and using the Whip beater attachment, whip for 3 minutes at medium (about setting 4 on a Kitchenaid)
- Increase the speed to medium-high (setting 7) for another 3 minutes.
- Then increase the speed to 8 for another 3 minutes.
- Turn off the mixer and add any additional flavorings or colors - this is when I add the Almond extract and/or Vanilla extract - and whip for a minute to blend. The egg whites will be *very* dry and stiff.
- Remove the beater and bang it against the side of the bowl to remove all of the egg whites.
- Add the almond meal/sugar mixture to the egg whites, and start folding it in (counting your folds). It will come gradually together. Once you get to about 35 - 40 folds, you'll want to pay attention to the consistency. If you pick a little up with a spoon and drop it back it, it should gradually blend into batter again, after about 20 seconds. If it's still too thick, you'll want to do one or two folds, and then test it again. You don't want it to get to the point where it 'runs' off the spoon. Rather, it should be "lava" like.
- When you have the batter just right (!), transfer some of it to your piping bag fit with about a plain tip.
- Start piping out the batter onto the pre-traced circles, staying just inside the edge of the circle.
- When you've piped your first tray, rap the tray against the counter 3 times, turning it once, for good luck. OK - not really for for good luck. It's to remove any air bubbles that might be lurking within your macarons.
- Put your first tray in the oven. While they're baking, you can pipe your second pan, bang it, and let it rest until it's time to bake. The original recipe calls for about 18 minutes of baking. I found in my oven it took about 26 minutes. Moral of this story: know your oven. How do you know when they're done? I'm still trying to figure that out. You want to be able to gently peel one off of the parchment, without pulling the whole top off (don't ask me how many times I've done that!). I think that's just something that comes with practice.
- When the first tray is done, let them cool on the tray on a cooking rack for a while, before peeling them off.
- Once completely cooled, put them together with your favorite filling, and then strut around the house proudly because you, my friend, made French macarons!!
These were some of my first ones made with the Trader Joes Almond Meal. No color - just the natural specs of the skin. I kinda like that look. Cute though, aren't they?
I could make these all day, experimenting with flavors and colors. If I only had the time. Now I must go make some. Right now.