Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe: Macarons - At Last

Macarons are a French cookie. They are similar to meringues in that they are made with sweetened whipped egg whites, but they have the addition of nut flour. This gives the cookie some softness and depth.Macarons are very popular in Europe as well as the US. At one time they were only found in pastry shops, but now are found in European McDonalds! and Starbucks.
Macaron comes from the Italian word maccherone and Venice's macarone (translation: fine paste). The history is unclear, macarons originated as an Italian recipe from the Renaissance or from a group of French monks.

Usually, macarons are sandwiched together with a creamy filling, either ganache, buttercream, preserves or the like. There are countless flavors of macaron, from almond, hazelnut, pistachio, rose, violet, lemon and even truffle, passion fruit, foie gras!
Macarons, pronounced MACK - ARR - OHNS - from Sucre bakery in New Orleans, in the many flavors and glorious colors, sells for $14 for 8.

Here are my hazelnut macarons! I was thrilled with the results. There are some tricks that need to be employed to get the macaron right and some controversies.
Notice the shape of the macaron. The macaron has a smooth "skin" and a bulge at the base, called a "foot". Getting both things while still cooking the macaron properly is a little tricky.

THE FOOT-Believe it or not, old egg whites are needed. Some people leave the egg whites on the counter in a bowl for at least 48 hours. Supposedly, there is some school of thought that egg white are antibacterial and therefore will not spoil.
I researched this and could not find anything to prove this, so I decided not to try the egg whites left out at room temperature trick.
Instead, I researched why old egg whites were needed. The answer was interesting. As the egg whites age, they dehydrate some (lose moisture) and the proteins become more solid, more tough. Many pastry chefs add additional powdered whites to the batter to achieve this texture.
I simply separated the eggs and left the whites in the refrigerator, covered with a paper towel and plastic wrap for 48 hours. Then on the day of baking, I let them come to room temperature before I used them. This seemed to work very well.

THE SKIN - Recipes call for piping the macaron batter onto a parchment lined sheet, banging it to rid the air bubbles from the batter and then letting sit long enough before baking to develop a skin. I piped my batter and let it sit for 65 minutes, where it developed a thick skin that no longer looked wet.

THE BAKING TRAY - I lined the baking tray with 2 layers of parchment. This not only helped in the non-stick area, but also provided a little bit of insulation. Some bakers recommend using 2 layers of baking sheets, but since my baking sheets are heavy, professional quality, I thought that the second layer of parchment was sufficient.

THE REST PERIOD - While not crucial to a delicious macaron, baking them, then filling them and THEN placing in the refrigerator overnight produces an exquisite cookie. We ate them both ways, freshly cooled and filled and then chilled overnight. We all preferred the overnight variety, but doubt we have the patience to wait that long in the future.

Here is the basic recipe that I used. (I filled the hazelnut macarons with Nutella and they were nothing short of heavenly).

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
4 oz hazelnut flour
1/4 cup + 3 T egg whites, at room temperature - (about 3 large egg whites)
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar

Process the hazelnut flour and powdered sugar until fine.
Whip egg whites in a bowl with the pinch of salt. Beat until soft peaks form.
Increase the speed and add the sugar, whip until stiff peaks form. Pay attention and do not overwhip.

Sift the hazelnut flour mixture into the egg whites in 3 batches. This step, while very picky is important. Add one third of the flour mixture at a time.
Scrape the batter into a large pastry bag fitted with a large circle tip.
Pipe 1 inch circles onto a baking sheet double-lined with parchment.
Leave about 1 inch in between batter drops.
Let sit on counter for 65 minutes.
Set oven to 350.
Bake for 10 - 11 minutes until they have risen, but not browned.

Cool on baking sheet 5 min and then slide entire piece of parchment off. Let cool 5 more minutes and then peel baking sheet off macarons.
Fill with ganache, frosting or nutella.
Place on a plate, wrap with plastic wrap and place in fridge for 24 hours if you can stand it.
Utterly delicious.
Some bakers struggle with overbeating the whites. Take your time and enjoy the process and the results will show a hard working yet delicate cookie!

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