The Mystery of the French Macaroon

The Mystery of the Macaroon began simply enough.  A la Clue it was Patti and I, with the cookbook, in the kitchen.  We spent the afternoon indoors  eating lunch, and figuring out what to make or bake.  We decided on bake and, after looking through a few cookbooks, decided on chocolate french  macaroons (or macarons).  Sounds relatively simple, right?   Well, neither Patti nor myself have ever HAD a macaroon before in our lives, I dont think either of us had ever even SEEN  one outside of a cookbook and we had no idea what they were supposed to taste like, but we decided to dive in head first anyways.

Ok, so a little bit of background information on macaroons. Firstly, they are easy to make insofar as the ingredients needed are few and easy to come by ( egg whites, sugar, crushed almonds, etc) but difficult as the production of the desired final product depends on mastering the recipe EXACTLY.  This is where the mystery comes in.  That being said, don’t fear the macaroon.

The macaroon is a merringue- based confection, and there are many variations of it depending on the region of the world.  The North American macaroon is mainly coconut based, and (to me) resembles more of a really gnarly looking scone then anything else.  If youre looking for pure decadence in a dessert I recommend the french macaroon for its beautifully domed top, and thick cream center sandwhiched between yet another meringue cookie. Yum!

Verdict:  decadent taste, not quite the lovely look we were hoping for.  Therein lies the Mystery of the French Macaroon.

Ok, so like I said before the trick is to matster the recipe.  Here is where I’m pretty sure we fell flat (like our macaroon cookies):  the real secret of the batter  is in the beating of the egg whites to perfection!  The recipe that we used asked us to hand whisk the egg whites until stiff, but not dry.  I believe that had I whisked for another two minutes or so our batter would have been at just the stiffness needed to hold the desired shape.  The next time I make these, I will expirement with an electric beater.

Also, with this recipe it doesnt pay to go the DIY route, meaning for the love of god BUY A PASTRY BAG.  We tried to construct one first out of parchment paper and then out of a plastic ziplock bag, both of which didnt work exactly how we had planned.  I believe that if we had been able to pipe a more controlled 2 inch circle of dough out at a time, our macaroons would have held up a bit better.

One more bit of advice.  Instead of using a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or a tupperware baking mat, we recommend simply putting it straight onto the baking sheet cold turkey.  The cookies tend to be hard to get off the sheet and youll have better luck with them if there is no third party getting in the way.

All of this aside, our macaroons were completely delicious!  The bittersweet chocolate elevated the meringue cookies to a new level, and we have plans to make them again soon (and maybe even use them for my bridal shower in May).

* recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess*

CHOCOLATE MACAROONS

For the Macaroons:

1 2/3 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of ground almonds

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

4 large egg whites

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 baking sheets

1/2 inch plain pastry tip and pastry bag

For the ganache filling:

6 tablespoons of heavy cream

5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (we used Ghirardelli), chopped

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift together the confectioners sugar, ground almonds, and cocoa powder
  3. Whisk the egg whites until half stiff, and sprinkle the granulated sugar into the egg whites.  Continue to whisk until very stiff, but not dry.
  4. Fold the sifted ingredients into the stiff meringue in increments using a silicone spatula
  5. Fit the piping tip into the bag, sit it in a tall glass, turn the bag back to form a cuff, and fill with the macaroon mixture.
  6. Pipe out 2-inch rounds on the baking sheet and leave to stand for 15 minutes (will form a skin).
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes.  The macaroons should be dry on top but chewy underneath.
  8. Remove the macaroons and let them cook on a wire rack.  When they are cool, spread the ganache on the underside of one, and stick another (right side up) on top to create a sandwich. Should make around 18 macaroon sandwiches.
  9. To make the ganache filling:  Basically heat all the ingredients in a sauce pan on low heat until the chocolate is JUST melted.  Take the saucepan off the heat and whisk the chocolate for approx. 3-4 minutes until it is visibly thick (almost a pudding consistency). Let cool, and then spread between two macaroons.
  10. These are best the day of, so pig out and enjoy!
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