Is it a cookie? Is it a candy? Does the fact that it’s almonds and not flour mean that these are healthy for me? Is this even how these are supposed to look? I’ll tell you what – none of those answers matter. These just taste good.
These are not the sticky-sweet, dense coconut macaroons that come by the dozen in the grocery’s “fresh baked goods” section (those have their place – don’t get me wrong!) But the only thing that these have in common with those macaroons is the egg white base.
This is the French confection, the macaron – delicate cookies with crisp shells and chewy, subtly sweet centers sandwiched around a rich filling. They abound in Paris patisseries and come in all sorts of flavors. I’m not in Paris, and won’t be anytime soon, so I decided to start simple: just the almond cookies around a chocolate filling.
Macarons being from French culinary tradition, they seem fussy and intimidating: getting the method right is said to be imperative to achieving the confection’s petite, precise form – the egg whites must be just the right stiffness, the almond flour and powdered sugar must be folded in until the batter flows just right, and the piped cookies must rest long enough to form the glossy, but not so long that they fail to rise in the way that gives them an adorable, crusty little “foot.”
But all of that is mostly vanity, corners that might be cut if you aren’t submitting them to some Pretty Food contest. In fact, none mine have not yet been Paris patisserie perfect, but all attempts have been fun – and the results have been quite charming, if I do say so myself.
Black and White Macarons
For the shells:
3 egg whites (or 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup almond flour*
For the chocolate ganache filling:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup dark (semisweet or bittersweet chocolate), finely chopped
Place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
Bring the heavy cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes and then stir until fully combined. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until firm enough to put in a small piping bag or to spoon onto the cookies without it dripping off.
To make the cookies
Step/Day 1 (don’t let this scare you – all you need to do is break eggs the day before you want to bake.)
The day before you plan to make your macarons, separate your eggs and let the whites sit, in an airtight container, at room temperature for about 24 hours.For this recipe, the older the eggs, the better, as fresher eggs don’t whip up as nicely.
If you’re using a refrigerated, packaged egg-whites product, you can simply let this come to room temperature and proceed with the recipe.
If you want to do this all in one day and you’re not using an egg-whites product, just microwave the egg whites for 10-20 seconds.
Line two sturdy baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a large pastry bag with a large, plain tip.
Combine the confectioners sugar and the almond flour in a medium bowl and set aside.
Place egg whites in the very clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually adding the granulated sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue with stiff peaks. Do not over-beat, or the meringue will be too try. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer.
Add the confectioners sugar-almond mixture to the meringue, giving it a rough fold to break down some of the meringue. Then, fold gently until you obtain a batter that flows like lava or brownie batter. Test a small amount on a plate: if the top flattens on its own, the batter is the right consistency. If a peak remains, give the batter another few folds.
Transfer the batter to the pastry bag and pipe small rounds (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. Leave about 1/2 to 1 inch between rounds. Let the piped cookies sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour to form hard “shells.”
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 280 degrees F. Bake macarons for for 20-22 minutes, until slightly puffed and firm. Let cool, and remove (gently) from parchment. If they stick, pour a few drops of water under the parchment paper while the pan is still warm to loosen them. The shells can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature overnight, or in the freezer for up to 3 days.
When you’re ready to fill them, pipe or spoon a heaping teaspoon of the ganache filling in the center of one shell and create a sandwich with a second one. Be gentle when sandwiching- these can crack easily!
Once filled, these can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two or three days. They can also be frozen for several weeks.
* I’ve seen this almond flour in all sorts of grocery stores – if you can’t find it, you can also put the confectioner’s sugar in a food processor with about 90 grams of blanched almonds and pulse it til it’s all floury.