Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Macarons (Including Recipe)

The real French macaron may be the best pastry in the world. It consists of two almond meringue shells held together with a filling of flavored pastry cream, preserves, caramel, chocolate ganache or a similar sweet substance.

Until the 1990's, the undisputed best macaron was to be found at Ladurée in Paris, although other patissiers made their own versions. They came in vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, raspberry and coffee. Sometime in the early 90s, Pierre Hermé decided to reinvent the macaron, and the macaron wars began. He used an amazing variety of non-traditional flavors and dared to make square ones. Ladureé was forced to take up the challenge and other greater patisseries -- most notably, in my opinion, Dalloyau -- stepped up, as well, so you can now find flavors like cognac, cassis, lime, passionfruit, white chocolate, yuzu, griotte or lavender, among others. And fillings have evolved, too, to include savory as well as sweet items, such as smoked salmon and cucumber. One of the most amazing and delicious things I have ever eaten was a black truffle macaron from Pierre Hermé; it was so rich that I didn't even want a second one.
I have never found a macaron in the US that matches the best French ones. Yes, I have tried Fauchon, Payard and Maison du Chocolat.

The only solution, apart from going to France (or to Pierre Hermé's Tokyo branch), is to make them. I have taken a couple of lessons in France and can report that they are quite doable, although they require patience and practice. But mine are seriously good and, while not equal to the best French ones, I am told by a reliable critic (my wife) that they are better than any available for purchase in New York.
So here's my recipe for

Caramel Macarons with Salted Caramel Filling

For the Macaron Shells:

250 g almond flour, or blanched almonds finely ground in a food processor
350 g confectioner's sugar
215 g egg white
150 g granulated sugar

1. Blend together the ground almonds and confectioner's sugar and sift through a medium sieve. Throw away the few almonds that don't go through.

2. Using a standing or hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they are beginning to form soft peaks, add the sugar (and caramel if using optional caramel - - see Step 9 below) and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

3. Fold in the almond/sugar mixture and keep folding until pretty soft -- it should drop off the spatula in a very thick but steady stream (some say it should "form a ribbon").

4. Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip, pipe mixture onto a half sheet pan or other cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Let sit for 20-30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 320 degrees.

6. Put pans into oven, at 1/3 and 2/3 heights. Cook for 15-18 minutes. After 5 and 10 minutes, open the door of the oven a bit for 30 seconds to let moisture escape.

7. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes, but more is better. CAREFULLY pry them off the parchment or silicone liner, trying to avoid sticking as much as possible. If they are sticking badly, wait a bit longer.

8. Turn them on their backs, put filling on one flat side and put another one on top, trying to match sizes as closely as possible.

9. OPTIONAL CARAMEL FOR SHELLS. Cook 50 g of sugar in a small frying pan on medium heat until it becomes a fairly dark caramel (don't stir until it begins to melt). Add water to get to a stable caramel and remove from heat; set the pan on a cool surface. Add this to the egg whites in Step 2 and reduce the granulated sugar by the 50 g used for the caramel. I always do this because it flavors the shell and also imparts a light caramel color that gives a hint of the caramel filling. Another approach, which I have not yet tried, would be to omit or greatly reduce the water, turn out the caramel on a silicone sheet, let it harden and then grind it into a powder to be added along with the sugar in Step 2.

For the Salted Caramel Filling:

200 g granulated sugar
50 g unsalted butter, in 1/2-inch cubes
140 g heavy cream
A very big pinch (maybe 1-1/2 tsp) of fleur de sel

1. Melt the sugar in a frying pan until it becomes a light caramel (don't stir until it begins to melt).

2. Add the butter and then the cream and the fleur de sel.

3. Allow to cool to room temperature (with the help of the fridge. Pour the caramel into a squeeze bottle (a funnel helps) to make assembly easier.

It is good to keep the macarons in the fridge. They will keep longer and the salted caramel filling will not run. Take them out a half hour or so before eating.

For another take on the whole process, take a look at the post entitled Strawberries and Vanilla Beans at Cannelle et Vanille, http://cannelle-vanille.blogspot.com. Aran, the blogger, is a pastry chef and hers are probably better than mine. Her method is very similar to the one I learned in Paris.

Bobby Jay


Anonymous said...

I am SO happy to see this recipe included here. However, I am wondering how you insure that you get a uniform size for each macaron, given that you are piping them with a pastry bag. Is there any trick to making them uniform in size, other than by experience?

Bobby Jay said...

Good question, Anonymous.

I wish I could say mine are uniform, but my piping is anything but. Coincidentally, I bought Pierre Hermé's incredibly detailed book today and he suggests using a template (perhaps a shot glass) to draw little circles on the parchment, piping a bit smaller to allow for expansion. Duh! Why didn't I think of that?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response, Bobby Jay! How funny that you learned today how to perfect the art of uniform macarons! Good timing. Yes, what a "brilliant" idea this is. Now I am feeling more confident about trying the art of creating these delights. I will keep you posted as to when I do it and how they turn out.

Anonymous said...

Great article! You mentioned a book by Hermes, what is the title?

Also, does anyone know of any cooking classes in NYC that teach macarons?


Bobby Jay said...

Pierre Hermé's book is simply called Macaron. I forgot to note that it is in French. To purchase it, if you're not going to France, go to www.amazon.fr

Anonymous said...

thanks for the recipe! i just want to be sure that you meant to cook at 420 degrees? the first batch was burned within 8 minutes. it turned out fine after i turned the oven down to 325 which other macaron recipes use.

Bobby Jay said...

Thanks, Anonymous. You have caught me with a major typo. It should have said (and now says) 320 degrees, not 420 degrees. I am glad you got them to work out the second time.

By the way, Pierre Hermé uses 180 degrees centigrade (356 farhenheit).