Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Magnificent Macarons

Whenever I tell people about The Baking Blog, I almost always get the same response; "I'll cook, but I don't bake.  It's so hard!"  I completely understand because I usually have the same reaction to cooking (all that chopping!), but there are definitely lots of baked goods that I find plenty intimidating. Croquembouche, I'm looking at you. Until recently, macarons had also been one of those "off limits" projects that I had always promised myself I'd get around to baking one day, but their finicky reputation preceded them, and I just presumed that I was doomed to fail.

If you're not familiar with macarons, you're probably asking yourself, "What's so difficult about those coconut cookies my grandma always makes?"  Those would be macaroons.  Not macarons. The extra "O" makes all the difference. Macarons are the iconic cookie of France, a miniature sandwich cookie made from almond flour and confectioners sugar, and able to be flavored or colored in myriad ways.  More than likely though, you're familiar with macarons because, like cupcakes, they've become one of the newest "it" desserts.  Yes, they've even been sold by Starbucks.

When Parisian Spring (obviously an expert on all things France) suggested that we finally bite the bullet and try out a recipe she had, I knew it was time.  Believe it or not...these cookies were so easy!! The cookies themselves have only 3 ingredients, and the most difficult part was piping the rounds onto the cookie sheets because the batter is very viscous, so you have to work quickly.  Other than that, simply let the cookies set for 15 minutes before baking and voilá!

So, while I might not be attempting a bûche de noël and it's accompanying meringue mushrooms any time soon, it's good to know that, for some foodie challenges at least, all of the hurdles are just in our minds.

1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cups almond flour
3 egg whites, room temperature
food coloring and extract as desired

1. Preheat oven to 315 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the confectioners sugar and almond flour and sift together into a bowl.
2. With an electric or stand mixer beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat).
3. Add the flour mixture to the egg whites in quarters, folding together with a spoon or spatula. Stir only until just combined, but not beat.
4. Add color or flavor as desired.
5. Spoon or pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip (plug tip with your finger if necessary) and pipe quarter-sized rounds onto prepared sheets.
6.  Allow the cookies to set for at least 15 minutes then bake for 12-15 minutes.  makes approximately 30 sandwiches.

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
food coloring and extract as desired

1. Beat the cream nearly until the consistency of butter, then stir in sugar.  Add in flavor or coloring as desired. 
2.  Once macarons have cooled, spread a small amount of filling between two halves and sandwich together.

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