Almonds are my favorite nut, hands down, and I'm not sure if I've ever met an almond dessert I didn't like. So it's no wonder that I love, love, love macarons. In the past, I've made a few feeble attempts to bake them myself, but I was basically just faking it and have never come close to making anything resembling an authentic macaron. Last year, Tom bought me a copy of I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita, and I knew that the time had come for me to get serious and try to make the real thing. I seem to recall that Tom gave me the book in the middle of the summer, and so I told myself I should wait until the weather became less humid before trying any recipes from the book. So now that it's the middle of winter and the air is dry as a bone, I finally ran out of excuses and had to face the challenge of making macarons.
I Love Macarons is somewhat awkwardly translated from Japanese, and it's a slim little (9-inches by 7-inches) paperback volume of only 80 pages (David Leibovitz provides a nice review of the book here). The book contains two base recipes for macaron batter ("basic," and a batter using Italian meringue), with ideas for endless variations of flavors and colors. I tried the basic recipe. You start out by grinding almond meal and powdered sugar together in the food processor, along with any dry flavor components (I added 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder), and then sift the resulting mixture twice. In another bowl, you beat egg whites until they are stiff, gradually add in sugar, and then vanilla. Then you fold the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture.
Hisako gives detailed instructions on "macaronnage," or the process for mixing the dry ingredients into the egg whites. According to the book, after adding the dry ingredients, you should use a spatula to press the mixture along the side of the bowl, and then scoop from underneath the batter to flip it upside down (there are lots of pictures in the book to explain each step of all of the recipes). Hisako explains this must be done approximately 15 times (more than 10 times and no more than 20), in order to achieve the correct consistency and optimal results.
After you finish the macaronnage, you use a pastry bag to pipe out circles of batter on a parchment-lined baking sheet (I took the book's suggestion of tracing out circles on the parchment to use as a guide, which was helpful), rap the sheet hard on the counter to get out air bubbles, and let the batter dry for about 15 minutes. After drying, you put the sheet of macarons in the oven (Hisako advises doubling up baking sheets to prevent the macarons from getting overbaked, puffing up too much, or cracking in the oven) and bake for 15-18 minutes.
I decided to skip the filling recipes from the book (the book includes recipes for buttercream, custard, ganache, and other fillings) and I filled my macarons with the frosting recipe from Bobby Flay's Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies with Milk Chocolate Frosting (it's essentially just a milk chocolate ganache, with a little cocoa powder and Frangelico added in). The ganache was the perfect firm consistency and a lovely flavor complement to the espresso macaron. The macarons were crisp on top and ultra chewy inside. With the richness added from the ganache filling, these were a satisfying and decadent little treat.
My macarons weren't perfect by any measure. I'm pretty sure they were not supposed to be quite as flat as they were. Also, the batter was a little runny and spread after I piped it out (which I think was part of the reason they turned out so flat). Although I had traced out circles that were 1 3/4" in diameter to use as a guide for piping, the batter spread enough that the finished macarons were about 2 1/4" inches across. In a related problem, many of my macarons did not turn out perfectly round.
However, I think they were a completely decent (and definitely tasty!) effort, and I am encouraged to keep working on my macaron-making technique in the future!
- "Basic Macaron Batter" from I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita.
- Filling made from the frosting recipe from Bobby Flay's Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies with Milk Chocolate Frosting.