What is a macaron? I asked myself this a few weeks ago, once I realized that it wasn't simply a misspelling of macaroon. The macaron is a French pastry made of egg whites, almond flour, powdered and granulated sugar. It is sandwich-like, with two thin cookies (round meringue-like domes with a flat base) stuck together with a buttercream, jam, or ganache filling.
There is speculation that the French macaron is the next cupcake. When I first read through the ingredients and recipe, I was highly skeptical. How can egg whites, almond flour and sugar create a delicious treat? Well, it turns out it's possible. Also, similar to cupcakes that are such a craze at the moment, the combinations of flavors and fillings possible for the macaron are endless. Who knows - maybe a year or two from now we will see macaron shops on every corner!
Why am I suddenly an expert on macarons? I learned all of this through reading about them on the internet, because they are the latest Daring Bakers' challenge (more on that in a second). True to the name, making them was, um, challenging. One sought after quality in the macaron is its "feet" - a spongy-looking layer that forms beneath the dome of the cookie. People swear by all sorts of different techniques for ensuring the perfect macaron - letting the egg whites sit at room temperature for anywhere from a day to a week, allowing the batter to "dry" for varying amounts of time once it's been piped onto the cookie sheets, "turning" the egg whites by a certain number when you fold in the dry ingredients. It was a hard to know what to try. I ended up feeling like Goldilocks:
In my first attempt ("too hot"), I didn't beat the eggs enough, so the batter oozed together on the baking sheet, creating one giant pancake. Nothing recoupable from that attempt, unfortunately, so into the garbage my slimy concoction went.
My fear of not beating the eggs enough in my second attempt ("too cold") led me to beat them too much. Also my lack of parchment paper, which I thought would be minor at the time, turned out to be a major issue. This second attempt yielded edible, although not-at-all-like-macaron cookies (no feet, the domes crushed during my prying from the cookie sheets).
My third attempt ("just right") was the first batch that I actually feel like I can call macarons. I think the texture might still be a little off - they aren't quite as light and fluffy as those I found at the local french bakery, but tasty and - aesthetically at least - close to the real thing.
Before I get to the recipe, let me tell you a bit about the Daring Bakers, part of The Daring Kitchen. The Daring Bakers originated with two women food bloggers in 2006 - it all started with them challenging themselves to bake pretzels for the first time using the same recipe. Then they posted about their experiences. They decided to try it again the next month with biscotti. They were joined by a few more food bloggers. Time went by and the group continued to grow. When they decided they needed a name, The Daring Bakers were born!
Today, the group has a couple thousand participants all around the world. They have monthly challenges that are comprised of a recipe to follow (with specifics on what you must do and where you can take some leeway). The members each follow the recipe, then post their experience and pics on the Daring Bakers forum, and (after the reveal date has passed) on their blog, as you see me doing here.
This was my first challenge and I had a lot of fun with it. I'm certain I would not have tried making macarons (and definitely would not have had patience through 2 failed attempts) if it weren't for this little competition. I'm excited for what other treats it might push me to make in the future - stay tuned for monthly posts to hear all about it!
The 2009 October Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to us by Ami S of Baking without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Ok, on to the recipe...
Chocolate Macarons with Nutella Ganache
Makes 2-3 dozen sandwiched pastries
2 1/4 c. confectioners' sugar
2 c. almond flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
5 egg whites, at room temperature (I let mine sit at room temp for 24 hours)
Combine the confectioners' sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Beat egg whites in the clean bowl of a stand mixture until soft peaks form. Slowly add granulated sugar and beat until the eggs hold stiff peaks.
Sift 1/3 flour mixture into meringue and fold gently to combine (I found that a rubber spatula worked well for this step). Sift in remaining flour in two batches. Don't overfold, but fully incorporate.
Spoon the batter into a pastry bag with a 1/2" tip, or a large ziplock bag with the corner cut off (tip: put the bag into a large glass or pitcher and fold the corners down to fill). Pipe 1" mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Set aside to allow to "dry" 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.
Heat oven to 200 degrees. Bake the macarons for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and increase the heat to 375 degrees. Bake 7 to 8 minutes longer, until lightly colored.
Allow to cool completely on rack before filling.
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate
3 Tbsp. Nutella
Heat the cream in a small pan until just before it begins to boil. Mix chocolate into hot cream until melted. Add Nutella and stir to blend. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until it begins to firm and is spreading consistency. Pipe filling onto macarons (I used a ziplock with the corner cut off for this step as well).
Let me know if you have tips or favorite macaron flavors - now that I've discovered these treats, I'm going to have to try more variations!