Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Swoon for Macarons: Part II

French macarons are becoming the new cupcake - a classic dessert that has suddenly been reinvented and transformed into haute couture. The only difference is that where cupcakes were transformed from classically comfortable to surprisingly fancy, French macarons have turned from classically sophisticated to much more approachable. If you're a fan of all shows Bravo (as I am), you'll appreciate this comparison: What pastry chefs have done for cupcakes is what Chris March has done for costume gala gowns, and what home bakers have done for French macarons is what Rachel Zoe has done for Chanel.

I was completely unfamiliar with French macarons until I saw Wolfgang Puck sing their praises on an episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." That inspired me to seek them out at the very place Wolfgang recommended you have them - Payard Patisserie & Bistro inside Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. I documented that mind-blowing moment here, and French macarons immediately went on my recipe wishlist.
It wasn't until I came across a French macaron cookbook at TJ Maxx this weekend (yet another indication that they're now everywhere) that I remembered they were on my to-make list. And so I was determined to do so on Sunday. (For those of you who are wondering, yes, I did make these at the same time as my deep dish pizza. I do not recommend attempting to accomplish both of these challenging recipes at once.)

Before you set out on the French-macaron-making mission that I did, there are a few very important questions you must ask yourself ... First, do you have a store nearby carrying almond flour? Second, are you willing to spend $12.49 for 16 ounces of said almond flour? So as not to compromise the recipe, I answered yes to both questions. I was lucky enough to find almond flour at Sendik's (although I was prepared to grind skinned almonds as my back up plan), and while I had a minor heart attack at the price on the shelf, I sucked it up. And I'm glad I did!

While the French macaron makeover has put these cookies within reach of the home chef, they're still challenging. I have improvements to make on my next batch, but this first attempt went surprisingly well and they were absolutely, delightfully delectable.

French Macarons with Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar (Martha recommends superfine, but regular granulated sugar is ok too)
1/2 cup Nutella spread

Pulse confectioners' sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture twice.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe  into rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. (Martha says you should drag your pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks - I had a hard time with this!) Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air (I apparently didn't tap hard enough because I had a few air bubbles). Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes (I don't know why, but I did it because Martha said so). Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees (again, I don't know why, but who am I to question Martha?).

Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon Nutella. Enjoy the crack of the sweet, meringue-like shell, followed by the chewy inner cookie, followed by the creamy, chocolate-hazelnut-y goodness :)

1 comment:

  1. A french macaron is something I've never had. I had to google it and it seems it's pretty hard to find them even in the Bay Area. I'm sure there's some fancy bakery that charges ten bucks a piece somewhere in SF, but at that rate, I think it would be a better idea for me to request you ship me a "sample" ;)

    btw, do you know anything about freezing baked good? Can you just stick stuff in tupperwear and leave it? Or do you have to wrap it? Is there some logic to this that's going over my head?