Making macarons (if it kills me!)
Okay, I’m done fooling around. Last week after blabbing on and on about Jud Strunk performing his hit song, “A Daisy a Day,” for a bunch of drunk cowboys out in some backwoods bar in Colorado, then barely giving you a recipe for spags ’n balls, I promised you a recipe for something sweet and pretty.
That’s right folks – beautifully colored, dainty, delicate and elegant French macarons.
When I decided to take this on I didn’t have a clue. I know a lot of people think macarons are just fancy, French macaroons. They’re not.
Both names are derived from ammaccare, the Italian word for crush. Other than that the only similarity is that they’re both sweet cookie-like confections.
We’ve all had what we refer to as macaroons – a chewy, sweet coconut cookie, called a congolais in France. Not that you care. But when I start Googling this stuff I get all bogged down with more than I need, or want, to know, and so I want to bog you down too :-)
A macaron, on the other hand, is made with almonds, or more specifically almond flour, instead of coconut. And while macaroons look yummy (and they are) macarons look dainty and colorful and beautiful, when made right (insert trepidatious emoticon).
Merriam-Webster defines trepidatious as “a nervous or fearful feeling of uncertain agitation: apprehension. Ugh. That’s how I was feeling as I prepared to make macarons for the first time.
I have talked about, or been talked to about, macarons, with pastry chef Alex Tallen. You may remember that she studied at the Ritz Escoffier in Paris. Alex is no stranger to macarons. Unfortunately for me, between having no power last week, and a busy life with her two kids out of school due to the lack of power, she wasn’t able to hold my hand and walk me through the process of making them.
Before I dove into this I knew very little about macarons, except that they’re pretty. And expensive. I went online to order some, but when I learned that the little delicacies go for, like, two bucks apiece, I decided to make my own.
Through talking to Alex, and Pam Logan, whose boyfriend, Anthony Vitti, started making them over the summer, I’ve learned that they’re meringue-based (never an easy task) and contain no white flour – just almond. Two cookies filled with buttercream, like an Oreo, only elegant.
The cookies are lightly crunchy on the outside and soft, airy and chewy inside. When they’re made right.
Cooking doesn’t scare me. I know I’ve told you at least a million times – I’m not a chef, but I’m a decent cook. The act rarely makes me nervous. But macarons make me nervous, and I’ve been putting this off for a while. I decided yesterday to jump in feet first.
I settled on lemon macarons. Through Googling and with the help of Pam Logan I got a list together and got all the necessary ingredients that weren’t in the cupboard or fridge, starting with a bag of almond meal at Trader Joe’s. It’s a lot cheaper than almond flour, and I assumed I could substitute it.
I got some parchment paper, powdered sugar, lemons, heavy cream and food coloring (that wasn’t cheap, but I figured if I was going to make pretty yellow macarons I had to spring for it).
When I told Pam I was going to use almond meal, I got a thumbs down. But then Alex told me I could use it if I threw it into a food processor with the powdered sugar called for in the recipe. So I did just that.
I got up this morning, made a pot of coffee, as it was too early for a manhattan, and began.
It was a long process. Between mulling the almond meal with the powdered sugar, then sifting it twice, grating a lemon for zest before squeezing out the juice, beating the egg whites, then beating them again with cream of tartar, sugar and flavorings, folding all that gently together, scared to death I’d over-fold, as I was warned against both online and by Pam, then scraping the batter into a Ziplock freezer bag because I was too cheap to go out and buy a pastry bag, and squirting little blobs onto the parchment paper-lined cookie pan, it was lunchtime by the time I threw them into the oven.
Then I whipped up the elegant lemon buttercream to stuff them with, while I waited (trepidatiously) 18 minutes to see what I hoped would be pretty little yellow puffs of what elegant lemon macarons are supposed to look like.
(Full disclosure: I kind of hoped they wouldn’t be too beautiful and perfect, because I have a problem eating beautiful food. I have this thing about just wanting to put it on a pretty platter and admire it and take photos of it. I DID hope they tasted good, though.)
Final tally: Looked bad, tasted good!
I got a recipe from Alex a little too late for this column, but will share it with you if you’d like. She’s really generous with her fabulous recipes.
Meanwhile, if you’re a brave soul, or just have a little time and the inclination to make your own macarons, here’s the recipe I used, thanks to Pam Logan: https://www.sweetandsavorybyshinee.com/lemon-french-macarons/
Good luck. And remember, even if they don’t look beautiful, they’ll taste it!
Email me for Alex’s recipe, or to share your own experiences with macarons, firstname.lastname@example.org
See ya next week!