Every once in a while I read something that’s so true I want to paint it on the ceiling above my bed or (in a really hardcore version of my imagination) tattoo it on the inside of my eyelids. Usually I’ll settle for inscribing it in my little black moleskin in twelve colors of fine-point sharpie, but this particular very true thing I want to share with you.
Gesine Bullock-Prado, my hero as soon as I saw the title of her masterwork Sugarbaby, writes: “I bet there’s been a day when you’ve just been minding your own business—walking the dog, doing your taxes—and you’ve heard a gut-wrenching cry pierce the air. What you heard may well have been the plaintive wail of a ‘macaron fail.’”
I can relate. I can so relate.
Luckily, thanks to Kathryn Gordon’s “More Macarons” class at the Institute of Culinary Education (thank you Uncle Charlie, Aunt Karyn, Marissa, and Jessica for an incredible birthday present!), I’ve gotten over some of my ear-splitting self-reproach. I learned something very important from Chef Gordon; it’s not me, it’s my oven. At I.C.E., armed with mammoth sifters and other professional things like that, Frederic-the-hairstylist-from-Paris and I turned out a batch of truly spectacular Rose Petal Macarons with Raspberry-Rose Ganache (and even a pair of dicephalic macaron shells). At home, following the recipe to the tee and shushing anything above 35 decibels, I turned out a batch of spectacularly lopsided macarons. Turns out the left side of my oven doesn’t play well with the right side. Or the back.
In fact, almost everyone in Chef Gordon’s class baked beautiful macarons, macarons with evenly ruffled feet and thins shells that guarantee the most satisfying biting experience you will ever have. Almost none of the cookies had air pockets; the insides were moist and slightly chewy. One group made Lime Macarons filled with neon Lime Meringue. Another pair sandwiched their macarons with chunky, coconutty German Chocolate Cake Filling.
Meanwhile, I took notes. I learned how to make Swiss meringue in a bain-marie, and how to process almonds for four seconds at a time so the friction from the machine doesn’t release the oil from the nuts. I learned that there is no magic maximum percentage of fattier nuts like peanuts or pistachios that can be incorporated in macarons; even 100% will work, as long as the nuts are carefully processed to a dry powder. I scribbled down that American confectioner’s sugar, unlike the French version, is about 2% cornstarch, and that Whole foods sells confectioner’s sugar with tapioca starch, but it doesn’t really make a difference. “Salt added purely for flavor,” I noted in the margins of my recipe book.
We discussed egg whites in detail: why egg whites are ‘aged’ (as water evaporates, the protein in the egg is more concentrated), why egg white powder is useful (again, pure concentrated protein serves as the infrastructure for meringue), and what to do about egg whites when it’s humid (extra egg white powder!).
We reviewed piping technique and practiced forcefully slamming the baking sheets onto the counter to remove air bubbles (I learned that my version of “forceful” is something like this). We rehashed the should-we-leave-macarons-out-before-baking-to-form-a-skin-or-will-airborne-moisture-screw-them-up debate. Chef Gordon introduced a compromise: let the skin form in a dry oven on the lowest setting before baking to avoid cracking due to moisture in the air.
Either somebody slipped me a few drops of Felix Felicis, or Chef Gordon really knows her stuff. Based on her new book, Les Petits Macarons, I’d say the latter. The book is awesome, from “The Anatomy of a Macaron” to the troubleshooting guide complete with “macaron fail” mugshots. She even has a section on what to do with broken, misshapen, or otherwise unsatisfactory macarons. If you can’t have perfect macaron sandwiches, chocolate ganache beehives concealing cracked macaron shells aren’t such a bad plan B. And while I’m gushing about this book, Maple-Bacon-Bourbon macarons sound supernaturally good.
Rose Petal Macarons
Adapted from Les Petits Macarons by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride
Makes 40 sandwiched 1-inch macarons (80 shells)
- 165 grams* almond flour/almond meal
- 165 grams confectioners’ sugar
- 5 grams powdered egg white
- 150 grams granulated sugar
- 3 grams cream of tartar
- **115 grams aged egg whites (~4 eggs)
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- Pink food coloring, 4 drops gel or 6 drops liquid
- 1 tablespoon crushed rose petals
*Exact measurements are extremely important for macarons, so invest in a kitchen scale!
**See the directions for how to age egg whites
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup raspberry puree
- 1 teaspoon rose compound/oil
- 1 tablespoon framboise
Age the egg whites: whisk together 4 egg whites in a container, cover it with plastic wrap, and poke some holes in the plastic wrap. Store it in the fridge for 2-5 days, the longer the better. Bring the egg whites to room temperature before you use them.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F, or it’s lowest setting if it goes lower. Stack up two big baking sheets and line the top one with a Silpat or parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar 4 times for 4 seconds each. Between pulses, scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula. Sift the almond meal and confectioners’ sugar mixture twice and set aside.
In an electric mixer bowl, stir together the powdered egg whites, cream of tartar, and granulated sugar. Using the whisk attachment for your mixer, whisk in the egg whites at medium speed until glossy stiff peaks form. (At stiff peaks, you should be able to turn the bowl upside down over your head. If you take out the whisk attachment and hold it right side up, the meringue should not flop over).
With a spatula, fold the almond flour and sugar mixture into the meringue. You want the ingredients to be fully incorporated, but it’s very important not to over-fold the mixture. Here’s how to make sure you have the right viscosity: lift some of the batter a couple inches above the bowl with a spatula. If it falls back into the bowl in one continuous ribbon, you’re ready. If you slam the bowl onto the counter, the batter should spread, rather than hold its shape. When you’re almost done folding (about 85%) add the food coloring and rose petals.
Next, scoop the batter into a pastry bag with a ½ inch round tip (you can also use a disposable pastry bag and cut the right size tip). An easy way to fill the bag is to hold it in your left hand, fold the top down around your hand, and use a spatula to scrape the batter into the bag. That way the top edges of the bag stay clean. Press the batter down into the tip of the bag and twist the bag closed.
To pipe 1-inch macarons, hold the pastry bag at a 90 degree angle about ¼ inch above the pan. Squeeze the bag (without moving it at all) until the macaron is 1-inch in diameter. Stop squeezing and move the tip in a circle before lifting it away from the macaron. Keep it up until you’ve filled the tray with macarons an inch or two apart.
Next comes the vigorous slamming. Holding the edges of the parchment or Silpat down, lift the baking sheets about 6 inches above the counter and vigorously slam them down ten times. This gets rid of air bubbles and smoothes out the skins of the macarons (there might be some “tails” from piping that you want to get rid of). Put the macarons in the oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, raise the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 9 more minutes. When the macarons are done, the edges of the shells should be firm and you should be able to lift them off the mat or paper. The centers of the shells should have risen; if the shells are wrinkled or have a dark hollow in the middle, they need to bake for a few more minutes.
If the macarons won’t release from the parchment paper, either put them in the freezer for a few hours or carefully pour a little bit of water under the paper (only for parchment paper, not for a Silpat). Tilt the sheet so that the water spreads under all of the cookies. Life the parchment paper or Silpat off the baking sheets and let the macarons cool completely on a rack or in the freezer.
Chop up the chocolate (in a food processor or by hand). In a small saucepan, combine the corn syrup, cream, and raspberry puree. When the mixture boils, turn off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute so the chocolate melts, and then stir until smooth. Mix in the rose oil and the framboise. Let the ganache cool to a pipeable consistency, then transfer it to a piping bag (the tip size depends on how much ganache filling you want).
Match up the macaron shells by size and pipe the ganache onto one shell. Don’t pipe all the way too the edges, since the ganache will spread out when you sandwich the macarons. Put the other macaron half on top and gently press and twist the shells together.
You can keep the macarons (filled or unfilled) in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to three weeks.