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Dirty, dirty little food nerd.

**This post originally appeared on YinMomYangMom.com**

I think it’s time we take a little detour from our french fry journey (installments 1, 2, & 3).  It’s a fun trip and all, but I’m jonesing for a sugar fix!

I’ve been hearing a lot about french macarons for a while now.  It seems food nerds are searching for the next big thing in the pastry world, what will create as big of a buzz as cupcakes have for the past five years or so.  A lot of ideas have been floated, french macarons being one top contender.

Truth be told, I’ve never had the priveledge of trying a real macaron from a french patisserie, (yes, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a macaron virgin) so I had to do a bit of research to find out what they should be all about.  I’ll break it down for ‘ya: it’s a light, meringuey cookie made with ground almonds, sandwiched around a filling, oreo-style.  Evidently, the “feet” are the end-all-be-all (more on that later), and they come in all sorts of flavors and colors, so the possibilities/flavor combinations are limitless!

They can be a little tricky to make, (as is to be expected with any kind of french pastry), so I wanted to be sure to follow the formula as carefully as possible.  As much as my goal is to only present you with original recipes, this one was just over my head.  So, to give credit where credit’s due, I’ve relied heavily on the instruction of Boulangier a la Maison, who has taken her passion for macarons to a high art form.  I also read and re-read posts from AmberLee of Giverslog, Paula of Bellalimento, and Helen of Tartelette.  Props to my pastry sistas!  Thanks for sharing your detailed instructions and tireless research!  Hope I can do ‘ya proud here…

Now for the macaron de-flowering!

Number one ingredient seems to be almond flour.  I was lucky enough to find almond flour easily, in my neighborhood grocery store, with the bulk foods/organic/gluten free stuff.

If you don’t have the same stroke of luck, it’s easy enough to make your own almond flour.  Just buy blanched, slivered almonds, and put them in a blender or food processor.  Pulse it until you get something resembling like a cornmeal texture.  Don’t work it too much or you’ll end up with almond butter.  Sift it to get any big pieces out and then you can re-blender those (if there’s really a lot) so you have a uniformly textured almond flour.  Ta-dah!

The next main ingredient is egg whites.  The recipe begins with a meringue, and room temp, not-so-fresh egg whites always yield a better meringue, so it’s best to leave your egg whites out overnight or for 12-24 hours.  I put mine in a bowl on the windowsill the night before and covered them loosely with a kitchen towel.

Next step is to blend your almond flour with powdered/confectioner’s sugar.  Do this in the food processor/blender and then sift it to remove any big chunks.

ingredients, waiting to become macarons

Now for the big moment!  I promise to be gentle… Put your not-so-fresh room-temperature egg whites in the mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar.

Whip it up till foamy.  Gradually add in the superfine sugar and whip until shiny and stiff-peaky.

Take the bowl of meringue off the mixer.  It’s now time to fold!  Add in the almond flour/powdered sugar mixure…

…and fold together.  The goal is to have a shiny mixture that is a little gloopy.  If you blend it too much the macaron shell will be spread out flat and funky feet-ed.  If you underblend, they will have little peaks.

If you are a nervous Nellie like me, here is what to do: intentionally underblend, then test on a plate to see if it has a peak.  Peak= fold a few strokes more.  Repeat until perfect consistency is achieved.

Ok so after you have everything folded perfectly, you spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.  (I used Wilton #10.)

gloopy

Then pipe it in one-inch rounds onto a silpat-lined, heavy-steel baking sheet.

Let it sit out on your counter for 20 minutes to an hour, so that it develops a “skin.”  The goal here is for the macaron shell to have a smooth, round, turtle-shell cap under which it puffs in the oven, to create a craggy-looking perimeter.  That craggy bottom perimeter is what is referred to as “feet.”  Let them dry out until it is possible to lightly touch them with your finger without them sticking.

While they are drying, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Just before putting the macarons in the oven, lower the temp to 325.  Bake them for 12-18 minutes, depending how big they are, or until they are crisp.

I got feet, holla!

Let them cool a few minutes on the baking sheet and then peel them off carefully and finish cooling on a wire rack.  Fill with whatever your heart desires!

Since this was my first foray into the macaron world, I chose to keep my fillings simple.  (I was nervous enough about just getting the cookie part right!)  I used an assortment of storebought fillings: seedless raspberry preserve, lemon curd, and nutella.

Overall impressions?  This is a fun afternoon project with great potential for showing off your creativity.  It’s also just the kind of labor of love that makes a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your sweetie, especially with some crafty and clever packaging.  The flavor of the pastry is sticky sweet, but light textured and nutty.  Crisp on the outside; almost marshmallowy on the inside.  I prefer them in a smaller size, about like a quarter, so you can pop them in one melt-in-your-mouth bite.  I think an Italian or Swiss buttercream filling would take the toothaching sweetness down a notch and really make them an extra-special delicious treat.

Which leads me to my next idea: now that I’ve popped my macaron cherry, I will be doing some filling experimentation.  I may also play around with the shells, trying some different colors and maybe flavors, so check back in to see some more creative ideas…

Ps- If you are wanting to take a crack at these yourself, and are wondering why I haven’t included quantities, here’s the reason: my nervousness over attempting this complicated french pastry brought out the anally retentive in me.  I bought a food scale and relied on a ratio, rather than a recipe:

First weigh the egg whites, and write the number down.
Multiply that number by 1.1.  This tells you how much almond flour to use.
Multiply egg white weight by 1.65.  This is how much confectioners’ sugar to use.
Multiply egg white weight by .6.  This is how much superfine sugar to use.

Pss- Leave me a comment if you try this out.  Was it good for you?

Click here to read the Intro to this Series (2012 Food Trends for the Home Cook)
Click here to read Part 2 of the Sub-Series (Chai-Spiced Buttercream Filled Macarons)
Click here to read Part 3 of the Sub-Series (Red Velvet Macarons for Valentine’s Day)Click here to read Part 4 of the Sub-Series (Green Tea Macarons with Orange White Chocolate Buttercream)