I don't like macaroons.
Or I didn't until I had Gesine's macaroons. Gesine is the online home of the pastry shop owned by baker and founder Gesine Prado, based in Vermont. She offers three types of macaroons on her site: lemon, mocha, and maple.
About a month or so ago, I was trolling around online looking for macaroons to send to Peggy, who is a macaroon fiend. Peggy is addicted to almonds. I once watched her consume an entire tube of marzipan. She later fell in love with almond paste. From devouring whole cans of almond paste she graduated to making macaroons. The last time she made macaroons, however, her daughter, Anya, was less than a year old. That was a few years ago. Following a conversation in which we further depressed ourselves over our recent separation (she moved away to Arizona), I decided to send her some cookies.
I found Gesine's site and the cookies looked delectable; so yummy in fact, that I seriously thought about ordering some for myself. But I didn't like macaroons, so I ordered a box for Peggy, who received it four days later. The box didn't last the day; Peggy called me and raved that she had never had macaroons so good. I ordered my own box of mocha macaroons that afternoon.
Peggy was right: these are terrific macaroons. So good I refused to share them; and you must understand: I always share my food (excepting the occasion when I deprived my friend Greg by eating the entire bowl of linguine with white clam sauce and got a tummy ache later in karmic retribution). They're simply little one-bite cookies; not buttercream macaroon sandwiches. My stash lasted a week. Gesine bakes and ships on Mondays and Tuesdays; but of course, impatient person that I am, I had to find a good macaroon recipe to tide me over until the next shipment comes.
Much has been made of the elegant and exquisite French macarons by Ladurée and other French patisseries. Clement at a la cuisine wrote about macarons in his entry to IMBB #16. I didn’t know there was a difference between macaroons and macarons. Apparently the American macaroons are usually laden with coconut while the French macarons, created by Ladurée, are legendarily tasty confections with different flavored buttercreams in gorgeous pastel colors. There’s an entire macaron subculture.
Larousse Gastronomique says that macaroons originated in Venice during the Renaissance, and that the word macarons comes from the Italian “maccherone” which means fine dough. The Venetian word was “macerone” and the English term, “macaroon,” was derived from the French version, “macaron.” As with the Madeleine, there are competing stories about the cookie’s origin; some say the cake comes from a cloister in Cormery, made to resemble a monk’s belly; Montmorillon shaped their macarons like little crowns; those from Nancy were renowned, made by the nuns of Sainte Thérèse d'Avila. Like their sisters who made Madeleines, several nuns hiding out after the French Revolution made macarons in Nancy and became known as Soeurs macarons, the “macaroon sisters.” The street was later named after them and today you can still buy macarons at a shop on that street. At the turn of the nineteenth century, nuns of the Carmetlite community were persecuted to such a degree that today in Spain, their order continues to sell macaroons, but do not interact with the public; money and pastries are exchanged via a revolving door where a buyer pulls a bell-rope. The Italian version of macaroons are called Amaretti, which mean "the little bitter ones." They are flavored with bitter almonds, hence their name.
Macaroons are made with almonds (or almond paste), egg whites, sugar, and sometimes a flavoring, like chocolate. The famous Ladurée and Pierre Hermé macarons have uniquely flavored buttercreams sandwiched between two cookies. Renée tells me she saw some available on line – but for $260! Do you know what we could buy with that much money? A lot of wine! Dinner for one at the French Laundry! Books! Surely we can make some good (though not necessarily comparable) macaroons for under $20?
I’ve tried several recipes over the past few weeks; after several less than stellar efforts (many thanks to Greg for being official guinea pig / taste tester), I was pleased with today’s results (pictured above). These came out smooth and flat, perfect for sandwiching a vanilla buttercream; but I’m trying to figure out how to make nice puffed, rounded little cookies, just for those one bite moments.
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz whole blanched almonds
1 cup sugar
3 large egg whites (save the yolks to make buttercream)
3 T maple syrup
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Melt chocolate over a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.
Place almonds in a food processor with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Process to a fine powder. Add egg and sugar 1/3 at a time (add 1 egg white and 1/3 of the sugar, then repeat twice more). Pulse to combine. The mixture should start coming together as a paste.
Transfer to a bowl and add the chocolate and maple syrup, stirring until smooth.
Fill a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip and pipe 1 inch diameter mounds on the parchment paper.
Bake for 5 minutes, then prop the oven door open with a kitchen towel and bake an additional 6 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven -- they should be firm and smooth (with the small, characteristic cracks), but still soft in the center
Lift one side of the wax paper carefully and pour 1 tablespoon of water under it. Repeat with the other side and in the middle. The water will sizzle and steam on contact with the hot cookie sheet -- this will help remove the cookies from the parchment. Remove cookies from parchment and cool on a rack.
Pipe buttercream onto a macaroon and top with another cookie.
Macaroons should be stored in an airtight container for up to one week (without buttercream; with buttercream, refrigerate).
Makes about 40 cookies.
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup water
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon and slightly softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
Make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil over moderate heat without stirring, using a pastry brush dipped in water to brush any sugar crystals down the side of the saucepan.
Beat the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar with an electric mixer on medium high speed. They will begin to turn pale yellow.
Using a candy thermometer, check the simple syrup and continue boiling until it registers 238 to 242°F. Immediately remove from heat. Turn the mixer on high and slowly pour the syrup in a thin stream down the side of the bowl into the yolks. Be careful not to splash the hot syrup on the beaters. Continue beating until the yolks reach the ribbon stage -- thick, pale and heavy, dropping in ribbons when you lift the beaters.
Reduce mixer speed to medium and gradually add the butter, 1 piece at time, making sure to incorporate before adding the next piece. Continue beating until the buttercream is smooth -- the mixture will appear curdled but keep beating! I made the mistake previously of thinking that the buttercream had separated, but if you keep beating, it does come back together into a smooth mixture. This usually takes about 15 minutes. As the buttercream solidifies, add the vanilla and beat 1 more minute.
Store the buttercream in the fridge for no longer than 2 weeks. It will keep in the freezer for up to one month.