french macarons

When I was 17 my parents took me and my younger brother to France. Right off the airplane from London, we hopped on the train into Paris. I remember grinning when I heard the accordion music echoing back and forth against the tile of the train tunnel. It was "so French"! We stayed on the Champs-Élysées and walked directly to the pâtisserie downstairs for our breakfast each morning of either a baguette, cheese and chocolat chaud or maybe a croissant. Everything was so fantastic and I was enthralled with French food. One of my most memorable meals of my life was at a cafe outside the Musée d'Orsay - nothing terribly special or extraordinary - Le Poulet et les Frites and some more of that delicious hot chocolate (it was April). It was just one of those incredible moments. I remember my first Croque Monsieur and wondering how ham and cheese tasted so divine!!! I remember eating crepes in Mont Saint Michel on a gray, rainy day as we sat on a stone bench covered by wooden trellises. My imagination went wild there.

Do I need to go on?

I'm obsessed with French food. Strangely, I never had French Macarons (not to be confused with macaroons) while I was in France. Not even one. So here I am, 6 years later, and I've just eaten my first one . . . in the United States . . . made by me . . . an American. C'est la vie!

(image from Ladurée)

French Macarons

1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cup (4 ounces) sliced almonds, finely ground, or almond flour
All-purpose flour, for dipping
3 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 recipe Swiss Meringue Buttercream or Chocolate Raspberry Ganache (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Sift confectioner's sugar into a bowl. Whisk in ground almonds/almond flour; set aside. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpat mats or parchment paper and mark circles using 1 1/2 inch round cutter dipped in flour.

Put egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until foamy, then beat in salt. Beat in granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time, until medium soft peaks form. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.

Using a rubber spatula, fold half the almond mixture into the egg mixture until just incorporated. Fold in vanilla and remaining almond mixture until just incorporated. Firmly tap the bottom of bowl on counter to eliminate air pockets.

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip (such as Ateco #806). Pipe mixture into marked circles on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until macarons are slightly firm and can be gently lifted off parchment (bottoms will be dry), 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer macarons on parchment to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Spread 2 teaspoons of buttercream on flat sides of half the macarons, then sandwich with remaining halves, keeping flat sides together. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes, before serving.

IMPORTANT: Pink and Chocolate Variation:
Add pink or red food coloring to the macarons before stirring in the almond mixture until the desired shade is reached. Once macarons are cooled, spread with Chocolate Raspberry Ganache (recipe follows).

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened, cut into Tablespoons
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put egg whites and sugar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer; set over a pan of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 160 degrees).

Attach bowl to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg white mixture on high speed until it forms stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium low speed, add butter several Tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. If frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low; beat 2 minutes more to eliminate air bubbles. Stir with a rubber spatula until smooth.

Chocolate Raspberry Ganache

3 ounces fine quality bittersweet chocolate (60-64% cacao), finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1/16 teaspoon raspberry extract (preferable McCormick's)

Melt chocolate with cream in a metal bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth (bowl should not touch water). Remove bowl from heat, add butter and raspberry extract, stirring until butter is melted. Let stand at room temperature until cooled completely and slightly thickened.

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