Sometimes, something really great gets taken up as a fad … and that’s terrible. Yes, terrible, because, as we all know, fads follow the law of gravity – what comes up, comes down. Just as soon as something is taken up as the latest and greatest, it’s dropped as trite, old hat, and boring, which can really be a shame. Take, as a case in point, macarons, those lovely french sandwich cookies.
Last year you could not swing a bakery bag without hitting a macaron. And they definitely deserved the popularity. They are, after all, fabulous. Aesthetically they have an adorable shape and come in all the colors of the rainbow. Taste-wise, they’re open to just as many interpretations, running the gamut from chocolate, to nut, to fruit and back again. I loved this fad, but even as I was cramming them into my mouth (ever so delicately of course), I knew that this, like all good fads, could not last.
I say, let’s buck the trend in fads. Macarons deserve a fan base more loyal than adolescent girls pining after the latest boy band. They hit all they high points – pleasing to the eye and the palette, adaptable to individual preferences and (despite what you may have heard), easy for the home baker to prepare. They are also better if made ahead of time and frozen, a definite boon for anyone entertaining guests or who wants a constant stash in the freezer.
So let’s show our loyalty by preparing them often. A couple of notes before you start – there are a few attributes that macaron fans look for in their cookies. The texture of the cookie wafers should have a crunch, but also be lightly chewy inside. Each wafer should be glossy, evenly colored and have a ruffled “foot”. The filling shouldn’t be too gushy or dry. Don’t worry – none of these are a problem with a little advanced planning.
For example, most recipes I’ve read call for aging the egg whites. I’ve found this helps, so I separate the eggs a couple of days ahead of when I plan on baking and put them in a covered container in my fridge. I’ve left them in there for as long as a week and still found the results after using them to be fine. Also, don’t skimp on the grinding and sieving of the nut/powdered sugar mixture. Getting the grit out really does help improve the texture. If possible, bake and fill the macarons a day or two before serving them – you can even wrap them well and freeze them. Allowing the filled cookies to age a bit helps keep them from being too crunchy. Another tip to try to get a good texture and foot is banging the cookie sheet on the counter a few times after you pipe out the circles of batter to get rid of any large air bubbles. Try some of these out yourself and see if they help you too.
MOCHA HAZELNUT MACARONS
For The Cookie (TIP: If possible, try to weigh the ingredients for the cookie – you’ll get more consistent results. Since some of the amounts are rather small, I usually do so in grams instead of fractions of ounces. I’ve added measurements in all variations here). (TIP: You can also change the proportion of almond to hazelnut. Using all hazelnut was a bit overpowering, but this ratio or 50:50 works very nicely. Just make sure you have 50 grams or about 2 ounces altogether.)
- 2 days before baking, separate the whites from 2 large eggs. Put the egg whites in a covered container in your fridge until ready to bake.
- 1/3 cup or 33 grams or 1.3 ounces almond flour (ground almonds)
- 1/6 cup or 17 grams or .7 ounces hazelnut flour (ground hazelnuts)
- 1 cup powdered sugar (about 100 grams)
- 3 tablespoons/25 grams natural cocoa powder (about .9 grams)
- 5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated white sugar (about 2.3 grams)
For The Filling
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
- 10 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 generous teaspoon instant espresso powder
- Take four cookie sheets, and stack one on top of the other so you have two doubled-up sheets.
- Line top two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Place a rack in the middle of your oven.
Make The Batter
- Grind the nuts, powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor until it is finely ground.
- Pass the mixture through a sieve several times. Set it aside. TIP: If the mixture was too coarse, try grinding it a bit more and then passing it through the sieve again.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until they get foamy and then start to fluff up. While the mixer is running, gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg whites. Beat until the whites are stiff and firm. (How can you tell if they’re done? If you take the beater out of the whites, and hold it upside down, the whites should hold their shape.)
- Using a rubber spatula, fold the nut mixture into the whites. Gently fold it in and then, when it’s incorporated, spread the batter against one side of the bowl and fold it over on itself. Do this several times until the batter is smooth and a bit runny. (See picture below)
- Put the batter in a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. If you don’t have one, make an impromptu bag by snipping off the corner of a resealable plastic bag.
Form The Wafers
- Pipe the mixture onto the parchment paper in circles that are about 1 inch.
- Slap the cookie sheet (with the parchment paper and batter on it) against a table or counter top several times to get the air bubbles out.
- Let the wafers sit for about half an hour until the tops are dry to the touch.
Baking The Wafers
- While the wafers are drying, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).
- When the wafers are dry, bake them for about 15 minutes. If the tops seem to be browning too quickly, lay a sheet of tin foil on top of them.
- If your oven cannot accommodate baking both sheets in the middle of the oven at one time, bake off the second sheet when the first is done.
- Slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets, and let the cookies cool on the paper.
Make The Filling
- Heat the cream in a small to medium sized microwave safe bowl.
- Add the espresso powder and stir until it combines with the cream.
- While the cream is still hot, add the white chocolate and stir until it melts into the cream. If necessary, put the bowl back into the microwave for 10 seconds to finish melting the chocolate and stir until it is combined with the cream.
- Let the mixture cool until it has thickened, then whisk it a bit to lighten it up.
Assemble The Macaron
- Place the toasted hazelnuts on a small plate.
- Use an offset spatula to spread a dollop of filling on the flat side of one wafer. You want between 1 and 2 teaspoons, enough that some peeks out between the two wafers, but not so much that it gets messy.
- Top the filling with another wafer, making a cookie sandwich.
- After filling each cookie, roll the sides of it in the toasted hazelnuts, so they adhere to the filling between the two wafers.
Serving: The cookies are best after they’ve “aged” a bit. Either put them in an airtight bag or wrap them in plastic wrap for a day or so before serving them. Alternatively, you can wrap them well in plastic wrap and freeze them in resealable freezer bags. If you freeze them, leave the plastic wrap on them when they defrost so that condensation collects on the outside of the wrap instead of on the surface of the cookie.