Mieux vaut déceler une faiblesse que se laisser soupçonner d’un vice. (Better to reveal a weakness than be suspected of a vice.) – Denis Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître, 1765 – 1784
Macarons, that elegant cross between a confection and a pastry, that tiny, sweet specialty of France. Lovely, they are, yet fussy and temperamental to make. Precision and just the right hand are what lies between the baker and the perfect macaron. For many years, I shied away from trying my hand at macarons, fearing that they were just too complicated and any effort was sure to end in failure. Yet I do love a challenge, a baking challenge, that is. Pushed up against the proverbial wall and dared to do something and I will do it! Give me a deadline and I’m there. Courage is gathered, enthusiasm overflows and I am determined to, if not succeed at least fail while trying!
That is how I came to make my very first, Violet Macarons with Chocolate Violet Ganache. From there, I went on to make Chocolate Pistachio Macarons, Coffee Macarons, Tulip Macarons with Honey-Pistachio Mascarpone Cream, Vanilla Cardamom Macarons with Cherry Mascaropone Cream, Honeysuckle Rose Macarons with Toblerone Ganache, and more flavors than I can think of off hand. Yet my favorite? Chocolate Gingerbread Macarons.
Once again, my younger son Simon approached me and introduced the subject abruptly, as is his way, as if I have been following his train of thought all along. He asked while demanding, demanded while asking, making that lilting statement of Well, if you want to bake cupcakes or something again, my friends will eat them. Friday night I’ll be at Martin’s for dinner. He stated it casually, almost off-handedly, with that familiar, barely perceptible shrug of his lanky shoulders. It somehow came out that his friends had requested something homemade, or maybe he had made it known that I was free to offer up dessert whenever they desire. A chocolate layer cake for his friend’s birthday party, cupcakes for a dinner and muffins for their workgroup at school of an afternoon, and a new generation, a new gang of friends had come to know – and apparently crave – my baked goods.
Well, okay, no problem, I declared, heaving that motherly sigh of sacrifice while secretly thrilling that my baby boy, usually so embarrassed by my being so, well, I don’t know…American? Outrageous? A nudnik? Embarrassing? has actually offered my treats to his friends, once again, and is answering their young call of the wild for snacks from my kitchen.
But there the problem lay. What to make? Now, my son, my Simple Simon, would be quite happy if I made the same three things over and over again and into eternity. I highly doubt that he even partakes of what he brings to his friends. But where is the excitement or challenge in that for Old Mom? Or for his friends? And so I asked him to ask them what they would like. And he came back with the most astonishing of requests: macarons. Did they even know that I make these delicate, fussy little concoctions? Had he bragged? Happily I happened to have two jars of fresh egg whites floating around the back of my refrigerator and let the games begin!
I turned back to one of my favorite flavor combinations, my favorite macarons, les Macarons Pains d’Épice, the Gingerbread macarons. I adjusted the flavoring by omitting the extra ground cinnamon I usually add and doubling the cocoa for a more pronounced chocolate sensation highlighted by the gingerbread spice blend. I filled the macarons with a simple chocolate ganache. So when he dashed into the house precisely at 7, dropped his backpack on the floor and demanded I pack up the macs in foil vite vite!, grabbed the foil package and dashed back out, his thank you a breathless wisp caught in the breeze of the swinging door, hidden among his embarrassment to acknowledge my good deed… well, I had to smile. I know how hard showing appreciation is for him. It is enough that he wanted me to bake for his friends.
- 7 oz (200 g) powdered/icing/confectioner’s sugar
- 4 oz (112 oz) finely ground almonds
- 3 large eggs whites (about 3.5 oz / 100 g)
- 1.2 oz (35 g) granulated white sugar
- 1 tsp ground pain d’épice or gingerbread spices
- 2 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
- 3.8 – 4 oz (110 - 115 g) dark chocolate
- Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 – inch diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip.
- Sift the powdered/confectioner’s sugar and the ground almonds into a large mixing bowl. Blend the cocoa powder and spice together with the sifted powdered/icing sugar and ground almonds and whisk to blend.
- In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you continue to whip the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue and all of the sugar has been beaten in. The meringue will be very stiff (turn the bowl upside down over your head and they shouldn’t move) and be dense like marshmallow.
- Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds/cocoa, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again. You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.
- Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!
- Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
- Allow the macarons to sit out for about an hour or even longer if the shells are not ready to bake. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched and not stick to your finger). Bake the shells for 15 – 25 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute.) I turn the trays back to front halfway through the baking.
- Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool completely before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a metal cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up or by peeling the parchment paper from the back of the shells. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
- Prepare the Chocolate Ganache: Coarsely chop the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl. Heat the heavy cream just to the boil and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth and creamy. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, until desired piping consistency.
- When the macaron shells are cool, pair the shells up evenly, each with a matching partner. Pipe a ½ to 1 teaspoon of the ganache onto the bottom shell of each pair. Carefully sandwich the shells together.