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November 13, 2011

Holy merde I made French macarons

Sew a dress. Frame two friends' paintings of The Dude and me. Create a photo book of my life in France. Re-finish my dining room table.  Repair my sunglasses. This is a partial list of my Short-Term Life Goals.

Yesterday I got to cross one off the list: Make French macarons from scratch.

Reader, this is big. If you see me in person anytime in the next seven months please give me a high five. I will be still be riding the high of successful macaron making.

I used the recipe from the book Macarons: Chic and Delicious French Treats by Annie Rigg, gifted to me by one Anna Dubs for my nups. It is supposed to yield 40 shells (for 20 filled macarons). It calls for:
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup egg whites (about three eggs)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons caster/superfine sugar
My local Lunds didn't carry ground almonds, so I got a bag of natural, unsalted almonds from the bulk section and ground them down with a food processor. I think you'll get better results using store-bought ground almonds, as my little-food-processor-that-could was only able to get a semi-fine grind on. Also, if you have to grind your own nuts try to find some of the blanched variety-- my batter ended up with little brown flecks from the almond skin.

Once you've got your almonds all nice and grindy, add the confectioners' sugar to the food processor and blend for 30 seconds, until thoroughly combined.

Next up is the egg whites. Make sure your eggs are room temperature. Some websites I've read recommend using older eggs, as they're less liquidy. I, however, read those post-baking and thus used fresh ones from the store and they turned out fine. So follow your heart on that one. The most important thing is to be extra, super, freakishly careful not to let any of the yolk mar your separated whites, for then they will fail to fluff up properly and you may as well just stop pretending that you can make macarons.

Tip your unadulterated egg whites into a very clean and dry mixing bowl. Again, if there is a trace of grease or other fatty ick in your bowl you're going to have issues. BE VIGILANT! This was an opportunity for me to bust out my Precious, but you can use a regular mixing bowl with hand mixers and it should work juuuuuuust fahn.

Add the salt, and using a standing mixer or a hand beater, beat until they can only just hold a stiff peak (I know what you're thinking, and no she did not say that).

Continue to whisk at a medium speed while adding the caster/superfine sugar a teaspoonful at a time, mixing well between each addition to ensure the sugar is thoroughly incorporated. When all the sugar has been added it will look white and glossy, like a proper meringue.

This is the point where you would add any flavoring or food coloring you want in the shells. I decided to make lemon macs, so I squeezed in 20 drops of yellow food coloring and the grated zest of one lemon. I kept losing my grip on the lemon as I grated it over the bowl and it plopped into my meringue more times than I care to admit. Don't do that. Grate your lemon over a separate bowl, like a civilized cookstress. Mix thoroughly to make sure the color is even.

Next, fold the ground sugar and almond mixture into the meringue until it is thoroughly incorporated and smooth. The book says to use a metal spoon and I obeyed. When it's ready, it should drop from the spoon in, "a smooth molten mass."

Now, according to our Macy's registry, someone has purchased us the Martha Stewart Collection Pastry Decorating Set we registered for, but I have seen neither its hide nor its hair. Mystery guest, I can haz now please so I don't have to use plastic baggies as piping bags? Thanky muchly.

That said, if you must use a baggie, don't do what I did in the above picture (hold the baggie open with one hand as I spooned the mixture in with the other). In my second round of baggie-filling I wised up and stabilized the baggie in a cup with the top folded over, and then just poured the mixture in. I then sealed the baggie shut, which had I done the first time it would have 'sploded all over my phalanges. Much mo' easier.

Pipe the batter in evenly sized rounds-- about 2 inches across-- onto a lined baking sheet. Without a nozzle on my little baggie I ended up with some interesting circle approximations on my Silpat. And then this happened:

So, the book says to line the baking sheet with parchment paper, and the accompanying photo shows said paper of the brown variety. Which must mean you could just as easily use a brown paper bag, right? WRONG. I only have one Silpat, so I thought I was getting creative. I was just getting very stupid. Don't do this.

Give the bottom of your baking sheet a sharp thwack on the work surface to eradicate any air bubbles that may have formed. Let them rest from 15 minutes up to an hour to set and form a dry shell. They should not be sticky, tacky or wet when you test them with your fingertip. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 F.

Bake them in the middle of a preheated oven, one sheet at a time, for 10 minutes, until the tops are crisp and the bottoms dry. My Silpat beauties looked the way they were supposed to, with smooth, shiny tops and little frills around the edges.

My paper bag reject ones, however, were a total disaster. Cracked, flat, sticky disaster. Oy. Straight to the gaping maw of Mr. Garbage.

While I let the cookies cool, I whipped up some lemon curd with the leftover yolks, because that's just how I roll. Here's the recipe:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup caster/superfine sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of one unwaxed lemon
Place all of the ingredients into a medium-sized heatproof bowl (or the top half of a double boiler) set over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the curd has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon. This will take about 15 minutes (or double that, if you're me). Transfer to a bowl and cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap so it doesn't form a skin. Refrigerate until needed.

When my shells were cooled I spread them with lemon curd and then sandwiched them together. Note how some of my shells have gaping holes in the inside from where the insides stuck to the baking sheet as I tried to pull them off. Apparently that's a sign of over-mixing. 

Et voilà. Beautiful and delicious lemon macs to impress your friends, scorn your enemies and in general make the world a better place. Applause is welcome and appreciated.


  1. Applause and admiration! You did a great job! I'm assuming your curd turned out well--it's not hard, it just takes patience. The real trick is the spoon-coating test. Did you make the raspberry beauties?

  2. And...I appreciate the glancing shot of Grandma's plates on the wall.

  3. Folks, as someone that was blessed with the chance to gobble these up, let me just say: I was uhmazed. They were pretty AND tasty. Bravo, Neen!

  4. From your photos they look perfectly chewy inside with a slightly crispy outer shell.
    The egg white aging may be a very important step if the weather is quite humid. The 24-48h aging helps to get rid of excess humidity.

  5. I am so completely and utterly impressed. I haven't had enough guts to try these. My oven's so lousy it probably wouldn't be worth the pain. Felicitations Neenah!

  6. OMG - a virtual high five across the internet! I'm so impressed! Was it worth it; how long did it take; and will you do it again?

  7. Merci tout le monde!


    1. So worth it.
    2. Start to finish, about four hours. But that included almond grinding and the time I let the macs set pre-oven and cool post-oven, and I'm extremely slow at all cooking endeavors.
    3. Already have! Yesterday I made raspberry macs and filled them with leftover lemon curd, Nutella and raspberry jam. Might go for Round Three tomorrow. Pistachio? Chocolate? SALTED CARAMEL?? The world is my oyster.

  8. OMD, those look gorgeous! :D

    Here's a serious question: are there any recipes that don't call for almond powder? In all my time in France, I was tempted to try macarons but, alas, my allergies always decided for me on the matter. --.--

  9. @Barb: I'm no food scientist, but I think it's the almonds that make the macs chewy rather than crispy (like a regular meringue). You could always just make mini meringue rounds and fill them according to your whim! My dad is also allergic to nuts so he had to go dessert-less at my nups. I feel ya.

  10. good job! i've made macarons from scratch twice- with the help of a local bakery. i am still scared to try them by myself, ha.