Guess what? ALL Y’ALL HAVE BEEN HUSTLED.
Remember that time I said I wasn’t great at baking because “details” weren’t really my thing? Oh, that’s funny, because I just successfully made macarons on my first try. The infamously fickle and persnickety macaron. I try not to brag, but I can’t help it, I’m impressed with myself. There is some serious dirt on my shoulder and I am brushing it off with gusto. More like HAACKarons, am I right? That pun will never get old.
To be fair, Macapalooza was a joint effort between me and my dear friend, Caitlin, who has lived katty corner from me since we were six years old, and has been a great partner-in-goofball-crime for the past 18 years. Early this May, we started an unofficial summer bucket list, the large majority of which was food related: dinner at Stella’s, drinks at Blue Bee, Goatacado bowls at the Forest Hill Farmer’s Market, brunch at Daily, etc. Oh, we’ve gone paddle boarding and kayaking too, so a day’s worth of physical activity balances all of that out, right? Our first priority, though, was making macarons, a feat we spoke of as if we were planning to climb Mount Everest, the main difference being if you screw up your macarons you just have some wonky kind-of-meringues that you could probably crumble over ice cream and call it a day, while if you don’t successfully navigate Mount Everest, you die. This is why I limit my climbing experiences to “watching someone else climb while I drink a beer or two or four hey where’d that six pack go.”
Anyways, before I regale the whale of a macaron tale, let’s start with the basics:
Macarons are almond flour-based meringue cookies with a filling, while macaroons are desiccated coconut cookies. I don’t specify to be a snark mistress, I used these interchangeably/incorrectly for a very long time and I’d prefer you learn the difference between the two from me instead of learning the hard way from some jerk at a party who berates you for god forbid not having adequate cookie knowledge. You’ll know to avoid these people because they’re also probably trying to discuss politics with you at a party and you’re like “I’d love to respond but my mouth is kind of full of cheese cubes right now.”
Caitlin and I were stoked to make macarons primarily because they are delicious and the pastry gods’ gift to the world, but also because they are notoriously tricky to make, and we’ve never shied away from a challenge. Also, believe it or not, Bozeman, Montana, a city (okay FINE it’s a town) of 35,000, didn’t have a great macaron selection, and I had a hankering. Macarons don’t take a tremendous amount of technique, per se, (I’d make a thousand macarons before I’d even begin to think about maybe one day making a mille crêpe cake), but they are incredibly dependent on temperature, humidity, etc. For example, allowing the “foot” of the macaron- the shell of each half- set can take between 10 minutes and two hours, depending on your kitchen’s humidity. You can also only bake one tray at a time so the oven’s temperature isn’t thrown off. Macarons are also little sons of guns because you can’t even crack the oven door open a little bit to poke them and check on them and ooh and ahh over how delicious they look, which everyone knows is the best part of baking, obviously. I am the one who knocks on the oven door:
Walter White reminds me that ingredients are measured out by weight (metric system, am I right?) instead of volume, so you’re going to need a scale on hand. Patience, also, it seems, is the key to successful macarons. You have to wait for the meringue to form, wait for the foot to set, wait for the cookies to cool before piping them, etc. I don’t want to wait! For our lives to be oooover!
We went with a traditional almond cookie with blackberry buttercream filling. While the macarons require great precision, feel free to go crazy with the filling. Want to just use jam? Ganache? GUAC? Go for it, the world is your little macaron oyster. That said, our buttercream recipe is a pretty standard one, but you can add more or less butter, sugar, jam, etc. depending on how sweet you like your buttercreams. We accidentally used salted butter for the buttercream, which gave it a buttered toast with jam quality that actually wasn’t the worst? We got lucky that we had chosen a flavor, blackberry, that could stand up to the toast flavor, but that could’ve been disastrous with a lime or lavender macaron as well as a massive first world problem, which actually sums up macarons in general.
Speaking of first world problems, if you make macarons and no one is there to style them, did it really happen?
Macarons (from Oh So Very Pretty)
Makes 18 macarons
3 egg whites, room temperature
45 g castor sugar
175 g icing sugar
90 g almond flour
Powdered or liquid food coloring (we used gel)
Preheat oven to 320º F. Sift together icing sugar and almond flour. In a separate bowl, use a hand or stand mixer (your arms will thank you) to whisk the egg whites. Whisk on high until the egg whites appear frothy and are no longer yellow, and then slowly add the castor sugar (if you only have granulated sugar, that’s cool, unless you’re trying to sell your macarons at La Durée in which case what are you doing reading this blog?). Continue whisking until glossy, stiff peaks form, and the mixture sticks to the bowl when turned upside down.
Now, it’s time to add the color! Feel free to go crazy, that’s half the fun of macarons. There are very few other baked goods that are acceptable to color hot pink, might as well go for it. I may or may not have squealed and clapped and jumped up and down a little bit during the process, ain’t no shame in it.
Next, combine the dry mixture and the egg whites, stirring until incorporated and then some. Every baking cell in your body is going to rebel against overworking the egg whites, but you must do exactly that. Stay strong! Keep stirring the mixture until it runs off your spoon smoothly without breaking, but before it gets too soupy. I told you, macarons are fickle beasts.
On parchment paper-lined baking trays, pipe small circles of the mixture. We traced a spice canister on the paper for reference. If the circles are too small, the cookies will be too puffy, but if they’re too large, they’ll flatten out and get too crispy. Goldilocks mentality is key here.
Aaaaand, the waiting game. The crunchy exterior of the macaron is referred to as the “foot,” which sets before the cookies go in the oven. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. Ours…footed?…in about 30 minutes in a highly air conditioned house in the middle of a swamp (yay, Richmond), if that gives you any idea of what’s in store for you. The cookies should feel slightly tacky when they’re ready, and should be matte by the time they’re ready to go into the oven. To pass the time, we painted our toenails to match the macarons while wondering out loud why we were never popular in middle school.
When the feet are all set up and looking good, toss those bad boys in the oven for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 285º F and bake for another 7-8 minutes. Again, you cannot and must not open the oven door, so you’re just kind of going to have to hope for the best when you take them out.
Allow to cool on the sheets, and then move on to the filling…
Makes enough buttercream for 18 macarons and then some
1/2 cup butter, softened (unsalted, but we accidentally used salted and you know what? we still ate them, it was all good)
1/2 cup icing sugar
Blackberry jam, to taste (about 3 tbsp)
In a large bowl, beat butter and icing sugar until smooth. Add food coloring and blackberry jam, mixing to incorporate. Adjust flavors to taste.
Pipe onto cookie half in a circle, leaving a bit of space along the edge. Delicately, DELICATELY, place another cookie on top if it, twisting and pressing gently, GENTLY, to even out the filling. Since Caitlin is a boss and has taken legit pastry classes, she was in charge of piping the buttercream, and then I would gingerly hold the cookie halves by the sides and squeeze them ever-so-softly to avoid putting pressure on the tops.
Style your macarons like you are in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens or You Did Not Eat That, and then actually eat that. Also, be vigilant when picking these up: Mom grabbed one out of the container and it crumbled like a Saltine cracker and you KNOW I was displeased about it. Save yourself the trouble of being on the receiving end of Displeased Face and treat the macarons with respect.