Hand Painted French Macarons

It seems like macarons are all the rage right now (ok, I know… they’ve been “in” for several years now and are probably actually on their way out, but I’m just catching on so give me my moment with them, k?).  For those who haven’t caught the bug, these sweet little bites are the perfect afternoon treat.  With almond flour as their base and only 4 ingredients necessary, the fun of these French sandwich cookies really lies with the endless possibilities of fillings and flavorings.

Ever wonder why these two-bite delights are so expensive (I’m talking $2 or $3 a cookie!)? Simply put, macaron baking is not for the culinarily faint of heart.  Prior to trying myself, I heard tale after tale of failed macaron attempts, and frankly found them hard to believe.  Is it true that your macarons will crack if the air is too humid, that the eggs won’t perform if your mixing bowl was less than sparkling clean, or that the “feet” of the cookie will spread too far if you fold the batter with a single stroke too many?  That I cannot say for sure.  What I can tell you, though, is that I’ve attempted 7 batches of macarons and succeeded in 3.

The full recipe is below, but lets get some helpful tips and tricks out of the way first.

First, you’ll probably notice that most macaron recipes call for you to run your almond flour and powdered sugar mixture through a food processor, sifter, or both.  DO this!  If you have clumps in your dry ingredients there’s a fair chance they will weigh down your cookie and cause it to rise unevenly (or not at all).

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Next, you’ll also find that macaron recipes invite you to “age” your egg whites as well as bring them to room temperature prior to creating your meringue.  I have never done this.  Perhaps this accounts for my failed attempts.  Perhaps not.  I’ll probably never know… and I’ll probably continue to take my eggs straight from the fridge to the mixing bowl.  I like to live on the edge.

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When piping your cookies, I prefer to use a silpat mat like you see here.  You can also try parchment paper if you prefer.  Either one should set you up for success when removing your cookies (once fully cooled!) by lifting them gently from the edge.

Once the cookies are in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.  If all goes as planned you’ll soon be moving on to the fun part: decorating your cookies.

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After fully cooled, I like to match each cookie with it’s perfect pair based on size.  If you’ve got any less-than-perfect pieces, just be sure to pair them up with your nice smooth cookies and use them on the bottom of your cookie sandwiches.

When it comes to painting macarons, the only limit to what you can do is your own creativity.  Using gel based food colors (like Wilton icing colors or Americolor gel food colors) as your paint and a few drops of vodka as your solvent, paint the cookies just as you would paint on paper with watercolors or acrylics.  Seriously… so. much. fun!

After your tiny masterpieces are complete you can do one of two things.  1. Move on to filling (and eating) your macarons, or 2. Put them in an airtight container and throw them in the freezer.  They love it in there.  (As long as your husband doesn’t wander over and sneak one or two or six when you’re not around.  But I digress).  Then fill them a day or so prior to serving.

Macarons can be filled with just about anything, but three traditional options are flavored buttercreams, fruit fillings, or chocolate ganache.  I’ll be writing an “All About Fillings” post soon so stay tuned for that!  The treats featured in this post are filled with a fresh raspberry and citrus fruit compote in the center and an amaretto flavored American buttercream around the outside.  I’m not gonna lie… they are totally delicious.

I hope you’ll throw caution to the wind and go ahead and give macarons a try.  And when you do, I hope you’ll send me an update and let me know how it went.

BASIC FRENCH MACARONS:

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup finely ground almond flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large egg whites (at room temperature if you have time, but don’t worry if not!)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • [Optional] Gel or Paste Food Coloring

Method

  • Combine almond flour and confectioner sugar in a food processor and process for about 2 minutes.  Follow this by sifting the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean, medium sized bowl
  • Place Egg Whites into your stand mixer’s work bowl with a clean whisk attachment (be sure there is no left over oils from a prior project which could sabotage your quest for the perfect macaron).  Whisk on low/medium for about 2 minutes until the eggs are frothy.
  • Turn up the mixer up to medium, slowly adding in your granulated sugar, and whisk until soft peaks have formed.  Once there, turn things up again, increasing your power to high for about 3 additional minutes.  Once you’ve got stiff peaks and a glossy meringue, you’re good to go.
  • [Optional] Add your food coloring at this stage, and whisk just long enough to incorporate your color.
  • Remove you’re work bowl from your mixer and add in about half of your almond flour/sugar mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, fold the mixture approximately 10 times.
  • Add the remaining dry ingredients and continue folding with approximately 40 additional strokes (this could be more, or could be less, depending on your own personal folding technique).  The key is to STOP FOLDING when the mixture “melts” back into itself in less than a minute when you drop a ribbon of batter off of your spatula into the bowl.  If your ribbon disappears much faster than 30 seconds your batter may be over mixed.  If, on the contrary, you’ve waited more than a minute and you can still see precisely where you dropped your batter, you may need to fold a few additional strokes.
  • Transfer your batter to a large piping bag and cut a small opening at the tip (no need for a metal piping tip!).
  • Pipe your cookies onto a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  For best results, hold the piping bag perpendicular to your baking sheet and squeeze the cookies out from the center.  Counting seconds is a great way to keep your cookie size consistent.  Squeeze “one, two, three, release…” and so on.
  • After piping allow your Macarons to dry on the counter for about 15 minutes prior to baking.  Now’s a great time to preheat your oven to 345 degrees.
  • Bake your macarons for 11-12 minutes.
  • After removing from the oven, let your cookies cool completely on a wire rack prior to removing from your mat or paper.

Macarons can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a few weeks, prior to filling.

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