I first discovered macarons in Paris ~2001, when sometime after 9/11, I visited the venerable Laduree near the Louvre in the 1st arrondissement, and had caramel, lemon and pistachio macarons that changed my life – and would forever have me asking, why are these not in the U.S., much less NYC?!! I took them home with a warning: they are made fresh from egg whites and last, at max, only about 3 days. But it is best to eat them within one day. This is why they are not seen on supermarket shelves.
Well after macarons finally made it over to the U.S., and after Laduree established themselves in NYC in 2011 (why did it take over a decade!!?) I decided it was time to try to learn how to make these addictive, rare, fine desserts. Why now?
First off, I was not a cook for most of my life. I did pretty well when I made the attempt, but felt it took too much energy. Then I took my first cooking class, Ayurvedic cooking with Divya Alter at the Open Center, which changed my whole thinking. I realized that while I was making food, I never made anything that tasted better than what I would buy, or make me feel so good after eating it, like with Ayurvedic cooking (makes me feel like I had meditated – another blog to come.)
Second, the pastry shops that made macarons in NYC made ones greatly inferior to Laduree, which is my standard. Too tough, hard shells; inferior ganache. Starbucks sold fresh ones in their refrigerated shelf for a few weeks in 2010, which were actually good, but pulled them bc of the short expiration (1 day). Laduree in NYC was a godsend – until I found you have to wait in a 30 minute, minimum, line for macarons. Doesn’t matter what time or day of the week, you have to wait with all the damn tourists. After doing that twice, I realized I need to learn how to make Laduree quality macarons before I got serious road rage and hurt someone due to my Laduree addiction.
For fun, I want to try to make a big protein enriched macaron for my friend Gail’s Ironman race in NYC this summer. It is not only the former triathlete in me (now recovering from long-term injuries), but also that, coincidentally, I live next to Levain Bakery in the UWS, famed for their huge cookies that were born out of a need for chocolate chip cookies during the founders’ Ironman races.
After researching macaron recipes online, and baking a couple half-baked mushy trays of them, I threw in the towel and took a class – at Mille-Feuille, a French pastry shop in the west village that opened 11 months ago and brilliantly decided to hold macaron workshops. (4 women from Delaware MD and one woman from central PA, purveyor of an organic bakery, who was troubleshooting her recipe as I was, joined us.)
I will not add to the tons of recipes already online. This is a simple list of practical tips you would not get from a recipe. Collate these with the other troubleshooting pages online, if you will.
What I learned from Olivier today on making macarons (Mille-Feuille pastry shop, 552 Laguardia Place NYC):
1. The Italian meringue method of making macarons, with the sugar melted first, then poured into the whipped egg whites, is how all the famous Macaron bakeries, including Laduree, do it. The French method results in too brittle a shell, Olivier says.
2. The fine/coarseness of the almond flour is irrelevant. Laduree’s is coarse.
3. Yes, measurement is important. But you can be off +/- 5%.
4. Technique is much more important:
First, use the Italian meringue method. Wait for sugar to heat to 118 C before pouring into beaten egg whites (start mixer with egg whites on high at 112 C, then lower to medium at 118 C, and pour.)
Second, fold the egg whites into the dough; do not mix. Mixing the dough and beaten egg white (stiff peaks!) causes bad macarons.
Third, wait before placing shells in the oven, until they are no longer tacky to touch. There will be a dry layer that will form, and will gently form a dent under your fingertip when you touch it.
Fourth, for fillings, use ganache (eg, cream + chocolate) and buttercream. These are superior fillings to jam (too sweet) or nutella (too runny). And allow the cookies to sit for a day in the fridge – allows the cookies to take on the filling’s flavor. Fruit ganaches are complex to make, Olivier says. I’m not sure why he said that as there are a ton of fruit ganache recipes out there, but I’m sure I’ll understand why one day. He emphasized the importance of using good puree (not jam), keeping the liquid after blending fruit, and adding sugar, then continuing on to make it. (We didn’t do any fruit ganaches.)
His raspberry macarons are seriously amazing. I want to figure it out.
Fifth, store macarons in the fridge – maintains moisture. If left out at room temperature, this dries out the cookies to rock hardness. (He had samples.)
I may publish a few more hints, but these are what stand out. My macarons, pistachio and chocolate with one vanilla, were the best I made – which admittedly is not saying much. The shells were light, not too dense, not too hollow. I wish they were a little bit lighter, so I will experiment with proportionally more egg white. The ganaches we made were good – I liked the pistachio ganache, though different from Laduree’s (I think theirs is a buttercream). I usually dislike chocolate macarons, even Laduree’s, but I ate these and liked them. I still think, personally, you can use nutella – I would figure out a way to thicken it perhaps with more chocolate, or butter. Suggestions?
I am still on my journey toward Laduree Ironman macarons. Some interesting nutritional facts (from http://www.macarons.org.uk/about-macarons.htm):
Macarons are nutritious since they contain sugar and fat from egg whites, almonds and sugar (I might add protein, perhaps whey or soy, though it’s fine without too). An average sized macaron gives you almost 97 calories, and that’s for the size of 5cm diameter per piece. Based on the average 1″ wide chocolate macaron (I would enlarge mine by 200%, so multiply below by 2),
18g of sugar / carbohydrates
1g of sodium
3 to 4g saturated fat
The above compares well with a typical packet of Gu (gross gel packets that triathletes eat during training and races), with 100 calories, 25g sugar, 50mg sodium, 0g fat. My 2″macaron may have twice the calories, 44% more sugar, and 400% more sodium, which could be helpful – or not. During Ironman, athletes have to take in nutrition continuously, but not get sick eating or drinking stuff. I think Ironman macarons would be interesting to try since macarons qould be easy to carry in a pocket, are nearly pure sugar for energy, are easy to chew up and very light. Would have to figure out what ganaches are easiest on the stomach.