A little sparkle of sugar, a large dollop of sophistication; add a swirl of color & a few sprinkles of fun… and you get macarons!
This is, of course, not the true recipe for French macarons, but each element certainly appears to be involved. I recently had the honor of accompanying artisan baker Esther (“Eg”) Weaver amidst her work creating these fabulous little bon-bons. The flavors she dreamed up that day were: Blueberry-Lemon, Nutella-Espresso (garnished with a dark espresso bean), and Peach-Champagne involving Sweet Peach Company peaches!
Eg is a southern belle who creates masterpieces in the kitchen as well as in her own multimedia art studio. I recently got to witness her skill and ask a thousand questions about what it takes to present these delightful cookies.
I admit that it initially took some practice, but I quickly learned to avoid the most common faux pas Eg encounters in the macaron business, and that is correct pronunciation. Although “macaron” may sound a lot like “macaroon” in the actual French language (much like “ballon” is French for balloon, and still sounds like the English word), there is a significant difference between macarons and macaroons: a French macaron is a meringue-based cookie, while a macaroon is a toasted coconut truffle dipped in chocolate (and both are absolutely delightful). To avoid any confusion, and because we’re speaking English, Americans use the pronunciation “mac-a-RAHNS.”
So what goes into making these fancy French treats? The main ingredients are almond flour (naturally gluten-free!), sugar, powdered sugar, and egg whites. Center fillings are usually any variety of buttercream …but jams, nut butters, or anything else that can hold the cookie together are kosher in macaron protocol! Eg’s Blueberry-Lemon treasures would later sandwich a zesty lemon-curd filling.
Turns out it’s really as much the process as the ingredients which ensures these pretty things turn out well. Like high maintenance little divas, macarons are not only pricey because of the high quality of ingredients, but because of the time and precision required to make them.
“The most important part of the process is the MACARONAGE,” Eg explained. Macaronage is a fitting term for combining the wet & dry ingredients – a finicky and delicate skill. Because macarons are meringue-based, the baker must carefully fold in the dry ingredients without over-mixing the batter. If you dare try this at home, Eg’s got a few tips. 1. Sometimes it just takes practice. But take heart! Eg says she first made multiple batches before she ever encountered a flop. Stay conscious that you’re merely folding, never “mixing.” 2. It’s important to create very stiff peaks when whipping your egg whites. 3. Be sure to sift all your flour and powdered sugar to avoid lumps and reduce the number of folds needed to combine all ingredients. And finally, 4. Use proper food coloring… one that will not thin your batter too much, but can still produce impressive hues!
HOWEVER. If the batter is not mixed well enough, then too much air remains, which can cause cracks in the cookies once they bake. No wonder it’s quite acceptable that her macarons sell for two dollars a pop!
Once your batter is perfect and you’re clear of the danger zone, the next most important step is to construct a flawless macaron shell. I watched as Eg spooned her gorgeous batter into an icing tube and piped out 1-1.5 inch perfect circles onto parchment paper, allowing them to evenly spread into slightly wider circles. Finally, you let the unbaked cookie shells rest for however long they require to develop a pretty sticky outer-skin. This will cause air to escape only from the bottom edge of the shells while baking, creating even “feet” below, instead of unsightly cracks on top. The time it takes them to rest largely depends on variables such as the humidity and air-flow of the room.
Once they get their beauty rest, they are ready for the oven. Then they are cooled completely, filled, and boxed in little packages just their size. They sure disappear quickly, and never seem to have any trouble selling at vendor events or posh celebrations!
Though they weren’t Eg’s delights, I remember my maid of honor bringing French macarons & mimosas to the nail spa for myself & the bridesmaids the day before my wedding. In my opinion, there isn’t a cuter or more chic way to celebrate the best things in life.
I walked away from Macaron Day with a new respect for macarons & their skilled bakers… challenged but inspired to create my own batch one day! When I do, I will certainly be posting.
Please leave your thoughts! Does this article inspire you to bake something as challenging, or would you rather skip the trouble and order a package from Eg herself? xoxo