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Posted on Tue. May. 27, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

DROP DEAD CULINARY

Macaron mastery just a few steps away

They’re the hardest cookie in the world to make, but following this recipe will help.

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As graduation and wedding season approaches, I am getting a lot of orders for macarons, the devil cookie. Don't be fooled by this tiny, innocent-looking confection. It is the very, very hardest cookie in the world to make. First, here is the correct way to say the name of this cookie. The tiny Parisian cookie that looks like a pastel hamburger with a soft filling between the two layers is pronounced mac-a-ron. As in the short name for Ronald: Ron. It is made of only a few ingredients, but if you don't mix them right, they will not rise or make their little “feet” or be lumpy or any number of things. The other cookie is a macaroon and is a coconut cookie, certainly yummy, but totally different from what we are discussing today. It is pronounced mac-a- roon. As in “I swoon for a macaroon.” At Le Cordon Bleu, we learned two ways to make them. We did not even attempt them in the first level. In the intermediate level, we tried the easiest way. The easiest way, however, does not guarantee they will turn out. In fact, Chef Cott said, “If your macarons possibly turn out today, it will be a stroke of luck. It does not mean you have mastered them, so do not be too big for ze britches.” The final year, Superior Level, we learned a different method, very close to the master macaron-er, Pierre Herme. This is the method my co-students and I have the most success with and the one I will teach you today. Later, we will do a video to show you.

Macarons

200 g (7 ozs.) ground almonds

200 g (7 ozs.) powdered sugar

75 g (4-5) egg whites, beaten

Italian meringue:

75 ml (2.5 ounces) water

200 g (7 ozs.) sugar

75 g egg whites

1. A few days before you make your cookies, separate the eggs. For this recipe, you will need 4-5 egg whites for each section. A white of a large egg generally weighs 30 grams, but will evaporate over the course of the days. You want this to happen. It is one of the details that will make your macs turn out. So you need to actually separate more eggs than you might think mathematically. Separate the eggs, cover with plastic wrap and make a slit in the top so air can get in. Pierre Herme does this seven days in advance and leaves them at room temperature. I cannot bring myself to leave them out for seven whole days, no matter what the master says.

2. An hour or so before beginning, take the egg whites out to bring to room temperature. This is very, very important!

3. Grind raw almonds in a food processor. BETTER than this idea is to buy almond flour from Nuts .com. As the name suggests, this company has everything related to nuts, and its ground almonds are finer than you can grind. Some people say to buy almond flour from Amazon, but I have not tried this.

4. Take out the ground almonds, weigh them and then return them to the food processor. Weigh the powdered sugar and add that to the food processor. Now pulse it, grinding them together, stopping to scrape the bowl. If you don't have a food processor, sift the two together after measuring them. This is an important step.

5. Beat your egg whites to firm, not dry, peaks.

6. Put a little of your almond/powdered sugar into the egg whites to loosen them, and then return all of it back into the almonds. Incorporate well. This is hard to do but super important. It will be clumpy, but you will get it smooth. Rub it on the sides of the bowl. This MUST be done by hand and is a good workout for your arms.

7. Cover with a towel and move on to the next section.

8. Weigh the sugar and water; pour into a pot. Bring up to 120 c. A thermometer, with a probe, that turns from Fahrenheit to Celsius at the flick of a switch is a great investment. Williams Sonoma sells these for meat, but they are perfect for macarons, candy and all these difficult French recipes because you can leave the probe in and do a few other things. A laser thermometer will not work for cooking sugar as it does for chocolate, because a laser only registers the surface temperature. You want a probe that goes into the sugar water. Be sure to take it off the bottom of the pan to register the actual liquid before deciding you have reached the correct temperature. The water will be a little gray. That is A-okay.

9. Meanwhile, beat the other 75 grams of egg whites to barely soft peaks. Turn the mixer off. Add the hot sugar syrup and the food color you want to use. (You will need more color than you think, because it will lighten considerably when you add it with the almond mixture.) Turn the mixer back on and whisk the eggs to peaks and fluffy. They should be shiny and very pretty. If it seems to take a while, don't worry. It cools, it will firm.

10. When the bowl is room temperature to the touch and the eggs are shiny and hold peaks well, fold them into the almond/egg mixture you have set aside. You may need to do this in two sections.

11. This is the most important step. It is called macaron-ing and has driven people stark raving mad for centuries. Lift up the batter, fold and occasionally press against the sides of the bowl. Do this about 20 to 30 times. You want it to hold a bit of a shape, almost to mound in a shape of a macaron. If the batter begins to get limp — STOP. Knowing when to stop takes practice. Better too firm than too limp, in my opinion.

12. Pipe the macarons on parchment paper. I count one-two-three to get the same size. Many people make templates by outlining a shot glass with a sharpie then piping on the other side.

13. Slam the pan on the counter 2-3 times.

14. Leave on the counter for about 20 minutes until a skin forms over the cookies. This is very important.

15. Bake at 300 degrees for 8 minutes. Open the oven door and rotate. If you are too lazy to rotate, at least open the oven door to let any steam out. Then bake them for 4 more minutes.

16. All ovens are different. La Dolce Vita's ovens run hot, so we really watch them. Twelve total minutes work for us. Nonetheless, you never know what forces will be working against us that day! Opening the oven door will not hurt macarons like it will a cake, so check them.

17. Tip the parchment paper full of cookies onto a cooling rack. Let cool and THEN gently peel the parchment from the macarons. Do NOT pull the macs off the paper or you will risk leaving half the macs on the parchment paper.

18. Wait until the next day to fill them. Macarons are better the next day; don't ask me why. Of course, put them in Tupperware overnight.

Is this complicated? Yes. At first, it seems like a nightmare, but with experience you can and will master the beautiful, light cookie that softens le couer of even the cruelest French chef. I will be happy to taste test them for you.


Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Her column appears every other Tuesday in The News-Sentinel. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel .com or call 461-8284. We’ll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.


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