Here's the thing about macarons: it's not difficult to make a delicious macaron. It IS difficult to make a perfect looking macaron. Mine never look quite right but they taste divine. I've made my peace.
There are a lot of different tutorials and methods out there for making macarons. Some are CRAZY time and labor intensive. Some are bare minimum. Having tried both the max and the min I can very confusedly tell you that my results were the exact same. Honestly. So this method tends toward the minimum end of the spectrum. Feel free to seek out a more complex method from someone who actually knows what they're doing, if you wish. Perhaps you will be able to produce a macaron worthy of the Laduree display window.
-3/4 cup ground almonds (I will show you how to make this but feel free to buy it!)
-scant 1 c powdered sugar
-2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
-2 egg whites (let them sit at room temperature for a couple hours before you begin)
-1/4 c granulated sugar
-1 block cream cheese, softened
-1 stick butter, softened
-1-3 cups powdered sugar (depends on how sweet you want it...I always do this to taste. Sometimes I want a sweeter filling and sometimes I prefer a tangier filling)
-a sprinkle of salt
-dash vanilla extract
I'm a firm believer in doing stuff from scratch for yourself at least once before going with the shortcuts. So I start by grinding my almonds. Start with a cup or two in a bowl. I usually do a lot more than I need then keep the extra in a tupperware in the fridge. Save myself a step the next time!
Cover in boiling water for a minute or two.
Then dump in a colander and run cold water over them.
The skins should come off pretty easily. If they don't, repeat the process (I usually have to).
Peel those almonds. I always slip the skin off starting at the pointy end and going toward the rounded end. It seems to be the cleanest way to get the skin off.
Let them dry on a towel for a few minutes once they've all been peeled.
Dump in a food processor and give them a whirl until nicely ground.
Dump all the ground almonds into a tupperware then measure out 3/4 cup. Add it back into the food processor with the powdered sugar and cocoa powder.
Let it whirl around for a bit (all the recipes I've seen say something like 30 seconds. I have much better results with a good long processing. Like several minutes) then sift the mixture through a sieve into a bowl. It's kind of a pain but it's important. I've forgotten the sifting step a couple times and those batches were mediocre.
Macarons can't handle much chunky stuff. I usually have quite a bit of stuff that doesn't make it through the sieve so I dump that back in my food processor and give it another whirl. Back to the sieve.
You should have a nice, fine chocolate/almond mixture.
Set that aside for a minute and dump your egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer. Use the wire whip to bring the mixture to stiff peaks.
The first time I made these I used a bowl and my hand mixer and it was actually the best batch I've made. So fancy tools do not necessarily make the cookie here.
Also, we're talking real stiff peaks here. If you were to tilt your bowl all over the place that meringue should go nowhere. The meringue is one of two really critical steps to successful macarons so Google a picture of stiff peaks if you need to know what you're looking for.
The second really critical step is called the macaronage, or the folding of the meringue into the almond mixture. There are all kinds of opinions on the best way to do this. My best results have come with adding a third of the meringue at a time and carefully folding each in until almost combined. After you get all the meringue mixed in, continue mixing for a minute to loosen the mixture a bit. It's ready when it's smooth, glossy, and a thick ribbon falls from the spatula into the bowl and disappears after about 30 seconds. Specific, I know, but the batter needs to be the right consistency.
Again, even if you don't end up with the perfect batter, they will still taste really good. Don't lose sleep over this.
Dump the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip (a #12, if you're wondering).
Pipe circles onto parchment paper. My favorite size is 1 1/2 inches. You get a lot of cookies out of a batch at that size, they're perfectly bite sized, and they seem to bake more evenly. I have successfully made bigger though.
When you finish piping, take your cookie sheet and give it 3 or 4 good solid taps against the counter to encourage any air bubbles in the batter to rise to the surface. Otherwise you might get hollow shells. Sad face.
If you're putting anything on your macaron (a sprinkle of sea salt, chocolate powder, etc.) now's the time to do it.
Let the macarons stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. You should be able to touch them without any batter sticking to your finger. I've read several blog posts lately that say this step is unnecessary. I decided to put that to the test. It's the only batch I've ever made that came out cracked.
So, for me, letting them stand is not optional.
Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes. Check at 5-6 minutes. You may need to reduce the temperature a bit if they look like they're baking too quickly. I DID overbake a batch last week (a chronic problem with me and baking in general. I think my oven runs hot) and they were kind of sad and crunchy. No bueno.
The filling is where you can get creative! I've done chocolate ganache and salted caramel with these chocolate macarons. Aaron, being a total weirdo, does NOT enjoy the salted caramel filling. As much as I enjoy a good salted caramel, I don't have a great track record with it. It's one of those things that I can only get right once out of every three (...or four) attempts. I don't know why. It's kind of a pain.
One day, after ruining two batches of salted caramel, I stumbled upon a bag of leftover cream cheese frosting in my freezer. I thawed it out, snipped a corner off the bag, then piped it onto the macarons. It was the first batch Aaron ever actually liked. I have to admit that it was my favorite as well. Plus: no burned sugar smell!
To make the filling, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add the powdered sugar and salt until it's your desired sweetness then add the vanilla. Fill and sandwich the cookies and freeze any leftover filling. And then....
Don't eat your macarons.
I know, I'm sorry. I put you through all that effort only to tell you that you need to put them aside. Macarons need to mature. Give them at least 24 hours to sit and become one with their filling. I promise, they are so much more amazing that second day. Pop them in an airtight container and stick it in the fridge for a day. It's worth it.
Also, if you need a little baking music, I've got you covered. Awkward dancing optional:
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