A macaron is a sweet meringue-based confectionery made with egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring. The macaron is commonly filled with buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two cookies. Its name is derived from the Italian word maccarone or maccherone. The confectionery is characterised by its smooth, domed top, ruffled circumference (referred to as the “foot”), and flat base. It is mildly moist and easily melts in the mouth. Macarons can be found in a wide variety of flavors that range from the traditional (raspberry, chocolate) to the new (truffle, green matcha tea).
The fillings can range from jams, ganache, or buttercream. Since the English word macaroon can also refer to the coconut macaroon, many have adopted the French spelling of macaron to distinguish the two items in the English language. However, this has caused confusion over the correct spelling. Some recipes exclude the use of macaroon to refer to this French confection while others think that they are synonymous. Although predominantly a French confection, there has been much debate about its origins. Larousse Gastronomique cites the macaron as being created in 1791 in a convent near Cormery.
Some have traced its French debut back to the arrival of Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian pastry chefs whom she brought with her in 1533 upon marrying Henry II of France. In the 1830s, macarons were served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today was called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron” and is the creation of Pierre Desfontaines of the French pâtisserie Ladurée, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling.
Several French cities and regions claim long histories and variations, notably Lorraine (Nancy and Boulay), Basque Country (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Saint-Emilion, Amiens, Montmorillon, Le Dorat, Sault, Chartres, Cormery Joyeuse and Sainte-Croix in Burgundy. The city of Amiens’ macaron consists of almond, fruit and honey, and dates back to 16th century. They are chewier and not as sweet as the Paris macaron. The city of Montmorillon is well known for its macarons and has a museum dedicated to it.
The Maison Rannou-Métivier is the oldest macaron bakery in Montmorillon, dating back to 1920. The traditional recipe for Montmorillon macarons remains unchanged for over 150 years. The town of Nancy in the Lorraine region has a storied history with the macaron. It is said that the abbess of Remiremont founded an order of nuns called the “Dames du Saint-Sacrement” with strict dietary rules prohibiting the consumption of meat. Two nuns, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth are credited with creating the Nancy macaron to fit their dietary requirements.
They became known as the ‘Macaron Sisters’ (Les Soeurs Macarons). In 1952, the city of Nancy honored them by giving their name to the Rue de la Hache, where the macaron was invented. In Switzerland the Luxemburgerli (also Luxembourger) is similar to a French macaron but is said to be lighter and more airy in consistency. Macarons are popular confection known as “makaron” in Japan.
There is also a version of the same name which substitutes peanut flour for almond and is flavored in wagashi style, widely available in Japan. In Paris, the Ladurée chain of pastry shops has been known for its macarons for about 150 years. In France, McDonald’s sells macarons in their McCafés, sometimes using advertising that likens the shape of a macaron to that of a hamburger. The McCafé macarons are produced by Château Blanc, which, like Ladurée, is a subsidiary of Groupe Holder, though they do not use the same macaron recipe. Outside of Europe, the French-style macaron can be found in Canada and the United States
HOW TO MAKE MACARONS:
INGREDIENTS: (to make 30-50 macaron sandwiches / ganache recipe makes about 2 cups -550 grams)
BASIC MACARON COOKIE:
225 grams icing sugar
125 grams ground almonds
110 grams egg whites (about 4), aged overnight at room temperature
4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 – On three pieces of parchment, use a pencil to draw 1-inch (2.5 cm) circles about 2 inches apart. Flip each sheet over and place each sheet on a baking sheet. [Note: You only have to draw circles on the parchment paper if you want absolutely even-sized macarons. If you’re skilled with piping and don’t mind eyeballing the amount of batter per cookie, skip this step.
2 – Push almond flour through a tamis or sieve, and sift icing sugar. Mix the almonds and icing sugar in a bowl and set aside. If the mixture is not dry, spread on a baking sheet, and heat in oven at the lowest setting until dry.
3 – In a large clean, dry bowl whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip to stiff peaks – the whites should be firm and shiny.
4 – With a flexible spatula, gently fold in icing sugar mixture into egg whites until completely incorporated. The mixture should be shiny and ‘flow like magma.’ When small peaks dissolve to a flat surface, stop mixing.
5 – Fit a piping bag with a 3/8-inch (1 cm) round tip. Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets, in the previously drawn circles. Tap the underside of the baking sheet to remove air bubbles. Let dry at room temperature for 1 or 2 hours to allow skins to form.
6 – Bake, in a 160°C/325°F oven for 10 to 11 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to keep the oven door slightly ajar, and rotate the baking sheet after 5 minutes for even baking.
7 – Remove macarons from oven and transfer parchment to a cooling rack. When cool, slide a metal offset spatula or pairing knife underneath the macaron to remove from parchment.
8 – Pair macarons of similar size, and pipe about 1/2 tsp of the filling onto one of the macarons. Sandwich macarons, and refrigerate to allow flavors to blend together. Bring back to room temperature before serving.
9 – Bittersweet Chocolate Cream Ganache: Place the chocolate in a bowl that’s large enough to hold the ingredients and keep it close at hand. Bring the cream to a full boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. While the cream is coming to the boil, work the butter with a rubber spatula until it is very soft and creamy. Keep the butter aside for the moment.
10 – While the cream is at the boil, remove the pan from the heat and, working with the rubber spatula, gently stir the cream into the chocolate. Start stirring in the center of the mixture and work your way out in widening concentric circles. Continue to stir – without creating bubbles – until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Leave the bowl on the counter for a minute or two to cool the mixture down a little before adding the butter.
11 – Add the butter to the mixture in two additions, mixing with the spatula from the center of the mixture out in widening concentric circles. When the butter is fully incorporated, the ganache should be smooth and glossy. depending on what you’re making with the ganache, you can use it now, leave it on the counter to set to a spreadable or pipeable consistency (a process that could take over an hour, depending on your room’s temperature) or chill it in the refrigerator, stirring now and then. (If the ganache chills too much and becomes too firm, you can give it a very quick zap in the microwave to bring it back to the desired consistency, or just let it stand at room temperature.)
A FEW TIPS:
Sift your ingredients, multiple times if necessary. You want your ground nuts to be powdery. No lumps! Almond and icing sugar mixture may be pulsed in a food processor to make finer. Use old egg whites. No really, leave them out for three days at room temperature if you don’t mind waiting for that long. Using fresh egg whites is more likely to result in macarons that are too fragile and flat. Read Veronica’s Test Kitchen for more info. Cooked Italian meringue may be used instead of the uncooked French one. Read Foodbeam’s recipe to learn how to make it. The final macaron batter should have the consistency of magma. What’s the consistency of magma? Not too liquidy, nor too stiff. If you form a peak, it should slowly and completely sink back into the batter. If the cookies form peaks on their tops after piping, flatten them with a wet fingertip.
Although many recipes call for it, letting the batter sit after piping may not be necessary. David Lebovitz didn’t think this was an important step. Prevent your macarons from burning by using a double layered baking sheet (stack two sheets on top of each other) and by propping the oven door open with a wooden spoon for the entire baking period or halfway through the baking period (depending on how large the macarons are or what recipe you’re using). To make it easier to remove the macarons from the parchment paper after baking, pour a little bit of water underneath the paper. After a while the steam will have loosened the macarons. Let the macarons rest for a day before you eat them. They’re supposed to taste better with a bit of rest. This might be the hardest rule to follow. (Basic Macaron Cookie: Steps adapted from A La Cuisine | Ingredients adapted from A La Cuisine, Chubby Hubby, Veronica’s Test Kitchen, Ladurée and Yochana’s Pierre Hermé recipe | Bittersweet Chocolate Cream Ganache: Adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme by Dorie Greenspan).
NOTE: The number of cookies the recipe makes depends on how large you form your cookies. Most recipes failed to give an estimate. If I had to make an educated guess I’d say you could make 30-50 macaron sandwiches with this recipe. For anyone who’s ever tried to craft their own macarons, there might not be a single more demoralizing experience. Even if you’re a master of cakes and creams, your first 20 attempts to get something presentable are pretty much doomed to fail.
Most people either give up entirely or just resign to the fact that at least they can bake-up something edible, if technically and aesthetically inferior to the great Parisian pastry chefs. But I have a little secret to share with you . . . even the acclaimed World Champion and MOF pâtissiers of Paris bake and sell botched work every single day. In fact, there are only a few who focus on preparing their macarons correctly. As someone who obviously gets a kick out photographing pastries and sharing them with the world, macarons are a major frustration.
MORE MACARON RECIPES:
A La Cuisine (Matcha-chestnut, caramel-fleur de sel, and toasted sesame macarons )