Baking macarons, the French cookie du jour

By Elinor Klivans
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Macarons, the lovely French sandwich cookies now "having a moment," as they say, are made of simple ingredients: ground almonds, two kinds of sugar, egg whites and flavoring, with lots of filling possibilities.

But simple to make? Hardly. Google "macaron disaster" and you might find the project too daunting to tackle.

I thought that once I had a basic recipe, all I had to do was vary the nuts and flavorings. Not true. Because different nuts contain different amounts of moisture, the macarons reacted accordingly. When I substituted pistachios, the cookies flattened. A strawberry puree thinned the batter; coffee thickened it.

So here are the results of my research, which included a pilgrimage to the macaron mother ship of Laduree in Paris, naturellement:

-- Blanched almonds are the traditional nut used for macarons. They seem to have just the right quantity of oil and moisture. Unblanched almonds will work but will introduce colored specks of skin. A general guideline when including another nut is to use half almonds and half of the other nut.

-- Grinding the nuts in a food processor along with the confectioners' sugar allows them to become finely ground without forming a paste.

-- Beating granulated sugar into the egg whites thickens the whites and, in turn, the macaron batter. When a nut or liquid is included that tends to thin the batter, additional granulated sugar should be beaten into the egg whites. (Those were fixes for my problems outlined above.)

-- Use the same-size eggs to produce mixtures with a consistent texture. (I use large.)

-- The easiest way to form macarons is to use a pastry bag fitted with a round tip that quickly produces perfectly round cookies. Pipe macarons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

-- Letting the unbaked macarons sit uncovered on a baking sheet at room temperature for about 30 minutes will produce the characteristic smooth, shiny and crisp tops when baked. When the batter sits, the exterior changes from sticky to firm.

-- Bake macarons on a heavyweight baking sheet, or use two stacked rimmed baking sheets.

-- When assembling the macaron sandwiches, pair cookies that are about the same size.

If you're lucky, your macarons will peel right off their baking material a few minutes after leaving the oven. If not, three methods will ensure that they release readily. Cookies baked on a silicone liner will lift off easily when allowed to rest for at least 10 minutes. For the ones baked on parchment paper, sprinkle about two tablespoons of water under the paper as soon as macarons come out of the oven, then let the cookies rest for no more than three minutes. The steam created will loosen the cookie bottoms from the paper. (Any longer, and the steam might soften the bottoms; you don't want that.)

And then there's always the thin spatula: If any cookies remain stuck to the paper, a little utensil nudge should do the trick.

Klivans's latest book, "Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion" (Chronicle), has just been published.


Chocolate Mint Fudge Macarons

Espresso Macarons With Fudge Filling

Pistachio Macarons With Lemon Filling

Strawberry Macarons

© 2010 The Washington Post Company