Les macarons (part 1)

Raspberry white chocolate  macarons à la Mercotte

Raspberry white chocolate macarons à la Mercotte

With all of the hoopla surrounding what folks around the globe recognize as French macarons, those jewel like almond meringue sandwich cookies that are available in oh so many flavors, I felt it was time to look at the process as well as some of the lesser known versions of macarons that have been around certain regions of France for a long time. In addition to my recipe review and web research, I also have to thank Stéphane Glacier for his book, un amour de macaron, as well as Mercotte’s site for reams of info on these treats that don’t show any sign of losing their popularity.

We have macaron de Nancy (a.k.a Lorrain), macaron de Montmorillon (along with a museum) and macaron craquelé just to name a few. Some are a simple single almond cookie without any garnish or sandwich filling while others follow along the lines of the Parisian-style version à la La Durée et Pierre Hermé (known as macaron lisse or smooth).

Macarons de Nancy

Macarons de Nancy

Macarons de Montmorillon  version one

Macarons de Montmorillon version one

Macarons de Montmorillon  version two

Macarons de Montmorillon version two

Macarons craquelé au chocolat

Macarons craquelé au chocolat

While all of these lovelies are made with basically the same three ingredients (almond flour, sugar and egg whites), the ratios are all slightly different and yield textures ranging from chewy to soft/melt-in-your-mouth, some a bit more dry and some more moist. As I went back and revisited my notes on macaron recipes from pastry school, professional development classes and pastry textbooks, I was reminded again of not only the varying ratios but also different approaches to the process. Sheesh! It becomes rather dizzying after awhile.

I’ve been teaching French macaron classes at Sur La Table in recent months but hadn’t actually made a batch at home for ages (dough is my true love!). I had a bunch of saved egg whites stashed in my fridge as a result of recent egg yolk based custard/pastry cream preparations. I normally use them for my favorite financier tea cake batter, but now it’s macaron time in spades!!

Raspberry white chocolate  macarons

Raspberry white chocolate macarons

First up - Mercotte’s recipe which falls into the lisse (or we’ll call it the classic) category. It’s very similar to Le Cordon Bleu’s recipe as well as the one I brought home from a Le Notre class some years ago. A few differences - Mercotte toasts and cools the almond flour first; she places her pan of piped macarons on an empty sheet pan already heated in the oven, whereas Le Notre bakes on room temperature doubled pans; she doesn’t let her piped macarons rest before baking. Say what??

First: Heat the oven to 300ºF. Spread 120 g almond flour on a sheet pan and toast it for 10 minutes. Let it cool then mix it with 220 g confectioners sugar, pulse the combo in a food processor then sift it. Set aside. Leave the oven at 300ºF and place an empty sheet pan in to heat up.

Second: Place 90 g room temperature aged egg whites (I often let mine sit in the fridge for a week or so) along with a couple drops of lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl, whip it until white and foamy, add 25 g granulated sugar and whip to firm peaks.

Third: Fold the dry ingredients into the whites in 3 additions, blending with a bowl scraper or spatula to achieve a lava-like, smooth and glossy mixture that ribbons when you lift and let it fall into the bowl. An option is to add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of powdered coloring of choice. I opted for a couple of teaspoons of raspberry powder, mostly to add a bit of flavor enhancement as opposed to color.

Fourth: Using a 10 mm round tip, pipe them out onto a Silpat lined sheet pan. More raspberry dust for me!

Fifth: Rest at room temperature about 30 minutes (see following notes!) then bake for about 13 minutes.

Here’s where Mercotte veers from the common path of letting the macs sit for awhile to develop a skin - she doesn’t do it!

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Since I had a couple of sheet pans to bake I decided to pop the first one in without the wait and give the other one a 30 minute or so rest. Lo and behold the rested batch baked more evenly, held their shape better and formed a more precise pied.

Although it may be a little difficult to appreciate, the first image below shows the no-rest batch - a little more spread, not quite the rise and a bit flatter and rougher pied.

No rest batch

No rest batch

This next image is the rested batch which puffed a little higher, held the pied shape better and just seemed to be a nicer bake overall. I think I’ll take the rested approach.

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I sandwiched these babies with a raspberry white chocolate ganache made with 140 g Guittard white chocolate discs blended with 77 g heavy cream and 63 g raspberry purée that I gelée’d just a touch.

Note to self: dust with raspberry powder AFTER the bake, otherwise the raspberry dust darkens in the oven. Still tastes good though.

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What I loved about these was their wonderful light chew, nice texture, delicious raspberry flavor and a not-over-the-top sweetness. Truth be told, that’s one of the things that has turned me off from some macarons I’ve had over the years - just TOO sweet for me!

Macarons de Nancy

Macarons de Nancy

Now it’s on to Nancy, the former capital of the duchy of Lorraine in what is now known as the Grand-Est region (previously Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine). They’ve been making macarons there for a looooong time, since the French revolution in the late 18th century. The most well known are Macarons des Soeurs, reportedly created by two nuns, Sisters Marguerite and Marie-Elisabeth. The “real” recipe is still a closely guarded secret, or so they say.

The base recipes I discovered on line and in Glacier’s book are lower in sugar than the lisse version above. They bake flat, have a cracked top with a hint of shine and are deliciously chewy and not too sweet. I like them - a lot.

First: Heat oven to 480ºF - whoa! Line a half sheet pan with silpat.

Second: Sift 100 g blanched almond flour, 100 g confectioner’s sugar and 9 g vanilla sugar and blend together. Set aside.

Third: Whip two room temperature egg whites to soft and supple peaks and blend them into the dry ingredients. Add a few drops of vanilla extract.

Fourth: Pipe rounds onto prepared sheet pan. Brush tops lightly with water and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Fifth: Place pan in hot oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300ºF. Bake 15-20 minutes until tops are golden.

It’s that fourth step and into the HOT oven that gives these their top shine and crackle - crispy outside and a lovely chewiness inside makes these so simply wonderful! Enjoy them as is or sandwich ‘em up with your favorite ganache or jammy buttercream. You won’t be sorry, believe you me.

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Stay tuned for part 2 starring macarons de Montmorillon and macarons craquelé! Can’t wait.