Macarons are the quintessential Parisian cookie. There is an art to making them and they are often mercurial, maddening, and mysterious. Some would say like Parisians themselves.
The Japanese have an actual psychiatric diagnosis called the "Paris Syndrome" to describe the shock some Japanese tourists experience caused by encounters with rude Parisians. Actually, I found most Parisians to be pleasant and even helpful. Only twice did I encounter the difficult stereotype you hear of so often. Because I pretty much ate my way through the city, both occasions involved food. The most absurd instance involved a particularly hostile fruit vendor who refused to sell my mother and I figs because we didn't request a sufficient quantity for him to deign to take our money. I refer to him as the Fig Nazi as he very much reminded me of the infamous Seinfeld episode. Come to think of it, they even looked alike. The other episode was of a more pedestrian variety and involved bad service from a harried server at the neighborhood pizzeria who seemed to be having an off night. As a former food server who has worked during high season and dealt with one too many tourists, I can sympathize so I didn't take it personally. The fig fiasco still burns me up, though.
But back to macarons... I've made several recipes, a few varieties, and over a couple dozen batches. Whenever I'm feeling masochistic, I make macarons. I've made the classic recipe with almond flour but I find the taste to be a little off (maybe it's the oils in the almonds). I've tried subbing pistachios for almonds- they taste great but the cookie is so delicate that it crumbles to pieces. So far, I've had the best success using roasted hazelnuts. I like to sandwich the hazelnut cookies with Nutella instead of a traditional buttercream. I think I've covered my aversion to buttercream ad nauseam so I'll skip it here. Also, I can't bring myself to load my macarons up with food coloring and fake flavor essences so I've never made the multi-hued, crazy flavor combos that are the rage in Paris patisseries. Although I didn't seem to have any problems eating ones others made. Those of you who followed my Twitter blow-by-blow (or cookie-by-cookie) account of the taste-off I conducted between Pierre Hermé and Laduree's confections will recall that Laduree won by a crumb.
LCB didn't teach lowly Basic Patisserie students how to make the exulted macaron. You have to go on to Intermediate Patisserie for that. Fortunately, the Culinary Institute of America isn't so hierarchal. I took a one week Career Discovery: Baking & Pastry Arts class at the Greystone campus in Napa, CA last year. My fellow classmates and I were thrilled to learn that the pastry program students were learning to make macarons the week we were there because we got to sample their creations at the dessert table during our communal lunches. A chef shared the recipe with fellow student who passed it on to the rest of us. Of all the macaron recipes I've tried, it's the most fool proof. Or as fool proof as macarons get...
CIA Macarons *as told to me
250 g hazelnuts- roasted and skins removed
400 g powdered sugar
10 g egg whites
200 g egg whites (use half fresh and half aged- left to dry out approx. 24 hrs at room temp)
80 g sugar
Grind hazelnuts with powdered sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Sift the ground mixture into a bowl and add 10 g egg whites.
Make a meringue with 200 g egg whites and 80 g of sugar. When egg whites and sugar are combined, turn the machine on high and whip for 10 minutes to dry out the meringue.
Fold, not too carefully, the meringue into the dry ingredients. Keep folding over until the macaron batter is ribbon-like and spreads. Pipe out into rounds on parchment and allow to rest for approx. 1 hour to form a skin.
Bake at 350 degrees. Baking time will differ by oven but I usually bake for approximately 12 minutes until the tops are just slightly browned.
Allow cookies to cool and match up by size. Sandwich with Nutella spread.*Some tips I've read for dealing with tricky ovens include using doubled pans if your oven floor is hot and some bakers swear by using a wooden spoon to slightly prop open the oven door to release a little heat. I cross my eyes, toes, and hold my breath. Do whatever works for you. Also, plan on throwing out a few batches - that way you won't be disappointed.