When my friend Andrea asked if I wanted to get together to make macarons with her, I leaped at the chance. Leaped, I tell you, like those ten-lords-a-leaping. Andrea is a fantastic cook, she whips up sumptuous and complicated meals like they are nothing, and she does it all with a calmness that I completely envy. I could use a little of that calm. Not to mention some macarons.
A word about macarons. They are different from macaroons, which are those sweet-sticky coconut desserts. I love those, too, but these are a different creature altogether. Macarons are essentially two meringue cookies with some type of delicious filling in between. The meringues have a crisp shell and a chewy center and the filling should be creamy, but otherwise can be any flavor you like. Macarons are often dyed vibrant or pastel colors and when they are grouped together they look like a basket of jewels.
We had them in Paris and the children loved them so when I asked if they wanted to help make them, they danced. Like those nine-ladies-dancing. Except that there are only three of them, and one of them is a boy. But you get the idea. Lots of enthusiasm.
Macarons in Paris
Andrea and I did some research and decided to modify recipes from Tartelette and David Lebovitz. We actually made two flavors, these peach macarons and some chocolate-hazelnut ones, but I'll share the chocolate ones with you in a later post because I don't have time to get all of that to you today. And since it is the season for peaches, I will give you those first. But don't worry, chocolate lovers, I won't forget you.
Making macarons can be a bit finicky, trying to achieve that crisp shell and chewy interior. This was our first try, and we worried about how it would go. But they came out beautifully. Next time, I would grind the almonds more finely to make the macarons a bit smoother. I also would streamline the peach purée process and just go straight to the food mill instead of using the food processor first. But I'm just nit picking. The peach and almond combination of these macarons was delicious and the texture was excellent. Although we may need to make more next time.
Adapted from MyTartlette.com
There is a lot of debate in various recipes about how old the egg whites should be. By some theories, if they are separated and left to sit in the refrigerator for a few days, say 3 to 5, they become more liquid, which can affect the crispness of the macarons. We tried both aged egg whites and some that I separated early that morning. The older ones did seem to make a fluffier macaron, but there were so many other factors at play that I'm not sure the difference can be attributed to that. The bottom line is that if you have time to separate them in advance, by all means do so, but don't let the lack of older egg whites stop you from making this recipe. They should be at room temperature, though, so take them out of the refrigerator before you start making the filling.
If you would like to make the macarons in advance, bake the macarons and make the filling, but store them separately, the macarons in an airtight container at room temperature, the filling in the refrigerator. If the filling is stiff when you are ready to assemble the macarons, let it sit out of the refrigerator for a few minutes or return it to the mixer and whip it again.
Makes about 18 macarons
For the peach purée:
approximately 5 medium-sized peaches
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the macaron shells:
Egg whites from 3 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1 cup raw unsalted almonds
orange food coloring (optional)
To finish the filling:
8 ounces mascarpone
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
First make the peach purée. To peel the peaches, boil a pot of water and either dunk the peaches into the water for one minute or pour the water over them in a colander. Let the peaches drain and let them cool until they are easy to handle. Using your hands, slip off the peels.
Slice the peaches off of the pit and blend them in a food processor until smooth. Transfer them to a food mill and puree them using the finest gauge disk. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan, add the extracts and let the peaches simmer until they reduce to 1 to 1 1/2 cups, about 30 minutes. When the mixture has reduced, pour it into a glass jar or measuring cup and put it in the refrigerator to cool.
Next make the macaron shells. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Grind the almonds by running them in a food processor for a couple of minutes until they are extremely fine. At the end of the process, you will need 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of ground almonds. Although this surprised me, it actually takes less than that amount of whole almonds to get 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of ground almonds. My estimate is that it took about 1 cup. Set the ground almonds aside.
In a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat again until the mixture is shiny and holds stiff peaks. Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of ground almonds, and the food coloring if you are using it. Fold those ingredients in with a rubber spatula. Don't over mix the batter at this point. The ingredients should be well-incorporated but still retain the peaks from the egg whites. Tartlette says that it shouldn't take more than 50 strokes and that when you mix the batter, it should hold in a peak for about 10 seconds before falling back on itself.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2 inch in diameter). Spoon the meringue mixture into the pastry bag. Onto the cookie sheets, pipe out about 36 round disks, each 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 inch apart. Gently tap the cookie sheet on the counter a couple of times to level the meringues. Cook them for 15 to 18 minutes, until the top of the shells is firm to the touch. Let the meringues cool completely on the parchment paper (you can gently slide the parchment off the cookie sheet if you want to reuse it) before removing them.
If you are not assembling the macarons immediately, store them in the counter in an airtight container.
Now finish the filling. Whip the mascarpone until it is smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix to combine. Add in 1 cup of the cooled peach purée and mix just until it is combined. (Reserve any remaining peach purée for another use or it would make a nice little snack on its own.) If you like, use a pastry bag to add about a tablespoon of filling onto a macaron and then top it with another. You can also do this with a spoon. Continue until you have assembled all the macarons.