In my explorations around the food-blog world, I have come across mention of a mysterious, fickle beast known as the "macaron". These Parisian favorites inspire a cult-like following, but appeared to be difficult to master: just the other day I was browsing through a Dorie Greenspan cookbook (for the uninitiated, Dorie is Mistress of All Things French Pastry) and she had a page devoted to macaron. The page detailed their beloved status, but ended by saying that they are too finicky to make at home, and you should just go to Paris and try as many as you can. As I had already planned on attempting to make macaron to give as a hostess gift to some France-loving friends we were about to have dinner with, I found this page of Dorie's to be mildly disconcerting.
Disconcerting, but not particularly daunting. I forged on, relying on Tartelette and her frequent posting relating to these cookies to guide me. I used one of her recipes, and consulted a thorough manual she wrote up for Desserts Magazine.
And so, the day of the dinner with our wonderful former neighbors, I began whipping the egg whites. I carefully continued with every step, piped out the cookies, rested them, and put the first batch in the oven to bake. I forced myself not to peek. What was I dying to peek at? Why are these cookies so fickle? Well, they are meringue-based, which can be tricky in itself. Then you must take exactly the right amount of air back out of the meringue by stirring, and if you've done it properly, there will be a crackly bit at the base of each cookie, all the way around. This crackly bit is called the "foot", and if your macaron don't have feet, then you're not eating macaron. You've just got some random almond meringue cookie. So I waited it out, refused to peek, and when the timer finally rang, it seemed like the trumpets of angels because I'd been so anxious. I opened the oven door, and when Hubband came home from a bike ride a few minutes later, I was dancing around the kitchen and happily exclaiming "My macaron have feet! My macaron have FEET, honey!" (Note: Hubband was out for a bike ride with his sister, who was visiting us from up north, and who has apparently come to terms with the fact that I am odd, because she never once looked askance at me or asked what I was talking about. She just quietly ignored my happy prattle.)
I filled one set of cookies with a dark chocolate-Nutella Ganache, and the other with a nectarine-lime curd. Never having made a curd before, I wasn't sure how firm it would get, and unfortunately, while delicious, it didn't set hard enough to make the cookies stable enough to stack in lovely little bags to bring as the hostess gift. The ganache ones went in their little beribboned bags in a basket, and the curd ones onto a plate. I knew our friends would appreciate the gesture either way.
Here is a photo of my footed triumph:The macaron filled with nectarine curd has dried raspberries grated on top for a little zing. I thought it was a nice accent, as the cookies themselves are very sweet. The dark chocolate in the other variety also served to cut through some of the sweetness and balanced nicely. I believe I will make these again, and practice the art of macronnage, as the French call it.
I used this recipe to make the macaron shells, instead of the boiling-sugar-syrup-Italian-meringue method, which I may try next time. I skipped the praline powder and filled with 3/4 C dark chocolate, melted and mixed with 4 Tb Nutella and 1/2 C heavy cream.