Apparently macaroons are an obsession for a lot of people, not just for me. I spent most of last winter agonizing why my macaroons were not coming out exactly like the one in Paris. I foolishly thought that I can come up with my own recipe but after many failed runs gave in and started Googling. Boy, was I in for more confusion... it seems that there are a thousands of chefs, bloggers, cook book authors and just plain enthusiasts who have their own variation of what makes a perfect macaroon. The recipes were endless, but I learned three things that ultimately yielded a perfect macaroon:
1. Yes, you do need a good kitchen scale! For years I avoided buying one and measured in cups, spoons, and pinches. Macaroons are just too finicky, they require precision.
2. Macaroonage is the technique for mixing the batter. It has to be the consistency of lava, whatever that means..(.has anyone seen "Volcano", lava can be as fast or as slow as one can imagine...sorry.) Ultimately, if you (by accident) make a perfect macaroon, you will forever remember what that batter looked like.
3. You need to play. Play with your oven temperature and rack settings. Play with the almond, egg, sugar ratio. Play with mixing, and piping. Play until you get it right.
So on one of the last winter's snow days, the stars collided and I got it right. For the first time my macaroons had "skin", chewy almost hollow interior and most importantly "feet". I screamed in delight to an absolute horror of my son's friends. That was last winter and I did not make them again until now. The thrill of the chase was gone and the humidity of the summer did not make me want to bake anything meringue based.
Recently I decided to see if I still remember the tricks. So here is a little treat. I didn't make a fancier filling because I wasn't sure if the shells were going to turn out, but this Hazelnut cream I picked up at the new Eataly store in NYC is much gentler and more delicate than Nutella. It has more of the true hazelnut flavor as opposed to chocolate. It worked very well with plain almond macaroons.
For the Macaroons:
140 grams almond flour
200 grams powdered sugar
2 tbs granulated sugar
100 grams egg whites ( Aged - see Note)
Pulse the almond flour and the powdered sugar in the food processor until very fine. Sift and set aside.
Whip aged (see Note) egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar and whip until medium peaks. Do not over whip or the macaroon batter will be to dry.
With a rubber spatula, begin adding the whipped egg whites to the dry mixture. Do not stir, but work your way from the bottom up. Once all the egg whites become incorporated the mixture may still look dry, keep working in circular patter, from the bottom up until the batter begins flowing like lava. The best test is to spoon a little on a plate and if the peak disappears within 2-3 minutes, you have the right consistency. If the batter spreads quicker, you probably over mixed and if the peak doesn't disappear at all, you batter is still too dry.
Pipe your macaroons using a #2 piping tip onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. You can make them as little or as large as you want, however the baking temperature and time will need to be adjusted. I try to pipe a 1" or 1 1/2 " diameter macaroons.
Leave them to dry for at least 20 min. The macaroons need to develop "skin", what will become the crunchy outer shell. You can tell if you have "skin" by gently touching an unbaked macaroon. It should not feel sticky to the touch and the surface should feel smooth and a little hard. This process can take anywhere from 10 min to 1 hr, depending on the temperature and airflow of your kitchen. However I found that if you do not get 'skin" in 20 - 25 min, you probably over or under mixed your batter.
While your macaroons are drying, preheat the oven to 325F. Bake the macaroons on the lowest rack decreasing the temperature to 315F. It takes about 10 to 12 min, but will really depend on your oven. You may need to rotate the pan half way through of your oven yields an uneven baking. You should see the macaroons rise and develop "feet" within the first 5 min of baking.
Cool by placing the parchment paper directly on the cooling rack. Do not leave them to cool on the baking sheet, they will become soggy. When cool, just peel the parchment gently to lift the shell.
Fill with whatever you like. The most common being butter creams and ganache, however hazelnut cream, lemon curd (for lemon macaroons), and various preserves work well too.
The recipe above yields about 12- 15 macaroons. For a bigger batch just double the quantities. If your macaroons do not develop "skin" or "feet", or if they crack, or are spongy, don't despair. These little devils are really, really, hard to get right. Even if they do not come out perfectly, they still taste good. Fill them anyway and pretend to your friends and family that you meant to make new cookies. Just don't call them macaroons!!!
Note: Aging egg whites is a necessary step. You can age them uncovered for 8 to 10 hours right on your counter top (don’t worry, they will not spoil) or covered in the fridge for 2-3 days. If you are like me and decide to bake macaroons on a whim and lacked the long term planning just zip your egg whites in the microwave for 10 seconds.