Macaron Madness
Tue, 03/20/2012
Special to the Jewish Week
Two macaron varieties: Lime with strawberry curd, left, and raspberry almond with chocolate ganache.
Two macaron varieties: Lime with strawberry curd, left, and raspberry almond with chocolate ganache.

Move over cupcakes, there is a new, and sweet, trend in town. What first exploded in the bakeries of France centuries ago, has, in recent years, landed on the shores of the U.S. and taken off like, well, macaroons at Passover time. In every conceivable color and flavor, French macarons (not to be confused with the traditional Passover dessert macaroons) are now popping up in bakeries across the country, on the covers of magazines and on television.

But those who tout the macaron’s celebrity status often forget one little factor — it is naturally kosher for Passover! With just egg whites, sugar and ground almonds, the tiny little cookies are a perfect treat for seven flour-free days. And of course for those who are gluten free year-round. (For Ashkenazim, make sure to purchase confectioner’s sugar that is free of cornstarch to be kosher for Passover — usually sold with other Passover items.)

While most people are eager to snack on the small confections, many are scared to try making them in their own kitchens. Though the techniques are not difficult, if not executed correctly, you can ruin a whole batch. But don’t let that put you off — with a little practice, and a little patience, you can master the tricky treats.

Let’s start by breaking down ingredients. Ground almonds provide the structure of the macarons. The ideal is to grind your own skinned almonds in the food processor (along with the icing sugar, so you don’t end up with almond butter) to a very, very fine consistency. If you can’t do that, then you can use pre-ground almonds, but pour them through a fine mesh sifter first to remove any big pieces.

Egg whites are the next crucial component. You may come across many recipes that call for the whites to be aged a day or three, in or out of the shell. The advice seems a bit exacting to me; all the macarons I’ve made with fresh egg whites have worked out just fine. What is really important is whipping them enough. You want an ultra-stiff egg white for macarons. You should need about 10 minutes of beating in a stand mixer to accomplish this. When ready, the whites should hold a stiff peak in the bowl. The last minute of beating is when you should add colors or flavors, since you don’t want any intrusions during the next step of mixing. Since you’re only adding the color to a portion of the batter, remember that whatever color you achieve at this step will be muted in the final product.

Now you’re ready for the real make-or-break moment of macaron making, known as “macaronage.” This is the method of mixing the egg whites with the almonds and icing sugar; everything either goes very right — or very wrong. You need to combine all the ingredients and mix them to just the right consistency — not too stiff, and not too runny. This is the step that may require trial and error before you get a hold of what the perfect texture is.

Use a spatula to fold the ingredients together, flipping and turning until everything is mixed. At the right consistency, a glob of batter lifted out from the bowl and poured back on top should hold its shape for 5-10 seconds before disappearing back in to the mix. A better test involves putting a small amount of the batter into a piping bag, then piping out a small circle. After a couple of seconds, the surface should become smooth and any bumps from piping should disappear. If this doesn’t happen, the batter is too stiff, and you should give it a few more turns with the spatula. The base of the cookie should not spread more than a half centimeter past your original shape. If it does, the batter is too runny, and I hate to break it to you, but you should probably start over.

From here on it’s smooth sailing — pipe, bake, cool, fill, eat. The flavor combinations are endless, but here are a couple variations I’ve tried and loved. •

Amy Spiro writes an online “Nosh Pit” recipe column for the Jewish Week at www.thejewishweek.com/features/nosh_pit and blogs at www.bakingandmistaking.com.

Raspberry Almond Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

4 egg whites

2 1/2 ounces granulated sugar (about 1/3 cup)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons raspberry extract

Flavoring and food coloring

4 ounces ground almonds or almond flour
(about 1 cup)

8 ounces confectioners’ sugar (about 2 cups)

Chocolate ganache (recipe below)

On a piece of cookie sheet-sized parchment paper (you’ll need about three for this recipe), trace 1 ½-inch circles with a pen or pencil, then flip over, and fit to the cookie sheet.

Beat the egg whites, granulated sugar and salt together on medium speed for three minutes. Then beat on high for about six minutes. The mixture should be very stiff at this point. Add in any flavoring and coloring, and then beat on high for another minute to ensure everything is blended.

Add in the confectioners’ sugar and ground nuts and begin folding. You should be gently incorporating the ingredients together but also gently deflating the egg whites. Continue folding, slowly, until the mixture is uniform. Then keep folding, one stroke at a time, until the mixture holds its shape for just one moment before spreading.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip with half the mixture. Beginning in the middle of each circle, pipe rounds on to your parchment paper, stopping just before the lines you traced.

Bake, one sheet at a time, on 300 F for 18 minutes. Let cool and remove from parchment paper.

When cool, fill with chocolate ganache and sandwich two macrarons together. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Chocolate Ganache:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces
chocolate, finely chopped

3/4 cup milk or cream

Heat the milk or cream until just boiling. Pour over the chips or chopped chocolate, and let sit for 5 minutes. Then use a whisk to mix the two together until smooth. Let cool to room temperature before using.

Lime Macarons with Strawberry Curd:

4 egg whites

2 1/2 ounces granulated
sugar (about 1/3 cup)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

zest of 2 limes

food coloring

4 ounces ground almonds or almond flour (about 1 cup)

8 ounces confectioners’ sugar (about 2 cups)

Strawberry curd, chilled (recipe below)

On a piece of cookie sheet-sized parchment paper (you’ll need about three for this recipe), trace 1½-inch circles with a pen or pencil, then flip over, and fit to a cookie sheet.

Beat the egg whites, granulated sugar and salt together on medium speed for three minutes. Then beat on high for about six minutes. The mixture should be very stiff at this point. Add in lime juice and zest plus any food colorings, and then beat on high for another minute to ensure everything is blended.

Add in the confectioners’ sugar and ground nuts and begin folding. You should be gently incorporating the ingredients together but also gently deflating the egg whites. Continue folding, slowly, until the mixture is uniform. Then keep folding, one stroke at a time, until the mixture holds its shape for just one moment before spreading.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip with half the mixture. Starting in the middle of each circle, pipe rounds on to your parchment paper, stopping just before the lines you traced.

Bake, one sheet at a time, on 300 F for 18 minutes. Let cool and remove from parchment paper.

When cool, fill with chilled curd and sandwich two macarons together. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Strawberry Curd:

12 ounces fresh or frozen strawberries

1 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

4 egg yolks

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine,
softened and cut in to chunks

Puree the strawberries until smooth, and then strain through a sieve to remove any large pieces.

In a medium pot, add the sugar, eggs and yolks, lemon juice and salt to the puree and mix well.

Place it over medium heat. Stir the curd continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. Cook until the curd thickens and coats the back of a spoon — it should just come to a boil. It should read about 175 degrees F on a thermometer, after 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the butter until smooth. Refrigerate until cold before filling macarons.