My friend Emma got me thinking about macarons, the French sandwich cookie that is found everywhere in France but almost nowhere here. The cookie part is made from almond paste, sugar, and egg whites, which make them sound like Passover macaroons, but they’re not at all. The cookies are filled with either ganache, buttercream, or jam. Emma was born in France but grew up in the U.S., she recently married Sylvain, who is French, and so got a whole bunch of macarons from her in-laws when they came for the wedding. Emma said her mother-in-law brought over a box from Ladurée, the famous Parisian pastry shop. If you’ve never seen the macaron displays at Ladurée, they really are amazing — different flavors and colors, packaged like little jewels.
Emma was thinking that was it now going to be a very long time to go without macarons, and the prospect left her feeling a bit sad. I knew I had made things like them before so I invited Emma over to try and make them. Then I started looking for a recipe. I figured Dorrie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets would have one. But while Dorrie has a whole page describing macarons in rapturous detail, she says “Unfortunately for us, real French macarons are hard to find in America and difficult to make at home.” So I turned to Nick Malgieri next, and he had a recipe for chocolate macarons that he said came from Jacques Torres. So I went to Jacques’s Dessert Circus, and sure enough, there was a recipe for the classic almond macarons. Lucky thing, since Emma was going to be over this morning to make them!
It really was easy — equal weights sugar and almond paste mixed well together, then add enough egg whites to be able to pipe them into small circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. For two 8-ounce cans of almond paste you need 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar, and about 4-5 egg whites. Then you sprinkle the piped circles with a little sugar, and bake at 375 degrees until they’re lightly browned. The tricky part, according to Jacques, is getting the cookies off the parchment. What he suggests is to take a quarter cup of water and pour it on the baking sheet under the parchment as soon as the cookies are out of the oven. The steam from the water hitting the hot baking sheet softens the paper and loosens the cookies — and it worked!
So then the question was the filling. We made Rose Levy Beranbaum’s neoclassic buttercream and added vanilla extract. Simple (and calorie-laden), but good. Here’s the finished product. Not too shabby! Not as smooth as Ladurée’s, but really good. (With a pound of butter in the buttercream, they’d better be good.) So don’t be afraid to make them at home (assuming that you have a couple of hours, a stand mixer, a pastry bag, a pound of butter, and some almond paste sitting around anyway…)