What is a French macaron? This is a question I’ve pondered many times over the last several months. I’ve seen photos of colorful sandwich-y looking cookies (?) or cakes (?) in food magazines, the cooking channel, and on Jill Colonna’s blog Mad About Macarons…but I had no idea what they were exactly. Honestly, these half-dollar size bakery treats reminded me of gobs, which is Pennsylvanian for whoopee pie, although much bigger than a macaron. Alas, no bakery in my area makes French macarons (not to be confused with a macaroon which is altogether different). How did I finally solve this mystery? I took a class at Sur la Table and made my own!
Technically, a French macaron, which can also be called a macaroon but not like the other kind of macaroon, is a meringue cookie. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it is very, very confusing! If you keep the French spelling macaron and don’t Anglicize the term into macaroon it’s easier to keep them [macaron and macaroon] straight. The key here is think French…
So now that I know they are cookies and similar in nature to gobs, as they have some filling sandwiched between them. Since they are cookies and obviously less cake-like, they are no less a treat. On to the important stuff. What do they taste like? Macarons come in all colors and flavors and they are really quite beautiful. Who would have guessed they had so much variety!? I am here to tell you, once you try one you’ll be hooked.
I wouldn’t say they are easy to make, but they aren’t difficult either. Macarons are made from very few ingredients: confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, egg whites, cream of tartar, and super fine sugar. The tough part is making the meringue because you absolutely cannot have any oil or grease on your bowl, beaters, or spatula or the meringue will collapse and then *poof* no macaron.
The first step is to sift your almond flour and sugar together three times so it’s ready to go as soon as your meringue is done. Once you’ve sifted your flour and confectioners’ sugar together and made your meringue, the magic happens. The flour mixture is sifted and folded carefully into the meringue and then piped into a pastry bag. (This is also where you add color and flavoring.) We made two versions of macarons: strawberry with a dark chocolate ganache and a rose with toasted pistachio and cardamom buttercream.
The other tricky part is the technique for getting the cookies on a pan and uniform. It takes practice, but remember: whatever looks less than perfect only means more for you! And since these are unassembled macarons, the calories are much, much less (at least that’s what I’m telling myself!). Now get to piping those cookies!
In what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the cookies to bake, the macarons were finally finished and out of the oven. Once they cooled it was time to assemble! In the Sur la Table class we made a Swiss meringue cardamom buttercream. It was a luscious, silky companion to the slightly crispy, yet faintly chewy rose macarons. And seriously, who knew that toasted pistachios were so wonderful?! The strawberry and dark chocolate ganache macarons were also marvelous, yet quite a different taste than the rose macaron.
Everyone should try eating macarons! If you’re really adventurous, you should try making your own. I”m planning on making them for Mother’s Day for my mama and my sister-in-law as a special treat when I visit them in a couple weeks. And who knows? Maybe I’ll have to suffer through eating a couple rejects while a practice…how awful, non?