French Macarons: Finally Mastered

savory macarons - bacon & chocolate

Early Days Macarons – bacon & chocolate

French Macarons. Let’s get one thing straight… there is no coconut in these babies. These are the gorgeous, colorful little meringue cookies that you’re starting to see everywhere these days! So trendy!! Back in April of 2013 Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil had a cooking challenge for French Macarons. I was participating pretty regularly in these challenges but never actually got around to posting about our adventures in macaron making. Those early days we had really mixed results. Sometimes they came out, sometimes they didn’t. French pastries are truly an art form so I’m not surprised that we didn’t master this on the first try.

We did learn some very valuable lessons:

  • Unless you’ve been trained in the culinary arts and are a master French pastry chef, four hands is better than two.
  • A reliable oven is extraordinarily important.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice!

Macarons are wonderful for so many reasons. They’re colorful. There are so many different combinations of flavors; you can get creative or stick to some really wonderful classics. And best of all, they’re naturally gluten-free! That’s right, folks, the base is made with almond flour so there’s no fear of any kind of nasty gluten sneaking into your diet. So, if you’re Celiac’s or just have a gluten sensitivity these little gems are safe, safe, safe for you!

We learned the art, techniques, and recipes mainly from two books:

I Love Macarons

I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita [Amazon affiliate link]

If you have to only purchase one book, go with Petite Macarons. It’s a much more comprehensive compendium than I Love Macarons. It has great instructions for three different meringue methods and tons of different recipes and combinations!

Some other things that are truly helpful on your macaron journey:

  • MacShapes- Pre-printed Parchment Paper for Piping Macarons
    We found that the feet on our macarons formed better and didn’t stick to the surface when we used parchment paper over silpat (even though silpat is always my go to when baking). The pre-printed parchment paper just makes it so easy to get uniform shapes!! What’s not to love?
  • Ateco 10-Piece Plain Pastry Tip Set
    This pastry tip set is nice. It’s the one that I use. Honestly, you don’t need all the tiny sizes (unless you get fancy??). But there’s a good range here. I found that different batters have different consistencies so I use quite a few of the larger sizes.
  • Ateco 12-Color Food Coloring Kit (Set of 24)
    These food colors beat the stuff you can get in the grocery store all over the place! They’re a concentrated gel type food coloring, so beware… a little goes a long way! I can’t tell you the number of times I got Pepto Bismol Pink rather than the gorgeous pastel that I was going for.
  • Ateco 12-Inch Soft Disposable Pastry Bag, 50-Pack
    Yeah, I know that disposable pastry bags aren’t wonderful for the environment… BUT… macaron batter is a sticky disaster that I simply do not want to clean up after. So after I pop the tip out of the bag into the garbage they go! These bags hold quite a bit, but we found that they’re not really big enough for a full batch. Better to do two bags and not have batter gushing out the top.
  • Rimmed baking sheets – whatever you’ve got should do fine. We like the heavy duty kitchen supply type ones.

That Time We Got Good

My cousin, Maria (who is basically like my little sister… we’re the two “Onlys” in the family so we claim each other), got engaged in September! We were all so excited that we decided to throw her a shower while everyone was at home in Arkansas this year. And what better shower theme than a tea party?! And what kinds of sweets are perfect for tea parties?? FRENCH MACARONS!!!! This gave us the perfect excuse to finally master these little cookies!

We decided early on that having this soirée catered was going to be key. Since the date fell just a couple of days after the craziness of Christmas, we all knew that no one would have time to make a ton of tiny tea sandwiches and scones. But we didn’t want everything to be store bought, so we decided to take the plunge and commit ourselves to two different types of French Macarons to make and bring to the event. We wanted one savory macaron (black pepper shells with a creamy Boursin cheese filling) and one sweet macaron (peppermint bark). And so we set off to perfect the art. I believe that we made four or five different test batches. And with each batch we got a little better and had just a little more confidence!

Right away we noticed a huge difference simply by baking these in my wonderful new-ish convection oven. We had long suspected that Mom’s oven wasn’t holding temperature correctly. It’s astonishing how much better everything works when you know your oven is performing properly!! If you’re not sure if your oven temp is accurate, you can get a fairly inexpensive oven thermometer to check.

Savory Macarons: Black Pepper & Boursin

Savory Macarons: Black Pepper & Boursin

The savory macaron was one that we made in our early days. It’s not terribly involved. The only touchy part is getting the shell to come out just right. If need be, you can buy Boursin cheese or a similar variety for the filling… no need to make your own herbed goat cheese if you’re pressed for time. Don’t skip whipping your cheese spread if it’s store bought. Those little shells are delicate!! It’s much easier to pipe the cheese than try to spread with a knife. No matter how careful, I guarantee you’ll break them.

Sweet Macarons: Peppermint Bark

Sweet Macarons: Peppermint Bark

The sweet macaron was another story! Because it was Christmas-time we had our hearts set on peppermint bark. However, none of our cookbooks had anything like it. Luckily, the internet did not fail us!! We found a lovely recipe over at Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt that we used with wonderful success. The only thing we added/changed was to make a decadent semi-sweet chocolate ganache to dip half of our macarons in after they had been filled. This really made them become peppermint bark!

If you want a tip on how to make the adorable peppermint candy swirl on the shells, here you go: use a long wooden skewer or toothpick to paint a line of food coloring down the seams of your pastry bag, make sure to get the coloring as close to the tip as possible. When you pipe it out, pipe from the center out to make the swirl!! It works perfectly every time.

I’m dying to try out some new recipes this spring! Now that we’ve got the hang of it, I just can’t get enough of these little cookies!!

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