“Liberté. Égalité. Fraternité.” Born from ‘the Revolution,’ the national motto may be parallel to another brother/sisterhood – courageous foodies. Attempts made – successful or not – everyone undeniably hopes to create their very own palatable edifice ‘de Triomphe.’ And when it comes to sweet or savoury recipes, conquering French cuisine seems quite daunting. Still, I’m up for the challenge. Taking a stepping stone toward skillfully practised masters of the trade – Pierre Hermé, comes to mind – perfecting pastry arts is possible, with time. Fortunately, there’s no better time than the present to launch an initial trial of almond-meringue cookies – “Vive le macaron!”
First thing’s first, familiarization of necessary steps and procedures. ‘Macaronage’ – what does that even mean? For the making of these rounds, it refers to the French technique of combining the separately mixed ‘dry’ ingredients – almond meal and confectioner’s sugar – to the ‘wet’ – egg whites, beaten stiff, with granulated sugar. Simple enough, right? Not so fast! Reputably finicky, it’s all in how you fold them and – taking no gamble – know when to walk away. Careful not to under mix or over mix, the right number of folds will ensure your batch of macarons do not crack, and do stand on ‘feet.’ Honestly, the marker of a true macaron lies in a division found between a smooth and shiny domed top that stands on a clearly outlined rim – again, the ‘feet.’
So what’s the magic number? Browsing through several recipes, the number of folds and measurements for the required ingredients are varied. It’s no surprise I depend on Martha Stewart’s recipes and, in this case, 37 folds are appropriate. To make life easier, follow and adhere to any trusted recipe you wish – with precision – to yield the desired consistency.
Even in my experience, several efforts resulted in mixed results of both ‘presentable’ displays as well as some not-so-secretly consumed ‘crackled’ tops. Without a doubt, trial and error is in effect. But, here’s a quick-list of do’s and don’ts: do follow exact instructions, scale and weigh listed ingredients, use edible coloured gel paste – not liquid food colour – pipe the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, tap the tray – thrice – to eliminate air bubbles, air dry the rounds for about 30 minutes or until a skin forms on the surface, and bake rotating half-way using a timer; finally, please don’t mess with a good recipe.
That’s just the half of it! P.S., don’t get overwhelmed and do breathe throughout the baking process. Overall, pay attention to detail – from the start – and it will pay dividends in impressive delicate cookies. Now for the creative part, liberate masses – of cooled macarons – with a generous selection of buttercream, ganache or fruit preserve and spreads. With a shared interest to personalize macarons, my homemade array of filled sandwich cookies include: PB & grape jelly, dulce de leche salted butter, coconut cream, peaches ‘n’ whipped white chocolate ganache, piña colada, Boston Cream Pie, dark chocolate mint, zesty lemon poppy seed, lemon blueberry cream cheese, hazelnut chocolate and, last but not least, vanilla. Happy to say, practise does make perfect.
At the end of the day, my enjoyment of baking inspired me to make one of the most noticeably stared at desserts in France – seriously, window shoppers stop to admire displayed topiaries of sweet delights. Having ventured to the other side – ocean and shop – for a taste of an authentic Ladurée macaron, the investment is worthwhile whilst on vacation. As handsome a cost for an equally attractive treat, there’s good reason. When you factor the time and totaled purchase of staples put forth, you’re left with the realization that plenty of work goes into the creation of these high quality alluring cookies. So whether you’re looking to expand your confectionary talents or are simply in the mood to devour a light indulgence, know – either route – they’re worth it.
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