My experience with French macarons is sadly limited. Sure there were a few wonderful ones in France and a handful of lesser-good versions from New York bakeries, but all in all, I haven't eaten more than two dozen in my life.
I figured I knew enough about these little sandwiched meringue cookies to make a passable version at home, so a few days ago I set out to make these Pistachio Macarons from Unforgettable Desserts by Dede Wilson. In the recipe's intro, she warns that macarons are notoriously problematic to make—but I was undeterred.
Allow me to preface this by saying that my macarons didn't turn out not nearly as picturesque as the pictured ones, but they were delicious and full of pistachio goodness.
The process begins with a cup of shelled unsalted raw pistachios, rubbed clean of their papery skins. I picked a day for my macaron project when I little else to do, so the task of shelling and peeling countless pistachios wasn't really a big deal—at least not for the first half hour.
I'll just say that it took a while, and all of my pistachios were covered in a papery brown skin (which I had no idea how to get rid of). A little research informed me that a two-minute blanch in boiled water would make the skins much easier to peel off, so into the pot they went.
The boil left the skins soft and easy to peel but the pistachios were soggy and not at all ready to be ground into the floury powder called for in the recipe. I decided to dry them off with a quick toast in a hot pan, then tossed them into the food processor. When I ground them I realized that although they were dried on the outside, the inside was still wet. Instead of a dry flour I had a damp paste.
Once mixed with the confectioners' sugar, the mixture dried a bit and I was able to sift and sieve into something that resembled what the recipe implied.
I whipped up the meringue and folded in the somewhat powdered pistachios, and placed the base for my macarons into a pastry bag. I left them out for an an hour and baked them until firm on the outside and soft and moist within. They didn't look picture perfect, but I tasted one and it had all of the sticky, chewy, sweet qualities that macarons should, and I left them to cool and started the filling.
With a combination of butter, sugar, pistachios, vanilla and almond extracts there was no way to mess up the filling, and once the little cookies cooled, I filled my homely macarons.
They tasted great, the texture was spot-on, but they looked well, a little less than perfect. I decided to chalk these little guys up to a learning experience, and enjoy them in the comfort of my own kitchen. They might not be the most beautiful macarons in the world, but the experience of baking them will be some sort of insurance that the next batch I attempt will turn out to be a little more photogenic.
Win Unforgettable Desserts
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Unforgettable Desserts to give away this week.
- 3/4 cup unshelled unsalted raw green pistachios, rubbed clean of papery skin
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pastry bag and 1/2-inch plain round decorating tip
- 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
- 1/4 cup unshelled unsalted raw green pistachios, rubbed clean of papery skin
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1.4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the macarons: Line 2 jelly-roll pans with parchment paper; set aside. Put the nuts in a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment and pulse on and off several times to begin the grinding process. Add the confectioners' sugar and process until they are as finely ground as possible. Scrape into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and shake and press as much of the fine powder as possible through the strainer. Return what is left in the strainer to the food processor and grind again. Repeat the straining and processing one or two more times. You should be able to grind almost all of it into a fine powder; there might be a scant tablespoon of coarse nut-sugar mixture left in the strainer, which you should discard. Set the fine powder aside. Do not bother to wash the food processor; it will be used for the filling, and any leftover nut particles are fine.
In a clean, grease-free bowl of a stand mixer, whip the egg whites on low speed using the wire whip attachment until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the salt. When soft peaks form, add the sugar gradually. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Remove 2 tablespoons of the pistachio powder and set aside. Fold in the remaining pistachio powder into the meringue in two batches until evenly combined, Dollop about 2 tablespoons of batter onto a prepared pan. It should not completely hold its shape, nor should it puddle out into a flat disk, but rather should be somewhere in between. It should relax and soften slightly, losing any pointed "kiss"-like peak on top. Add the reserved pistachio powder if necessary to achieve proper texture.
Scape the batter into a pastry bag fitted with the tip and pipe mounds, about 1 1/4 inches across, at least 2 inches apart on the pans. Rap the pans firmly (and flatly) on the counter to release any air bubbles. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325%deg;F. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are dry on the top. They should be smooth and gently domed; the insides will still be soft and a little moist and they should have developed a ruffled ring, or "foot" around the bottom of each cookie. Cool completely on the pans set on racks.
For the filling: Grind the confectioners' sugar and nuts together in a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment until as fine as a powdery as possible (no need to sift). Add the butter with the machine running until creamy and combined. Pulse in the extracts.
Make sure that the macarons are completely cooled. Use a small offset spatula to spread a small amount of filling on one cookies bottom, then sandwich together with another cookie (matching the cookies by size, if there is some variation). Macarons may be served immediately, but I like to let them sit overnight at room temperature in an airtight container. Their flavor and texture seem to improve. Store at room temperature for up to 4 days in an airtight container. You may also experiment with freezing them. Many baker do, but I think they suffer a little.