Recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon book, page 310 & 311
Makes between 31-36 finished cookies
I went to France a few years ago and my most memorable and treasured moments on the trip were eating real French food. Specifically real French croissants and macaroons. I was in absolute heaven the whole time. The macaroons in France are seriously to die for. I always had my 2 euro coin ready so I was able to quickly pop into any bakery we passed during the tours and grab one, then I would run to catch up to the group. It was a shame that they stale so quickly otherwise I would have brought back a years supply when I left. I've tried making these many MANY times since and have figured out one thing about macaroons:
They have some massive PMS issues.
They're so moody and seem like they only turn out right when they feel like it. I've tried several different recipes and have had issues with all of them. Batter too runny, they don't develop "feet", they aren't shiny, they crack on top..... I can go on all day with the possible problems with these. Christmas 2010 I went to Yountville, CA during our Christmas escape and stopped at the Bouchon bakery. I swear angels sang that day. They had French macaroons. Amazing French macaroons. The closest I've ever tasted to the real French macaroons in the states. Not surprising though. If you know me, you know of the mad crush I have on Thomas Keller. Everything he makes is fantastic. His recipes and methods never fail. He did live and work in France for a while. I suppose that helped a little in his awesomeness. But anyways, I've had both his French Laundry and Bouchon book for a while and I wanted to kick myself that I didn't realize his macaroon recipe was in the Bouchon book. I've had his secret piece of heaven in my house this whole time and never realized it. I love the Bouchon book because he specifically wrote it so people could make his recipes at home. He even tested it in a regular persons home kitchen to make sure they worked. Oh they work....they ALWAYS work. I have never had a single problem with any of his recipes. Can't stress enough of how much everyone should have this book in their kitchen.
Anyways.... on with the show! Here is the recipe and tricks of making the best french macaroons you will ever have in your life. I hope after reading this you all have the confidence to give these a try at home.
This is a three part process:
#1- making the cookie
#2- making the butttercream
#3- putting it all together
Part 1: The Cookie
5 cups Almond Flour
5 3/4 cups Confectioners (powdered) Sugar
1 1/4 cups egg whites (7-8 large eggs), room temperature
2 Tbs. + 1 tsp. sugar
pinch cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla
Making the cookie is usually the most challenging part. I had zero problems with this recipe. You can find almond flour in most specialty stores like whole foods. Whole food's almond flour is actually really great. Its nice and fine which is important in making macaroons because it contributes to the final texture of the cookie. You can also find almond meal at Trader Joe's which is pretty much the same thing. Almond meal is a little coarser and the almond skins are pretty visible, which give it more texture and its looks a little more rustic. I just pulsed it for a few seconds in my food processor to make it a little finer and it worked perfectly. Don't pulse it too much or you'll end up with almond butter.
Combine the almond flour and confectioners sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Add that mixture in batches to the food processor and pulse for about 10-15 seconds. Dump that into a large bowl and repeat until all of the mixture has been processed. This step will make the texture a lot finer and lighter. (note: Most recipes have you sift this a million times but this recipe doesn't call for that and didn't need it. SO glad to be able to skip that step.)
DON'T SIFT! No matter how much you want to. I don't know why you would want to though.
(Almond flour and Confectioner's sugar in the food processor)
(Almond flour and Confectioner's sugar in the large bowl after processing)
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Make sure you don't get any (not even a small speck) of egg yolk in the whites when separating otherwise they will not inflate. Whisk on high speed just until the whites get frothy and hold a shape. Slowly sprinkle in the sugar and cream of tartar (with the machine running).
Continue whisking until egg whites are at stiff peaks. In case you don't know what peaks are.... here you go:
(soft(ish) Peak. I would say this is more between soft and medium peak.)
Be very careful not to over-whip the whites. They will look grainy and watery instead of smooth and shiny if you do whip too them too far.
Fold 1/4 of the almond flour/sugar mixture into the whipped whites. Fold just until combined then add the vanilla and fold until the vanilla in incorporated. It should still be nice and fluffy.
Add this to the bowl of flour/sugar and fold together. It may seem dry at first but keep folding and it will come together. Folding is not stirring. Don't stir this. Here's what it should look like when its all combined.
Step 4: Pan it up!
I've seen these come in all sizes small and large. Its hard to get a good balance of chewy and crispy. T.K has tested this and found that 2 inch cookies yielded the best results. I agree. As a self proclaimed macaroon junkie who's eaten a million macaroons, these had the best texture of any I have ever eaten. A trick to make sure all of the cookies are actually 2 inches and all the same size: Use a 2 inch round cookie cutter and trace around that onto the parchment paper. This made it so easy to pipe these out.
Its very important that you use a heavy duty half sheet pan (or any heavy duty cookie sheets) on these otherwise the pan gets too hot for the cookies and they can crack on top. If you don't have a heavy duty pans you can just double up 2 sheet pans. Measure parchment paper to fit a half sheet pan. You must use parchment paper! Target sells it. Go get some and keep it in your kitchen at all times. Wax paper is NOT parchment paper. You will need 4 sheet pans and 4 pieces of parchment paper. Trace around the cookie cutter on the parchment paper keeping spacing 1 inch apart. Trace four circles on one row, then 3 circles below spacing between the circles above. Repeat until you have 3 rows of 4 and 2 rows of 3. Make sure the ink side of the parchment paper is facing down on the pan so the cookies don't cook in ink.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip with the macaroon batter. This is the easiest method ever:
Pace the bag into a quart cup (or any tall cup) with the tip pointing up so the batter doesn't come out while filling. Fold the bag over the top of the cup and fill it up! Clean and less awkward then trying to hold it and fill at the same time.
Hold the bag in the center of one of the circles about a 1/2 inch above the circle. Leave the tip in place the entire time and squeeze the bag to "flood" the circle with the batter. Don't move the bag around. Just leave it in the center and it will fill the whole circle.
After all cookies are piped, gently tap the pan on the counter to smooth them out and get rid of any peaks left by the pastry bag. Repeat with all 4 cookie sheets.
I ended up only having enough batter to fill 3 1/2 sheets even though there was supposed to be enough for 4 whole pans. They were the perfect size so I don't think I over filled them.
This last step is super important:
Let the cookies rest at room temperature for 1-2 hours. I let mine sit for the full 2 hours and I'm glad I did. They need to dry out and the tops should form a crusty skin.
After 2 hours preheat the oven to 325 and bake 1 sheet at a time. T.K. says it's ok to do 2 sheets and rotate shelf positions half way through baking, but my oven cooks so unevenly, doing this in the past has caused nothing but problems. I figure good things come to those who wait.... just do one pan at a time to be safe.
Place the pan on the middle rack and bake for 11 mins. Turn the pan then cook for an additional 10-11 mins. The signature macaroon "feet" should start forming around 10 mins or shortly after. When finished they should be light golden brown on the top and bottom with crispy tops.
Leave the cookies on the parchment paper and immediately slide the paper onto a cooling rack to let cool completely.
Repeat with remaining 3 pans.
Once the cookies are cool, peel the paper away from the cookies. They should easily separate from the paper.
Part 2: The Buttercream
Once the cookies are cool, peel the paper away from the cookies. They should easily separate from the paper.
Part 2: The Buttercream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
4 large eggs
1 pound unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. Vanilla
Note: make the buttercream while the cookies are doing their 2 hour room temperature rest.
To make "real" buttercream you need one of these:
Real buttercream is egg based. Usually meringue. If you have a recipe that just blends confectioner's sugar with butter and vanilla, please throw it out and never use it again. For some reason when people see that you have to boil sugar to make a good buttercream they freak and think its too hard. Its not hard, its not tedious, and its totally worth a couple extra steps.
Normally, whenever I've made buttercream in the past it uses only the whites of the eggs. This is the first time I made or even heard of making buttercream with the whole eggs. I was a little nervous about this because I couldn't imagine why it would work. Egg yolks deflate whites. How would it get that traditional thick and creamy consistency? It works. Never doubt The Keller. It's so rich and creamy and is the best I've ever had. Probably wouldn't be great for frosting because its a little softer then Italian meringue buttercream, but its a perfect filling.
Combine the sugar and water in a sauce pot. Gently stir just to dissolve the sugar. If you splash any on the sides of the pan just brush it with a wet pastry brush to clean the sides.
Let it boil on moderately high heat without stirring it... ever. Let it be. If you stir it you will cause crystallization, which is bad. Place the thermometer stem in the sugar and let it cook until it reaches 248 degrees.
While the sugar is boiling, beat the eggs on high speed in a mixer with a whisk attachment. They should be thick and frothy by the time the sugar reaches 248. It should look like this:
Reduce the mixer speed and pour the syrup into the eggs being careful to stay to the side and not pour it into beater. That would fling the sugar onto the side of the bowl instead of mixing it with the eggs. Continue to mix until the mixture thickens and cools to room temperature.
Feel the sides of the bowl with your hands. It should feel cool to the touch. Its very important that the bowl be cool before adding the butter. If the eggs are too hot it will melt the butter and you will have a soupy consistency. If that happens, just put the bowl in the fridge for about 10 minutes to slightly harden the butter, then continue mixing. Add the butter a handful of chunks at a time, whisking to combine.
It should come together pretty quickly. If the mixture separates or breaks, just keep mixing it. It will eventually come back together.
I call this the scrambled egg stage. Right before its done mixing it briefly looks like scrambled eggs. This is normal and good. That means you did it right and it's a few seconds away from being perfect. I remember the very fist time I made buttercream I saw this stage and thought I screwed up and threw it out because it looked funny. Whoops.
Finished product! It should be smooth and creamy at this point and not look like scrambled eggs anymore. Add the vanilla and stir well to combine it all together.
Now here is where you can have some fun with this. You can actually add any flavored extract you want in place of the vanilla. Or if you want to get really crazy you can add a few ounces of melted chocolate to it, or my FAVORITE..... pistachio. Peel about 3/4-1 cup of pistachios and blend them in a food processor for about 5-8 minutes until it forms a paste
Then whisk the paste into 1/2 of the buttercream in a separate bowl.
Part 3: Put it all together
Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and fill with the buttercream. I did one sheet pan at a time. There are 18 cookies on each pan so turn 9 of the cookies over and pipe a large dollop (about a tablespoon or so) into the center of the cookie leaving a little bit of a border.
Then place another cookie on top top and gently press down. The filling will press out the the edge of the cookie.
As a variation I left some of the butter cream plain vanilla and put a little bit of strawberry jam (about a teaspoon) on top of the buttercream. (Strawberries and cream!)
Put the top on and you're ready to eat.
These really are at their peak flavor and texture on day 1. If you aren't going to eat them that day, don't fill them all. (Or even better, if you don't need the full batch of 36, reduce the recipe to make what you can use in 1-2 days) Store the unfilled cookie shells in an airtight container and they should keep for several days. The buttercream should be stored covered in the refrigerator. Just bring it to room temperature and whip it a little before using it. The buttercream can be stored for a couple weeks in the fridge or in the freezer for up to a month. Its important to keep the filled cookies at cool room temperature. If they get too warm the filling will melt and ooze out. You can keep them in the fridge, but the buttercream isn't as good when its solid cold and the cookie stales slightly and isn't as chewy. If they need to be kept cool in the fridge, at least let them come back to room temperature before eating.
You also may have noticed I didn't color the Pistachio cookies. I don't like artificial colors. Green food dye does not make it taste like pistachio. I can see the visual appeal of having colored shells, but it really adds nothing more than just that visual appeal. So I passed and left them plain colored. To each their own though. If you want them to be colored, just add a few drops of food color paste (not the liquid) until its the color you want.