are delicate, cream-filled cookies that seem simple
but can be difficult to get right.
all home chefs have experienced a kitchen catastrophe so
great they will likely never revisit the recipe in fear of
evoking those jarring feelings of defeat. For me, that
dreadful recipe was a tiny French cookie that so destroyed
my culinary confidence, I vowed to never tell a soul of my
failure. Until now.
in the kitchen has always come quite naturally to me. With
fond memories of family recipes, cooking is a therapeutic
hobby. If I’m feeling unimpressive, I take to the kitchen,
and in 20 minutes I’m feeling as accomplished as Fannie
Farmer. However, I always have more fun than Fannie.
with ingredients suited me more than Farmer’s penchant for
exact measurements. Who can be bothered with systematic use
of cups and spoons when everyone in your kitchen is drooling
from anticipation of your banana bread with tangy lemon
cream cheese frosting?
years, modifying recipes with nary a glance at the adorable
porcelain kitty cat measuring cups that my sister gave me
one Christmas had worked for me. As much as I enjoyed the
baking process, I was more concerned with making a recipe my
own and racing to feed my fans, because the flattery that
followed tasted so good.
rebel chef swagger was challenged when I met the macaron,
the tiny French cookie sandwich that appears deceivingly
carefree in its delightful pastel colors and creamy fillings
but has a wicked reputation for being difficult to make.
years ago, in the midst of a surge in macaron popularity, I
turned to my prized book, "Baking" by James
Peterson, for a recipe. Skipping over all of the textbooky
hoopla, I looked at the ingredients: "What’s so hard
about whipping together sugar and egg whites?" I
thought. Little did I know how crucial was this seemingly
first attempt, involving a smoky oven and someone else’s
confusion of wax paper for parchment, shan’t be detailed
here. But it wasn’t enough for me to refuse to try again.
Attempt No. 2 was just as tragic.
second time, I hastily whipped the meringue, taking great
care in crafting the perfect color batter. The additional
food coloring may have caused it to be a bit runny, but
never mind that. The color, Purple Mountains’ Majesty, was
impeccable. I gingerly squeezed each shell into little
half-dollar-size circles on the parchment. I smiled at them,
and, as they gleamed back at me, I placed them into the
oven. This would be the last time I would see my precious
was fitting a bag with a pastry tip to pipe the filling, I
heard a strange sizzling in the oven. It was the batter,
melting from the pan and dripping onto the bottom of the
oven. Three open windows, one fight with the smoke detector
and several dirty dish towels later, I hung up my apron,
closed my "Baking" book and promised to never
revisit that page, or any macaron recipe, ever again.
when my editor gave me a stack of new macaron books recently
and inquired about my interest in doing a story, I was
conflicted. Cramming my baking bravado directly down the
garbage disposal seemed less excruciating than attempting
the macaron a third time. But the books kept appearing on my
desk, including "Perfect Patisserie: Mastering Macarons,
Madeleines and More" by Tim Kinnaird (Firefly Books)
and "Bake it, Don’t Fake it!" by Heather
Bertinetti (Rachael Ray Books). Even the March issue of
Martha Stewart Living featured a crash course in macarons.
Apparently, macarons are back again, or maybe they never
weeks of staring at the covers with those glossy meringue
biscuits oozing with ganaches and butter creams, I decided I
was not going to be defeated by these pretentious, dastardly
signed up for a class, "Being a Chef: Le Macaron with
Madelaine Bullwinkel," at Alliance Francaise de
Chicago. The entire way there I had flashbacks of cleaning
perfect purple goo from the bottom of my oven. But I pulled
up my big girl baking pants for the cookie cause and
proceeded into the class.
who’s been teaching French cuisine at Chez Madelaine
cooking school for nearly four decades, learned this macaron
recipe from Paris’ Lenotre cooking school and tea house on
the Champs-Elysees. The macaron is said to have been
introduced to France in the 16th century by Catherine de’
Medici, an Italian noblewoman and queen to King Henry II.
devised by the Italians in the 16th century should be a snap
today, right? They didn’t have (modern) ovens, they didn’t
have any of our tools," Bullwinkel said at the
introduction of class.
are so advanced, we should be able to do this. Wrong. We are
also arrogant with our technology, and we think that, with
machines, we can do anything. And we can do a lot, but the
macaron is very trying. In fact, we are going to do it in an
exacting way to get the best results."
There’s that word again. But I wrote it down and
underlined it, taking very diligent notes throughout her
demonstration, during which Bullwinkel warned, "Taking
shortcuts is only something you can do when you’ve
mastered it." And not even she takes shortcuts.
her show-and-tell, she turned us loose to try it on our own
in groups. Some steps were intimidating, but seeing the
appropriate consistency of the meringue and watching
Bullwinkel’s piping technique were the most valuable
takeaways. The rest is just science, as my group mate Ben
Andrew, a chemist, put it.
is cooking; it’s not intimidating that way," he said.
"And, actually, I’m happier when we’re measuring
things, because it’s more precise. There’s a lot of ways
to screw it up."
proved to be key in not screwing it up. My group’s batter
was a bit thinner than Bullwinkel’s, a result produced
either by not spending enough time pressing the almond meal
and sugar mixture through the tamis (pronounced TAM-mee)
sieve or not scraping enough air out of the batter before
pouring it into the pastry bag.
mishaps some groups experienced included undercooked, gooey
centers — possibly caused by leaving the oven door open
too long — and cracked shells, either from the oven being
too hot or from too much air in the pastry bag.
detail counts, I learned. But in between the errors were
moments of perfection. And no matter how cracked or
misshapen the cookies looked, nothing beat the taste of the
an art," Bullwinkel told the class. "But guess
what? Only you will know the subtle differences in your
success, and everyone else will have their mouths full,
saying, ‘Mmm, what’s the problem?’"
is true, I found, after I repeated the recipe in the Tribune
test kitchen. That was the real test, after all. Working
alone, of course, took much longer than doing it in a group.
It took me three times as long as I thought it would, but I
ran into some preventable time-suckers along the way.
main advice: Get all of the tools. You’ll thank yourself.
The time it will take you to run to a specialty store to
pick up a tamis — the only tool missing from the Tribune’s
test kitchen — will be less than what it’ll take to try
to push the almond meal and sugar mixture through a typical
wire sieve. My arms and I learned this the hard way.
extra care in spending just a few more moments with each
step than I normally would. I meticulously weighed out each
ingredient exactly, not a gram more or less. Just when I
thought I scraped the batter against the bowl enough times
to push out the air pockets, I scraped a few more times, and
found that it dripped in a steadier stream this way. My
awareness of time fell away from me. Six hours later, I
untied my apron.
shells came out broken and sunken in, but none of them
melted off the pan. I arose from the kitchen with sore arms
but better off than my first and second attempts — I had
macarons to share.
tamis (pronounced TAM-mee) is a very fine sieve with a flat
bottom and can be much wider than the typical strainer.
Press as much of the almond meal and sugar mixture through
the tamis as possible so the batter doesn’t come out too
the metal bowl of a stand mixer with distilled white
vinegar, which acidulates egg whites so they don’t yellow
and allows them to rise. It also removes detergent and soap
residue from the bowl.
can’t always trust temperature settings on an oven. Put an
oven thermometer inside for best results.
working alone, stand the pastry bag in a tall beer glass to
free both hands for pouring the batter.
get small peaks on the tops of the shells when squeezing the
batter onto the parchment, wet your finger with water, then
smooth it over.
Red Mill brand of almond meal passes the easiest through a
Bullwinkel teaches cooking classes and leads culinary tours
to France through her school Chez Madelaine. Her next class
on macarons will be in the fall. For information, visit
MACARONS (MACARON VANILLE)
1 hour / Cook: 30 minutes / Makes: 50 to 60 macarons
from Madelaine Bullwinkel of Chez Madelaine cooking school.
It’s best to weigh out all ingredients on a digital scale
before beginning. Because precision is imperative to the
process, measurements and instructions must be followed
exactly. Modifications or substitutions will only make the
recipe harder, not easier. Keep the eggs out on the counter
overnight and separate them in the morning.
processor with blade attachment
hard plastic bowl scraper
mixer, whisk attachment
durable pastry bag (18-inch)
#10 pastry tip
grams finely ground almonds (almond flour or almond meal),
grams confectioners’ sugar
grams egg whites, at room temperature (save 4 yolks for the
grams granulated sugar (sifted to avoid lumps)
grams confectioners’ sugar
tablespoon vanilla extract
white vinegar, for cleaning bowl
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Cover 4 cookie sheets with
parchment paper. Place 4 more cookie sheets in freezer. (If
you have fewer cookie sheets, you can make the cookies in
batches, using 2 or more sheets at a time.)
Combine almond meal and 350 grams confectioners’ sugar in
a food processor with blade attachment. Process for 2
minutes, stopping once to scrape the bottom and sides of
Empty mixture into tamis; use a hard plastic bowl scraper to
scrape the mixture through the tamis into a bowl. Add any
residual pieces of almond meal that won’t pass through
sieve, or else the batter will be too thin.
Clean the metal bowl of a stand mixer with distilled white
vinegar. Beat egg whites in mixer at level 2 (or low), for 2
minutes. Turn setting to 4 (or medium); add the granulated
sugar a little at a time over a period of 1 minute, letting
each addition dissolve before adding more. When the whites
are thick enough so that the beater leaves a noticeable
trace, turn mixer off; add remaining 100 grams confectioners’
sugar. Turn mixer to level 10 (high); beat until the whites
have risen and are stiff, about 1 minute. They will appear
firm and glossy. Add vanilla; beat briefly to mix.
Remove bowl from stand; fold in ground almond mixture in
three additions with a large rubber spatula.
With a curved plastic scraper, repeatedly smooth the batter
up along the side of the mixing bowl to work out air
pockets: Starting with the scraper at the bottom of the
bowl, lift the batter up from the bottom center, pushing it
into the sides as you go. Continue to scrape the sides of
the bowl, pushing the batter back down, and then up again.
You want to apply firm pressure to get the air out. When the
batter looks smooth and falls from the scraper in a steady
stream, it is the proper consistency. This may take longer
than expected. The batter will go from looking fluffy and
airy to being thicker, with no bubbles.
a #7 or #10 pastry tip inside the pastry bag. Twist the bag
right above the pastry tip and push the twisted portion into
the pastry tip so the batter won’t drip out. Scrape batter
into bag. (If working alone, stand bag in a tall empty beer
glass.) If your pastry bag is not large enough to hold all
the batter, do this in batches. When it’s full, twist top
of bag and turn over in the ball of your hand.
corner of cookie sheets with a little batter to anchor
parchment in place. While holding bag from the top, hold tip
close to parchment, squeeze from the top of the bag,
counting to 5 to form 1 1/2- to 2-inch circular cushions of
batter. When squeezing, do not move bag or raise tip from
parchment. At 5, stop applying pressure, and twist in a
quick motion of the wrist. Repeat to fill the baking pans
with macaron shells. Frequently, stop to push batter down in
the bag with the scraper to avoid air pockets.
Bake macarons, 5 minutes at 300 degrees. Turn the heat down
to 250 degrees; bake another 15 minutes. The batter will
have risen and the tops will have a smooth, firm surface.
The macarons are done when they do not move when pushed
lightly from the side with a finger. Remove the macarons
from the oven.
chill the bottom of the macarons and stop them from
overcooking, first remove cookie sheets that are in the
freezer. Slide parchment with macarons onto a cold sheet and
let it rest, 30 seconds. Then slide parchment onto a cake
rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining parchment
sheets full of macarons. When the macaron shells are
thoroughly cooled, loosen them one by one. Then fill.
information per serving (using half the filling): 88
calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 10
g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 8 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
will have extra frosting for another use. It freezes well.
mixer, paddle attachment
grams whole milk
grams granulated sugar
vanilla bean, seeds and pod, see note
grams egg yolks (about 4 large)
grams granulated sugar
grams unsalted butter (3 1/2 sticks), cut in 2 tablespoon
Heat milk to a simmer in a saucepan with 60 grams sugar and
the vanilla bean seeds and pod until a skin forms. Stir
together yolks and 60 grams sugar in a small bowl. Stir hot
milk into yolks a little at a time so that the eggs don’t
curdle. Remove vanilla pod; transfer custard mixture to a
Heat liquid over medium-low until it coats the sides of the
pan (it should be about 180 degrees). Pour custard into a
mixer bowl; beat on medium until it cools to 86 degrees.
Beat in soft butter 2 tablespoons at a time. Set aside in a
cool place until ready to use.
Spoon buttercream into a decorating bag. For each macaron,
squeeze a 1/4-inch thick layer of filling over 1 macaron
shell. Cover with another macaron shell. Repeat.
To remove the vanilla seeds from the pod, slice the pod open
along its length with a very sharp knife. Spread the pod
open. Holding it flat against a cutting board, use the back
of the knife to scrap out the seeds. You will use the seeds
and the pod in this recipe.