Have you ever tried a macaron?
Don't confuse these with macaroons... a soft cookie with coconut popular in the American South. Macarons (with one "o") are delicate little cookies made with almond (or other nut "flour") sandwiched together with a bit of ganache, curd, or jam.
They are delicious.
Many experts agree that the best macarons in the world are made by Pierre Hermes. These were the first I ever tasted, and I agree. Since then I've tried macarons from several locations, including:
Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, CA
There was a lot of hype about these macarons, as there is about Thomas Keller in general. We actually drove to Yountville twice in order to try these. They were extremely disappointing - huge, cakey, mushy messes.
Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle, WA
This place was disappointing, considering their chocolate almond croissants are pretty much to die for. The macarons were pretty much flavorless and the texture was too crumbly - like they'd let the poor things dry out. They did have a very good variety of "flavors"... that all tasted the same.
Yes, I bought frozen macarons from TJ's. They weren't bad. In a pinch, I would prefer these over no macarons at all. The problem was I really didn't like the vanilla ones, and would only eat the chocolate ones. And since you can only buy them in a package that contains both? It just seems like a big waste. Guess I need to make friends with someone that likes vanilla macarons.
Pix Patisserie in Portland, OR
Pix offers several flavors of macarons... but only 2 or 3 at a time. So it was a major disappointment to find that there were no chocolate macarons to be had when we visited Pix. The lime one, however, was very good. The texture was very good, and I would buy these macarons again.
Honore Artisan Bakery in Ballard (Seattle), WA
While at first I was worried based on the size of the macaron, these are probably the closest to the PH macaron I've sampled. There were several flavors, including a passionfruit with chocolate ganache that was sinfully tasty. When we're in Seattle this summer, I'll definitely make a special trip up to Ballard to visit this bakery again.
So what's a girl from Bend, OR to do, when the macarons I long for are so far away.
Simple: find a baking buddy, and make them ourselves. Aside from the ganache, macarons really only have four ingredients: confectioner's sugar, almond (or other nut-based) "flour", regular sugar, and egg whites. How hard could it be?
Well, yeah. Our first round of macaron-baking was a disaster of sorts.
This is a peanut macaron with chocolate ganache, and chocolate macaron with nutella filling. We learned a lot while making these. The peanut macarons were simply too big. The pictured cookie was actually trimmed down. But it tasted fine. We tried a different piping method for the chocolate and it was AWFUL... instead of puffing up it turned into a stiff hockey puck. It was a humbling experience.
So a few weeks later we tried again. This time we only attempted the peanut macaron with chocolate ganache - choosing to focus our efforts on one and trying to get it just right.
These turned out much better! There were a couple of differences this time around. First, we beat the eggs until they were extremely stiff - forming hard peaks that didn't "dip" at all when they were tested. Second, they were piped with a medium-small tip using a "kiss" technique. By the time they were put into the oven to bake any points that formed from piping this way had settled into a smooth top.
The result? Our macarons baked up puffy and smooth, and formed the perfect little "feet" around the bottom rim of the cookie. They were slightly underbaked so were a little too cakey inside... but definitely an improvement over last time.
And? They tasted great too! Now that we have the basic techniques down for mixing and piping, I want to branch out and try some other flavors. Especially Caramel Fleur de Sel. Yummm...