French Macarons…..The Holy Grail of Pastries


Chocolate Macaron with Chocolate Espresso Ganache


I finally did it. Or more accurately, WE finally did it.

I, along with thousands of other aspiring bakers, have been meaning to try my hand at the elusive French Macarons. But for some reason or another, I always found myself pushing it off. “Why?”– you ask. Well, as the song goes….

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified……….”

It’s true. These finicky “Cookie Sandwiches” had me extremely intimidated. Simple in the number of ingredients—yet so much room for possible error. The amount of precision required to create them was simply daunting. But ever since I had my first bite of a Macaron from the famed Bouchon Bakery, I’ve been dreaming about them….Macarons—The Holy Grail of Pastries.

I cannot recount how many posts and articles I have read about Macarons to prepare myself for the day that I could muster up the courage to make them. But reading can only do so much—as I highly doubt I could fly a plane by just reading instructions alone! If I wanted to make Macarons, I’d just have to do it! Time to put on my big girl panties (or apron, in this case) and face my fears!

I entered this daunting experiment with my friend Carol and her sister Christine. Both ladies are quite the bakers and I figured it may be better to attack in numbers. In fact, the few days leading before our big baking day were filled with emails back and forth with various recipes and grocery lists. Heck, we were prepared!

I will not bore you all with the nitty gritty details of all 4+ hours we had in the kitchen but I will simply fast forward to the results (and some pointers). After all the stress and the worry, we were pretty darn successful!! We ended up making two types of Macarons that day. The first, a Chocolate Macaron with Chocolate Espresso Ganache (care of Annie Eat’s) and the second, a Lemon Macaron with Lemon Buttercream (care of Tartlette). Our Chocolate Macarons were the highlight of our day, warranting in my opinion a B+. Unfortunately, our Lemon Macarons were not so successful—-actually kind of a hot mess! The shells (or cookie) were suprisingly quite flavorful but just looked terrible….C- . Strangely enough, we did better with our first Macaron (chocolate) then our second batch (lemon)! We’re hoping it’s not beginners luck!

Here are some notes from our Chocolate Macaron with Chocolate Espresso Ganache:

  • We used Almond Meal that was ground with their skins intact (figured it was going to be chocolate so the speckles should be ok). Next time, I’ll try the Almond Meal without skins as the shells were a tad bumpy;
  • We had VERY good success using silpat mats but did not try parchment paper. Hey, why mess with a good thing?;
  • Getting a stiff peak with the egg whites is quite important before incorporating dry ingredients;
  • We tried both piping methods—piping “straight with a point” and as “commas”. The straight point yielded better tops – don’t worry about the points as they flattened anyhow;
  • We piped our shells on the slightly larger side–almost 2.5 inches. I’d recommend a little bit smaller…perhaps 1.5 inches;
  • Cookies were left for about 30-40 minutes to get the “hard shell” before baking
  • We baked each sheet for 9 minutes but it could have gone another 1-2 minutes (unfortunately there is no way to tell if they’re done than taking a bite into it). Also, the Macarons appeared to taste better the next day. “Aging” may possibly assist in texture/consistency;
  • If filling with Ganache, a thicker consistency is much easier to handle;
  • Using a scale to weigh things (as opposed to measuring) makes a difference.

Allowing the batter to rest after piping is imperative to achieve the macaron “crust”

Hallelujah!!! We have FEET!

Chocolate Macaron with Chocolate Espresso Ganache…..these little guys make me smile.

Here are some notes about our Lemon Macaron with Lemon Buttercream:

  • We didn’t weigh out everything but measured with cups, spoons, etc. to see if it made a difference. Turns out, it does.;
  • Egg Whites may not have been the precise measurement (see above);
  • We ground Almond Slivers instead of using Almond Meal and could not get a fine enough grind that resulted in grainy batter;
  • By using Almond Slivers, there potentially could have been more natural oils in the mixture thus causing inconsistency in the batter;
  • The meringue we added was very stiff….perhaps too stiff;
  • We could have used more confectioner sugar in the buttercream.

At this point, they still looked like they had potential…..

AGGGHH!! These aren’t French Macarons—they look like shiny cookies!

Ladies and Gentlemen…..this is what you call a HOT MESS! EEEeekk! (Photo by Carol Le)

I do have to reiterate that although our Lemon Macarons looked a bit crazy, it tasted REALLY yummy! The freshly ground almonds gave a wonderful, “true” almond flavor to the shells. We even considered just calling them a cookie versus a macaron. That way, we’d feel better about it 🙂

Our Little Babies (Photo by Carol Le)

Now, with the first attempt out of the way, I’m happy to report that it wasn’t as ridiculous as I had expected. Tedious, yes…but not impossible. It did help TREMENDOUSLY to have two great gals to work with (a little sparkling wine didn’t hurt either!) to whom we could each bounce back ideas and suggestions to. Thanks Carol and Christine–I’d bake with you two anytime!

The Moral of the Story? I’ll have to quote Julia Child on this one:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

I’m am sure that other attempts are in my near future 🙂