I travel to Europe at least once a month. No matter how hard I try to avoid Air France the connections through Charles De Gaulle just outside of Paris seem to always be the best. Paris is, well, just so French, if you know what I mean. Something (everything) always seems to go wrong travelling through Paris adding hours to the trip.
One trip it was lost luggage; another had the baggage workers on strike delaying the flight for hours. There was a flight controllers “work to rule,” which did nothing more than delay hundreds of flights over a three day period. A general strike last month closed the airport down for two days. It’s more like flying “Air Chance” than Air France.
Last month was no different—the cabin cleaners staged a one hour strike causing a 2-hour delay. The airline caterer must have been upset about something because the duck used in making my canard a la orange died in vain after being mutilated by a very untalented cook. The questionable chocolate desserts were also a waste of calories… now you know that it’s bad if I don’t eat the chocolate.
So this month I got smart and made a few purchases at the gourmet store at the airport before heading for home. I got a very freshly-baked baguette… still warm to the touch; a tin of pâté de foie gras kissed with Cognac; a jar of marinated white truffles and a small wedge of Camembert cheese. I already knew the airline had an ample supply of good French Champagne and a bottle of 6 year-old Portuguese Port.
I saw nothing of interest for dessert and besides I do need to lose a few pounds. I was very content with my airplane picnic and thought I was ready to go until I spotted a small kiosk selling Ladurée macarons. Ladurée is a luxury cake and pastry boutique brand based in Paris, France. It is known as the inventor of the double-decker macaroon where fifteen thousand are sold every day. They are considered the best macaron shop in the world. When I speak of macarons, I am not referring to macaroons, those mounds of coconut and almond kosher cookies sold during Passover in Jewish sections of the supermarket which can be mistaken for damp paper weights. I am talking about a beautiful meringue-based confection made from a mixture of egg whites, almond flour, and both granulated and confectioners’ sugar.
While Ladurée is highly esteemed for making exceptional quality macarons in traditional and creative flavors, other French patisseries such as Pierre Hermé and Fauchon are also well known for their macarons as well. Outside of Europe, the pastry has attracted itself to mostly cosmopolitan cities, notably New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and Toronto. New York has recently witnessed a surge in macaron shops.
The confection is characterized by its smooth, domed top, ruffled circumference and flat base. Connoisseurs in general and Ed Engoron in particular prize the delicate, egg shell-like crust that yields to a moist and airy interior. The macaron can be filled and held together with a buttercream frosting or jam filling sandwiched between two macaron cookies. Macarons can be found in a wide variety of flavors that range from the traditional (raspberry, vanilla) to the exotic (truffle, matcha tea) to my favorate—chocolate.
You might think something that beautiful is difficult to make. To the contrary they are quite easy.
Makes about 24 to 30 sandwich cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Cooling Time: 30 minutes
Assembly Time 10 minutes
fine sieve or strainer
electric stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment
3 baking sheets
wire cooling rack
1 1/3 cups (5 ounces) blanched almond meal or flour, finely ground
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8.5 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened *Choclatique Rouge Cocoa Powder, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup (3 to 4 large) egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup filling of your choice
- Force the almond meal or flour, along with the powdered sugar and cocoa, through a strainer or sieve into a large bowl and whisk to blend.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment whip the egg whites on low to medium speed until foamy, then increase the speed and continue just until they hold glossy, firm peaks, about 5 minutes.
- Using a rubber spatula gently fold in the dry ingredients in 4 additions. When the dry ingredients are all incorporated, the mixture will be runny and look like a wet cake batter.
- Spoon half the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a half-inch round tip and, keeping the bag vertical and 1 to 2 inches above the baking sheet, pipe rounds about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refill the bag and pipe macarons onto the second baking sheet. Set the rounds aside in a cool, dry place for 30 minutes to rest.
- While waiting, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat heat it to 425ºF.
- Work with one baking sheet at a time. Dust the tops of the macarons lightly with sifted cocoa powder and put the baking sheet on top of a spare sheet in the oven. Slide the set-up into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 350ºF. Prop the door open slightly using a wooden spoon (to reduce the heat as the macarons continue to rise and dry). The heat of every oven will vary; if the oven cools too quickly, do not prop open the door and instead quickly open and close the oven door every few minutes to gently release excess heat.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the macarons are smooth and just firm to the touch. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack.
- Bring the oven temperature back to 425ºF and repeat with the second baking sheet of macarons.
- As soon as the oven has been reset, and leaving the macarons on the parchment, lift the paper at one corner and pour a little hot water onto the baking sheet underneath the paper. Tilt the sheet to evenly dampen the parchment and leave the macarons on the paper for 15 seconds. Peel them off the parchment and place them on a cooling rack. Match them up for sandwiching.
- To fill the macaroons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling of your choice. Turn macaroons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macaroons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
- Pack the sandwiched cookies in a container and refrigerate for 24 hours (or for up to 4 days) before serving. This is how you achieve the wonderful texture.
- Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.
ChefsNote: The almond meal (or flour) should be finely ground. If the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar are a bit coarse, process them in a food processor for a finer texture before running through a strainer or sifter. Additionally, if the almond meal feels a bit moist, spread it out on a lined baking sheet and place in a 325-degree oven to dry out, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Choclatique ProductNotes: *Choclatique Rouge Cocoa Powder is our unsweetened lightly alkalized cocoa powder.