My first experience with this delicious treat was on my honeymoon in the magical city of Paris - known globally as the city of lights, but to me it was the city of good cheese, perfect pastries, and fantastic wine. Chris and I were searching out some goodies for a late evening picnic on the Champs du Mars. Our plan was to have a fromage & charcuterie plate while watching the lights on the Eiffel Tower. The concierge at our hotel steered us to a bakery that was a must try while in Paris – La Duree. Evidently they are famous for their macarons. When I heard that word, I thought about those coconut cookies that are sometimes drenched in chocolate. Sounded like a treat!
Upon arriving at said bakery we were greeted with a line out the door and a wait of about 30 minutes just to get inside. All the while I was wondering, “Is the coconut really that much better in France??” When we finally entered, we were greeted by the sweet smell of chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, and some I couldn’t identify but knew I would like. We saw rows and rows of those jewel-like delicacies in a variety of colors. I happily pointed at the ones I wanted and they wrapped them all up in the signature green La Duree box, similar to that signature blue box we all love so much. These tidbits would almost make me choose the green box over the blue box – almost.
La Duree was definitely something that needed to be documented and remembered. I started taking photos over the counter and got one recorded before a young man came rushing over gesturing wildly and speaking in French. Confused and watching intently trying to decipher his sign language, I finally determined that photos were not permitted. A few days earlier, I had my camera confiscated at the Moulin Rouge so I politely put my camera away as a means to keep it in my possession. Later that night while watching the lights on the Eiffel Tower and sipping champagne, we had our first bite. It was to die for – perfectly crunchy and chewy at the same time. I couldn’t imagine how that texture was possible and at the time, it didn’t matter.
Fast forward three and a half years: I was in another magical place – South Coast Plaza, relaxing and touring around one of my favorite stores, Sur La Table. I was sure that there was something I was in need of for my kitchen. Then, I saw it, an advertisement for a class on making macarons. Was it finally time I could get that flavor and texture out of my own kitchen?!?! Time and again I had heard the warnings about how these cookies will vex you if everything isn’t perfect. You need the right temperature, just enough humidity but not too much, don’t over mix, don’t under mix. I had heard it all. If I believed all the horror stories, I would have thought that only the French could make these cookies and only in France. But I had come a long way from that first dinner, so I was ready. I registered right there and started waiting.
Four anxious weeks later, I was there in that beautiful locale again. Upon arriving I noticed that the skinniest girls in the room were the pastry chef and her assistants. I was suspect. You know what they say – never trust a skinny chef. I’m sure they were very nice, but how could those girls know anything about butter, cream, and sugar? How could they do any taste testing and remain a size 2? Could they really know how these extraordinary treats were supposed to taste? But I had paid my money and made the trip to Costa Mesa in 405 traffic. I decided to stay and see if Chef Katie was what I had been promised. As it turned out, she knows her stuff. I apologize for ever doubting her.
To begin, we gathered all of the ingredients. These included almond flour, egg whites (not even yolks!), and some sugar. In case you are keeping track, those ingredients are all gluten free! Doesn’t that make them healthy?
First, equal parts of almond flour and sugar were sifted 3 times through a fine mesh sieve to ensures a smooth texture. The egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks and added to the flour mixture. After that, the stirring begins, and continues and continues and continues. Finally the necessary consistency was achieved.
Next comes the piping – 36 perfect one inch circles in all, piped one handed onto parchment. This was so much easier than the stirring. Before baking, the discs needed to experience the right humidity for about 15 minutes to get the skin. This skin becomes that crunchy outer layer that is critical to the experience of eating the macaron. When they finally went into the oven, there was the filling to tackle. (Who thought this class would only take 3 hours?) The filling was markedly easier than the macarons themselves. Filling involves another piping bag. I know from experience if you don’t wait for your cookies to cool before you pipe the filling, your butter cream WILL melt. Don’t be like me – don’t pipe cold filling onto hot cookies. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
In the end it was all worth it. It brought back those memories from La Duree. The texture was perfect – a little crunchy at first, then perfectly chewy. There really isn’t anything like it. I came home to Chris exhausted but smelling like sugar & chocolate, and best of all, toting leftovers.
The next feat will be making these in my own kitchen. I haven’t had the courage yet, but I will. Soon. I’m craving that texture as you read this.