Up until last year, I had never tasted a macaron.
I always thought people were referring to coconut macaroons, which I hate; the texture of shredded coconut just really bothers me, After I tried one, I knew I'd found a special friend. They are so light and airy, with the perfect combination of crispy outside and slightly chewy inside. They were everything I always knew a cookie could be.
Typing up this post actually really made me crave some; I made these over the summer at my parent's house. I filled the first batch with one of my other favorite things in the world, guava paste. For the second batch I cheated slightly and instead of making something from scratch, I bought some Dulce de Leche. In case you're not familiar with Dulce de Leche, it is a sort of caramel made from cooking down whole milk/cream and sugar. I've actually made my own before, and it comes out much better than the can, but for this recipe the canned version works great.
I actually had an opportunity to make macarons for the first time with a friend last year and I learned most of my techniques from her. As for the recipe itself, I ended up amalgamating various recipes I found online. I might tweak the proportions a bit in the future, but these gave me a damn near perfect cookie. As for the guava filling, that was totally my own idea. You will notice that the measurements are in grams; this is one of those recipes where a food scale is almost a necessity. The structure of the cookies is so delicate that being off by even a little will alter the final product drastically.
60g almond meal
50g egg whites
100g powdered sugar
30g granulated sugar
wilton food coloring of choice
The next step is to combine your powdered sugar and almond meal. You want to sift them together a few time, or even just put them in a big zip lock bag and shake it vigorously. If you happen to find some blanched, slivered almonds on sale like I did, you can also make your own almond meal. Essentially, you want to use a strong food processor to grind your almonds down into a fine powder. You can add some of the powdered sugar as you go to make it easier to grind. If you use this method, you have to strain it as you go and re-grind anything that is too big to go through. The texture will never be as fine as the store bought version, so your cookies will have minuscule pieces of almond, but I actually enjoyed that.
Next, you need to make your meringue. Take your aged egg whites (only 50g) and put them in the bowl of a mixer (a hand mixer works fine here). Start whipping up the egg whites. Once they have started to turn white and foam up, you want to slowly add your granulated sugar a tsp at a time. This gives the meringue structure and ensures that it won't fall on you. Once soft peaks start forming, add your food coloring and continue whisking. You are looking for almost stiff peaks in the final product. Because of the sugar you drizzled in, the meringue will be very solid and almost resemble gooey marshmallows.
Once you have your meringue, add it to your bowl that has the almond meal and powdered sugar mixture. Use a rubber spatula to incorporate them together and smash the mixture against the wall of the bowl. You want to deflate your meringue and actually take out a lot of the air we just beat in. The best way I can describe the final consistency is what I imagine lava would flow like. Once you have it ready, pour it into a piping bag. I like to put the piping bag inside a big glass/plastic container to make filling it easier.
After you have your piping bag ready, line a couple cookie sheets with parchment paper. I like to put a little dab of the batter under each corner of the piping paper to keep it from moving while I pipe out the cookies. Snip the corner of your piping bag and pipe out the little cookies. You really don't need a lot of batter, and the cookies will shape themselves into those perfect little round shapes. Another critical step here is now resting your batter. Let these trays sit out for at least 30 minutes before you bake them. You want the batter to set slightly and develop a slight crust on the outside. The best way to tell if they have rested for long enough is touching the tops: your finger shouldn't make an indent and should come away clean.
While the better is resting, you can prepare your filling. I just took some store bought guava paste and heated it up with a little water and lemon juice. When it gets hot, it gets really runny (and be careful, it can REALLY burn you if you get it on your skin) but once it cools it solidifies again (which is perfect for the cookies). Once the guava has completely melted and combined with the water, take it off the heat. Let it rest until it is just warm to the touch and put it in a piping bag (or in this case, a ziplock bag).
Bake the macarons at 310 for about 13-16 minutes. You really have to watch them carefully and start checking every 30 seconds after 12 minutes. The best way to tell when they are ready is that they come of the parchment paper with just a tiny bit of force and don't leave anything stuck to the parchment paper. Let them cool for a few minutes, fill them, and sandwich them. If you want them to look as pretty as possible, take some time to pair them up with the one that is closest in size and shape (I line them up in pairs to make filling foolproof).
Finally, because why not, take your leftover macarons and fill them with some of the Dulce de Leche. Just be careful, these can disappear before you've had a chance to taste one if you put them out at a party.