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Classic French Macarons – Delicate & Beautiful!
Until about 3 years ago I had never heard of French macaroons. To me, macarons were those coconut cookies that I absolutely hated! And then came the era of food blog browsing in my life when I stumbled upon these beauties. I initially didn’t think much about them. But they kept showing up everywhere, in so many blogs and photo websites!! The photos were so gorgeous, these cookies look so delicate, and so sophisticated. I did go through the recipes but never ever thought of making them in my own kitchen. I was so scared even to think about trying to make them. These macarons are “notorious” for their temperament. I have read so many stories of mac disasters and how you need to fold exactly 55 times to make the perfect macaroons. It seemed like an impossible task. If you look at the ingredients, it may not look very difficult. The basic cookies need only three to four ingredients: egg whites, almond flour, sugar and cream of tartar (purists don’t use this). See, not so difficult, not at all!
For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, the French macaroons are of course French!! The Parisians take pride in these cookies. Macarons are usually filled with a filling (anything from buttercream to ganache to fruit curds) and served in the form of sandwiched cookies. The unique feature of these cookies are the rough edges formed around these cookies when they are rising in the oven. These rough edges are also known as “feet”. Perfectly formed feet indicate perfectly prepared and baked macarons. And this is the thing that scares most bakers. “Failed” macarons don’t have feet and don’t rise very well in the oven, they fall flat and stick to the sheets.
I’ve never tasted macrons before today, they were almost a fantasy to me. I dreamt of making my own macarons and tasting them. But the fear has always over come my enthusiasm. Earlier I always used to tell myself that I don’t have a stand mixer and hence I cant make them (though I’ve always had a hand mixer, which will do just fine!). But when Venkat gifted me a stand mixer for our anniversary last year, he put me in a spot. Now I had no reason to not try them. I had shown Venkat various photos of macarons and explained what feet are, countless number of times. Every time I told him it was my dream to make them and he always asked me why not?? I was always scared that if I failed I might not have the same enthusiasm to try again. But since the past week, I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this day. I’ve been planning and plotting since Oct 2011 on how to tackle these “notoriously” difficult to make cookies. I must have read hundreds of recipes. Helen of Tartlette, has a wonderful macaron tutorial. I must have read that also at least 10 times. That did give me a lot of confidence. But one problem was that I could not find a recipe in cups/spoons and not in weight/volume measurements. I did find the David Lebovitz recipe, but that was for chocolate macarons. I had almost given up when I finally stumbled upon Martha Stewart’s recipe. Its Martha’s recipe, so it must be good.
That’s what I thought, finally dared and set out to make French macaroons today. I spent the whole morning with my heart in my mouth! Literally!! I carefully read the recipe, followed all the guidelines like a sincere student and went about the impossible seeming task. You can’t imagine how happy I was to see the “feet” when I opened the oven to turn the tray around! I am actually still looking at the macaroons and smiling to myself But then I remembered that there was one more hurdle in this race. The macs can have nice feet, but still get stuck to the parchment/sheet. So I held my breath, let the macs rest for 4-5 minutes and then tried gently pulling them off the sheet. Aha!! They came out beautifully Transferred them to a wire rack and waited to fill them I still can’t stop myself from smiling with glee. Can’t help but adore these cute little cookies and understand why they are so famous. And wait, we still haven’t come to the tasting session yet. This is the first time I’m making and tasting macarons. When I took the first bite, crispy….. and then chewy with an amazing almond flavor!! I am one happy girl today!!!!
I followed Martha’s recipe to the T. You can find the link to her recipe HERE
I’ll just include the precautions and tips that I flowed so they might solve the issues of most amateurs. I’m no expert, I’m an amateur and this is my first macaron. This is just the knowledge I gained from extensive reading and research.
- First, don’t be scared. Religiously follow a recipe you trust and see what happens. The process in not difficult, it just demands your attention at all the times. Read the recipe thoroughly and make sure you’ve understood it before you start.
- A lot of recipes call for “aging’ the egg whites. Most of us buy our eggs from grocery stores (or do you get yours from a farm??). So that step is not really necessary, according to me. I just let the egg whites sit at room temperature for an hour. Egg whites must always be at room temperature or they will not reach as much volume as they are capable of.
- Beating the egg whites: You can use a stand mixer of a hand mixer or a whisk (if you want a workout for your arms). The ultimate thing is to whip the egg whites so they form stiff peaks. Sounds complicated?? Try this. When the egg whites are perfectly whipped, you can simply lift the bowl and hold it upside down over your head. The egg whites won’t slip and fall. That was the test I followed because I was not sure how stiff the stiff peaks are!
- Adding a pinch of cream of tartar helps the egg white proteins to hold their shape or improve their capability to hold air. This air is responsible for rising the cookies when they go in the oven.
- I made my own almond meal/flour. I just ground up some raw (unroasted and unsalted) almonds in my coffee grinder. It is very very important to sift the almond flour and confectioners sugar at least 2 times to remove any big lumps. I also removed the very coarse almond particles in this process. Use a regular strainer like sifter, it helps.
- This step in known as Macronnage, and is crucial for achieving a shiny, smooth batter. Drop in all of the almond flour-sugar mixture at once onto the egg whites, be gentle though! Then using a rubber spatula (no, nothing else will do) gently fold in the almond mixture into the egg whites. Be gentle and swift. The egg whites will definitely deflate, don’t panic. That’s supposed to happen. When you can not see any almond flour or sugar or huge white blobs of egg whites, you’ve mixed enough. The consistency of the final batter is a little runny, not too thin, not too thick, but super sticky. If you lift your spatula and drop the batter, it will fall back in one smooth ribbon. This consistency is called “magma” like consistency. The perfect test is to place a dab of batter on a plate and it should slowly sink back without leaving peaks. If it does form peaks give the batter a few more folds.
- Letting the batter rest and form skin on the top. This is a very contradictory step, some favor it and some don’t. I did it because I thought it would help. Leave the piped macarons out for 30 minutes to an hour. When you touch the top of a macaron, it should be dry. The batter should not stick to your fingers.
- Bake one sheet at a time, on the top rack of your oven. I’ve read that the middle rack doesn’t work, its either the top or the bottom. We follow a rule of high temperature in preheating and then reducing the temperature just before you put in your macs to bake. This is an important step, the initial heat gets the macarons started and then they bake slowly. After each batch, increase the oven temperature back to 375 F for 5 minutes, then reduce it to 325 F and bake the next batch.
- Removing the baked macarons from the parchment can be tricky. Let the macarons cool on the sheet for 3-5 minutes. Try removing one macaron, mine came off quite easily. But they can be a mess if they are under baked. Try removing 2 and if they stick, spray the bottom of the parchment hseet with some water. If you still can’t remove the macarons, they are under done. Bake for another minute or two. Each oven is different, so this is a part where you have to experiment.
- The fillings can be anything you like. Try google and you will find a mind boggling variety of fillings!! I did not spend time on the filling today, so I filled half of my macs with apricot jam and half with melted semi sweet chocolates. My verdict (and hubby’s included) they were fabulous! Of course you can make a ganache for a silky smooth center, but this was just fine. Another observation I made was the macarons are quite sweet. So it will nice to pair them with some bittersweet filling or slightly tart fillings.
- A lot of people say that you should let the macarons rest for a day before eating. Come on now, its almost impossible. But I did save some of mine for the next day and I guess they did taste better!
Today is another special day, its one of my bestest friend Bhavani’s birthday! Happy Birthday babe!!!!!! And I know its all because of this special days charm that my macarons turned out perfect! I love you babes
That’s it!! Let get to the recipe now.
For the Macarons:
Makes about 40 1 inch round macaron shells
Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar) – 1 cup
Almond meal/flour – 3/4 cup
Egg whites – from 2 large eggs
Cream of tartar – a pinch
Pure Vanilla extract – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Superfine sugar – 1/4 cup
(Just pulse the regular sugar in the coffee grinder a few times)
For the filling:
Melted semi sweet chocolate/ganache
- Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and vanilla extract (if using) and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes.
- Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.
- Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. If you touch the top of the macarons, it should be dry and the batter should not stick to your fingers. That is, it should have formed a skin on the top.
Tip: Here’s a really cool macaron template. This will help you in piping out perfect macs!
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.
(See the feet, yay!!!)
- Let macarons cool on sheets for 3-5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)
- Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Martha’s Notes: Piping the perfect macaroon takes a little practice. Treat it as you would a rosette, bringing the pastry tip to the side of the circle, rather than forming a peak, to finish.
Variations: Chocolate: Substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the almond flour.
Here’s a visual treat for you all! I just used some melted bittersweet chocolate and a pastry brush to create the pattern on the macs. Then sprinkled some almonds (remember the coarse particles that were removed while sifting) while the chocolate is still not set. As simple as that! These macaroons are not perfectly round, I have to practice more. So I’ll get to make lots of macarons!!
What are you waiting for, go ahead and try this recipe!
And inside perfect macarons!
Storing Macarons (Information courtesy of Meeta): If you are not going to be using them right away you can store the shells in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. They freeze well too but it is recommended to freeze them unfilled. To fill them take the shells out of the freezer 48 hours prior to serving and without defrosting fill them. This way the flavors will be allowed to blend as they thaw.