I have long had a love-hate relationship with macarons. As one of my colleagues puts it, “If you breathe the wrong way, they won’t come out right.” Well, I’ve had my share of failures, and with the high price of almond flour these days, I prefer not to have any at all. To crack the macaron code and streamline the process, I’m always trying different ratios and techniques, and here’s my latest. The base is a Swiss meringue, which is more stable than a French, but less messy than an Italian meringue. As always, no matter which formula or method you use, the key moment in making these cookies is the folding of the batter, known as the macaronage. Getting the right consistency will determine the success or failure of the macaron’s form, so it pays to take your time and pay attention so that you don’t either under- or over-mix the batter. When you get to the point where you can form a figure 8 with the batter in one smooth motion, stop folding – you’re ready to pipe. To get into the holiday spirit, I filled these macarons with a white chocolate peppermint ganache, then topped them with a white chocolate drizzle and a sprinkling of crushed candy canes. Make these beauties and you, like me, may just enter the love phase of your relationship with these fickle French treats.
Makes about 26 macaron sandwich cookies
White Chocolate Peppermint Ganache:
- 6 ounces (170 grams) good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
- 6 1/2 tablespoons (94 grams) heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
Pink Macaron Shells:
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (107 grams) almond flour
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (95 grams) confectioners’ sugar
- 3 large (90 grams) egg whites
- 7 tablespoons (84 grams) granulated sugar
- Pink gel food coloring (preferably this brand)
- 2 ounces white chocolate, chopped
- 1 tablespoon crushed candy canes or hard peppermint candies
Make the ganache filling
- Put the white chocolate in a heat-resistant bowl and set aside.
- Put the heavy cream in a Pyrex or other heatproof glass measure and microwave it until hot and bubbling, about 20-40 seconds. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it stand for about 30 seconds to melt the chocolate. Stir with a rubber spatula until the mixture is blended and the white chocolate is completely melted. Blend in the peppermint extract. If you have an immersion (stick) blender, blend the ganache until very smooth and emulsified. If not, you can whisk the mixture gently by hand. Cover the ganache with plastic wrap, letting the plastic touch the surface of the ganache. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until it has thickened to a pipeable consistency.
Make the macarons
- Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Fit a large disposable pastry bag with a 0.4-inch plain tip (Ateco #4); set aside.
- In a food processor, process the almond flour with the confectioners’ sugar until well blended. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl.
- Fill a small saucepan one-third of the way with water and bring it to a simmer. Have an instant-read thermometer at hand. Put the egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and, using a hand-held whisk, whisk them together by hand just until blended. Place the bowl over the simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl), and while constantly whisking in a gentle motion (you really just want to keep the mixture moving), heat until the mixture is warm to the touch and reaches 122˚ F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bowl from over the pot and place it on the mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat the whites at medium-high speed until they form stiff peaks. Add a few drops of the pink gel food coloring and mix until blended and you have a nice soft pink color (or add more for a hot pink).
- Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and resift the almond-sugar mixture over the whipped whites. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the whites. Continue to fold the batter, rotating the bowl and checking the batter’s consistency frequently until it is just right – you want it to flow like lava when it falls from the spatula, and you should be able to form a figure 8 with it in one smooth motion. Be patient – this is a crucial step in the process, so take your time and pay close attention to the batter’s consistency. Transfer the batter to the prepared pastry bag. Holding the pastry bag and tip perpendicular to one of the prepared baking sheets, pipe out 1-inch rounds of batter onto the sheet, spacing them ½ inch apart. Rap the baking sheet firmly against the counter a couple of times to remove any air bubbles, and use a toothpick to pop any remaining air bubbles on the surface of the macarons. Dry the macarons at room temperature, uncovered, for 40 to 60 minutes. The batter circles should not stick to your finger when you touch them. If they do, let them dry a little longer; time will vary depending on humidity, temperature, etc. About 20 minutes before baking, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 320˚F (if you have a convection oven, by all means use it, but set it at 295˚F).
- Bake the macarons for 13 to 16 minutes, until they have formed ‘feet’ and are firm to the touch. Cool the macarons completely on the sheet. Once the macarons are cool, carefully peel them off the sheet and transfer to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining sheet of macarons.
Fill and mature the macarons
- Scrape the chilled ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium, plain tip (such as Ateco #4). Pipe a dollop of ganache onto half of the macaron shells. Top with the remaining halves and press lightly until the filling spreads to the edges. Place the macarons in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to allow the shells to soften.
Garnish the macarons
- Place the macarons on a wire rack over a piece of parchment paper. Melt the white chocolate (either in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water or in the microwave). Place the melted white chocolate in a small disposable pastry bag (or a small Ziplock bag). Cut a very small hole at the tip (or in a corner of the Ziplock bag). Drizzle the tops of the macarons with the chocolate. Immediately sprinkle with some of the crushed candy canes. Let the chocolate set before serving. Store the macarons in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or allow to stand for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving.