Today is a very special occasion: Mother’s Day. Though every day should really be a day for appreciating mothers, it’s nice to have one that is sunny and springy, just like my mom. Mothers are often the source of Disney evil-villain-ry but my mom is just the opposite.
Some girls I know worry about becoming their mothers, but I strangely love when I realize I’m doing something exactly like my mom. Sometimes I’m just making food that she makes, sometimes I discover that I love a book that she loves too, and sometimes I’m wearing the exact same plaid flannel pajama set that she’s wearing on the same night. My mom and I are not the same person, of course, but she is one of my best friends. We share secrets and sewing projects and lots and lots of snacks. We love soft pretzels and pastries and Paris, and so we decided to take on a new project: French macarons.
French macarons are naturally dairy- and peanut-free and super-duper cute, so this dessert was totally Bear-friendly. This recipe comes from Martha Stewart but I have copy-and-pasted it here for your convenience. (Also, it goes with the pictures.) As Ms. Stewart says, “French macarons are light-as-a-feather classic French treats that give your dessert a dose of sophistication.” Nothing says happy Mother’s Day like a dose of sophistication, right?
A note of caution: macarons are very labor intensive, and mothers already do a lot of work. My mom is a superhero, so we spent an entire Saturday making macarons and shopping. For the fainthearted, either schedule this project with a mother-daughter spa day or, if you want it to be a surprise, be prepared to enlist some helpers in the forms of younger siblings and dads.
First, the ingredients. Macarons are really nothing but almonds, sugar and eggs, which explains why they are basically perfect. The measurements are as follows:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
For the filling, we used a tart apricot jam, but you may use any ganache, light buttercream, or jam of your choice. Some of these ingredients may be difficult to find, like the almond flour. Try going somewhere like Whole Foods or a health or vegan food store.
Preheat your oven to 375º F. Then, the directions say “Pulse 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.” We actually just stirred the ingredients together with a whisk. Pulsing the ingredients in a food processor may make the dry ingredients finer, but the wafers suffered no density issues in the end, so I will say it is probably not as important as Martha Stewart makes it sound.
Separating the egg whites is something that, as even my kids’ cookbook tells me, is challenging. It may take some practice, so try separating your egg whites and yolks the next couple times you make them for breakfast before attempting to make macarons. Once you’ve got it down, go ahead and proceed by whisking the egg whites “on medium speed until foamy.” Add the cream of tartar, and whisk “until soft peaks form.” Soft peaks really just means that it doesn’t fall over and that the egg whites are beginning to keep some structure.
Then reduce the speed to low, and add the superfine sugar. To be honest, we didn’t use superfine sugar, we just used regular white granulated sugar. Again, probably not the most professional macarons but they came out great, so I think the superfine sugar goes in the same category of “myth” like the food processor.
Increase the speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form (about 8 minutes). Sift the flour mixture over the egg whites mixture, and fold until the mixture is “smooth and shiny.” Pulsing the dry ingredients may have made the batter smoother, but it definitely came out shiny so we kept going with it.
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted a plain round tip. Martha Stewart recommends a ½” tip but we used a smaller one, because that was the only round tip we had.
Pipe 3/4-inch rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets, pulling the pastry tip around the side of the rounds to keep them smooth. Martha Stewart recommends placing them 1 inch apart, but the wafers do not expand in the oven, so a little closer is okay if you’re trying to be economic in your parchment paper usage.
Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. (This step is very important.) Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. You should see bubbles rise to the surface of the wafer and dissipate.
Reduce oven temperature to 325º F. (In reality, we preheated the oven to 325º F, but I guess if you’re being professional there’s something about overheating and then lowering the oven. Bake one cookie sheet at a time, rotating the halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, so about 10 minutes on each side. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. (We didn’t actually do this part)
Let the macarons cool on sheets for a few minutes, then transfer the individual cookies to a wire rack. Martha Stewart says that “if macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.” This is not true. It makes them soggy and weird. Instead, use a flat metal spatula (i.e. not a fork) to gently coax the wafers off the paper and onto the wire rack.
This next part was probably my favorite part. Because you will most likely not have perfect, even circles that are all identical like the professionals at Fauchon [insert link], match the wafers up with a cookie that is roughly its mirror image. If this proposition scares the visuospatial part of your brain, try to at least match cookies that are the same size and relative oval-ness.
Sandwich a spoonful of filling—in this case, apricot jam—and spread evenly. Try not to break the cookies. Arrange artfully, serve immediately and eat them all.
Alternatively, if you cannot eat all the macarons (what!), Martha Stewart suggests stacking them between layers of parchment, wrapping them in plastic and freezing them. They will last this way, according to the expert, for up to three months. However, do be careful about storing them, because when we boxed them up, the moisture caused the wafers to be soggy the next day. The toaster oven heroically stored them. Let them cool down and firm up before storing them, or stick to the original plan of eating them all at once.
On this special day, Bear is so thankful for mothers, grandmothers, and maternal types in the world, most especially the one that makes him custom outfits, gives him emergency surgical operations and lets him into the kitchen even at the risk of getting egg on his face. Happy Mother’s Day!