Authentic French macarons with lemon and chocolate filling are a bit of an effort to make, but they are one of the loveliest desserts that ever existed!
The Parisian macaron experience
The Weather Man and I once queued for over half an hour outside Pierre Hermé’s patisserie in Rue Bonaparte, Paris, in order to spend a small fortune on a boîte of assorted macarons.
Which we promptly ate out of the boîte, outside the shop, ribbons and pretty packaging discarded, like they were chips. Embarrassing, I know. You could tell straight away we weren’t French.
That’s how fantastic the macarons were, and it was the first time we had ever tasted them. Only a year or so before the multi-coloured, sandwiched shells the size of a greedy bite started springing up around the weekend supplements and magazines (in those bleak, pre-Insta times).
It was about that time too, 2005, that Ladurée, Parisian patisserie and tea rooms, opened its first shop in London.
What are macarons like?
Macarons are light and sophisticated almond meringue biscuits, sandwiched with a filling. They come in various flavours, some of which are pretty standard like coffee, apricot, rose, chocolate or pistachio; while others are immeasurably recherché: Love in a Cage, Vegetable Garden or Infinitely Fig.
There is no standard filling for macarons as it all depends on matching the flavour. And so they may be filled with buttercream, with smooth flavoured whipped cream, chocolate ganache, jam or confit fruit.
They are mouth-wateringly delicious, but also eye-wateringly expensive. A box of dozen from Pierre Hermé will set you back £31 while Ladurée charge £29 plus shipping.
Why are macarons so expensive?
They are very labour-intensive biscuits to make and most of the process is done by hand. What’s more, each individual flavour needs to be made as a separate batch of appareil (macaron mix) so there is no cross-staining or contamination of flavours. It’s a high-precision job, for sure.
Mine is a practical macaron recipe: the flavour is just one, plain; my method, even though it closely follows the original Ladurée technique, is sensibly doable and the filling keeps for up to five days.
How to make authentic macarons?
The appareil consists of two parts: almond paste and Italian meringue.
The first is a doddle: stirring ground almonds and icing sugar into egg whites (44% of the overall egg white amount you’re using – there is a need to be precise in this recipe) into a thick paste.
Tip: egg whites are rather difficult to measure out precisely so it’s better to break them up with a fork until foamy before you weigh them out.
The Italian meringue is made by adding hot sugar syrup in a slow stream to egg whites first beaten to stiff peaks. Trickier than your ordinary meringue!
Especially that it is better done with a hand-held mixer rather than in a standing one, because in the latter the syrup will get splattered around the sides of the bowl instead of getting right into the whisk.
So you have to handle the bowl dancing on the worktop (place it on a tea towel), the mixer in one hand and the pan with the hot syrup in the other!
Also note that the syrup is made with very little water so it takes next to no time to make. If you think you’ll leisurely beat your egg whites while it cooks, think again: the meringue base needs to be stiff-peaky and ready when you put the syrup on.
The two parts are gently combined until smooth and shiny again, and then there’s no escape – the mixture needs to be piped unless you’re rebelliously into very rustic, randomly shaped and sized macarons. Which of course there is nothing wrong with.
It helps to stencil rings on the parchment, 4cm in diameter, if you want the piping to be neat. Do it with an ordinary pencil, not a toxic marker, as sometimes the rings transfer onto the macarons’ bottoms.
But try to pipe the mix within the circles. Ignore peaks – they will flatten as the mix stands, because it needs at least half an hour of rest and setting before it goes into the oven. That’s when the ‘foot’ should develop: the foamy rim around the base of the macaron. Without the feet, they are decidedly second-rate!
Once baked, they will keep reasonably long in an air-tight container, just like meringues. So if you wish, you can make a batch and then fill just a few at a time, for a treat or a gift.
What filling for macarons?
As above, there are many options, depending on the flavour you want to achieve. My recipe is for a plain macaron filled with a drop of lemon curd and dark chocolate ganache.
By all means, make some raspberry buttercream for pink coloured biscuits. Milk or white chocolate ganache perhaps? Simply whipped cream if they’re for immediate consumption. Or, even easier, good jam. If Pierre Hermé can use jam, so can you.
More French dessert recipes
Relatives of macarons, croquants, are not quite as iconic but considerably easier to make. And delicious too.
À la recherche du temps perdu? With a cup of tea and a madeleine, évidemment.
A little old-fashioned, but none the less delightful, are classic chocolate profiteroles.
More almond biscuit recipes
This is the German Christmas version of almon biscuit: Zimtsterne. Quite challenging to make but very rewarding.
Dacquoise biscuits are a cross between macarons and sponge – mine here are orange flavoured.
And the Basque version of macarons is worth a mention, similar but a little more rustic.