When I studied abroad in France, I went on a day trip with some people in my group to Amiens. It’s a lovely place in the Picardie region of northern France. We went to an amazing little restaurant whose name I sadly don’t remember where they had caprese salads with a scoop of balsamic vinegar ice cream/sorbet (I think it had dairy in it but not too much). We weren’t sure what to expect, but it. was. amazing. A friend and I tried to ask for the recipe but they said they bought it already made. Now, I have my issues with France, but any country that has a company that sells pre-made balsamic vinegar ice cream is ok in my book. We also stopped by a grocery store to talk to the fromagier (guy who sells cheese) and I tried some Comte – also highly recommended. But this post is about one of our shorter stops – our tour guide popped into a candy store and bought macarons d’Amiens for us all to try (so sweet of her!). We were living in Paris, so we thought we knew all about macarons – those multicolored little cookie sandwich type things. I was never terribly impressed by them. But these were totally different. They were little short cylindrical blonde things that looked like they would be dry cookies. That made it so much better when we bit into them and discovered that they were moist patties of almondy goodness.
They immediately went on my mental To Cook list, and after quite a bit of searching, I found some recipes to try. I gave one a shot about a year ago, and it came out very much the wrong texture, although it tasted good. I had tried to grind almonds in my spice grinder because I couldn’t find almond flour. Then I found almond meal at Trader Joe’s. So now I’m trying them again with that.
I’m using this recipe, which I’ll translate below, minus the parts that are too obvious to belong in a recipe anyway (you were planning on letting your macaroons cool after baking them, right? Rather than keeping them perpetually hot? Good) and plus my notes in parentheses.
250g powdered almonds
1 Tbsp honey
2 egg whites and 1 egg yolk (I only used whites, which I had frozen last time I made something that only used yolks. I put them in a plastic bag and ran warm water over it to thaw them.)
1 Tbsp apricot or apple jam (I used apricot)
a few drops vanilla extract
1 tsp bitter almond extract (I didn’t use this)
- Mix the almonds, sugar, vanilla, and honey.
- Gradually add the egg whites. It should have the consistency of almond paste. (I can only imagine this is more helpful to French cooks than American ones; when’s the last time you tested the consistency of almond paste?)
- Add the jam and almond extract. (In the end, mine was of a consistency that would stick together if you pressed it, but could also fall apart if you nudged it.)
- Refrigerate 6-8 hours. (I rolled it first and refrigerated it just while the oven preheated. If you want to be safe, refrigerate it for an hour I guess, but I can’t imagine it being any colder or more hydrated in six hours than in one.)
Roll into a log 4 cm in diameter, slice 2 cm thick, and put the slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. (I rolled it by spooning half of it onto each of two sheets of aluminum foil, packing into roughly the shape I wanted, and then getting it just right by tightly rolling the foil around it and rolling that on the counter to smooth out the corners. I arbitrarily cut one slice and then used that as my measuring stick for all the others.)
- Brush egg yolk on the tops. (Skipped. I had leftover egg whites and didn’t want to have to use a whole new egg just to get shiny tops.)
- Bake at 350F for 20 minutes. (I know my oven runs hot, but I recommend a lower temperature so you can get them to cook through without burning on the edges. But remember: they’re supposed to be moist and kind of just-held-together by that wonderful culinary glue, egg protein.)
I still think a finer grind on the almonds would have been better, but it basically worked. My oven is ridiculous, so I had to take them out at around 15 minutes and then turn off the oven and put them in for a while to let the centers set in the low heat. I love that trick, but this time I found out that if your roommate is baking too, and sees the oven off, she might start preheating it for her cookies, and your macaroons will get a little too hard on the outside. So be smart about it. But no worries – people ate them all :).
Edit: Just after finding a Joe Pastry post that I could have used when I was making petits fours, I found out that recently he’s been blogging about, you guessed it, macaroons. Here’s how to make the Parisian version of almond macaroons, according to him. (If I only had a food processor…). The trick about letting the piped out macarons rest before baking them to keep them from rising normally is cool. But I still don’t really get what all the fuss is about (or perhaps it’s all the fuss that makes me want to not be crazy about macarons parisiens; I’m a contrary person that way).