I had a big French exam this summer, and with increasing revision fatigue, decided that making macarons in French must be a good exam prep strategy. I had never made them, but do enjoy eating them, so pourquoi pas? I was baking from a French recipe, which was great. Less easy: the impact of the heat and humidity (la chaleur et l’humidité) of a Roman summer kitchen on the final macarons. But I did have fun making these, improved my French baking vocabulary, and even managed to talk about macarons at the oral exam.
Recipe source: Macarons faciles (Ducasse, Serveau 2014). Lovely little ebook, free Kindle version, with 11 recipes and very detailed photographs and descriptions. If you dream about pastry school in Paris, you will enjoy it. Fouettez le beurre! Whisk the butter! When can I work THAT into a conversation?
Coques vanille (the shells):
110 gr de poudre d’amandes (powdered almonds)
225 gr de sucre glace (icing sugar)
120 gr de blancs d’oefs (le blanc de 3-4 oeufs moyen) (eggwhites)
50 gr de sucre semoule (plain white granulated sugar)
1/2 gousse de vanille (half a vanilla pod)
Crème au beurre vanille (vanilla buttercream):
125 gr de crème au beurre nature (plain buttercream, see recipe below)
1/2 cuillerée à café de vanille (half tsp vanilla extract)
Pour préparer une crème au beurre (makes twice what you need: keep extra buttercream in fridge)
125 de beurre mou (soft butter)
1 oefs entier + 2 jaunes (1 whole egg and two yolks)
88 gr de sucre semoule (granulated sugar)
25 gr d’eau (water)
Eggwhites beaten to neige ferme: firm snow. This is for the shells. Mix ground almonds and icing sugar, and mix them them for two minutes in a food processor, to achieve a more powdery consistency. Sieve this. Separate eggs, and whisk 120 grammes of eggwhites stiff, adding granulated sugar little by little. Then add sieved almond/ icing sugar mix, and fold this in with la maryse, a spatula. (I confess, I tipped in the coarse almond bits as well.) Scrape vanilla seeds from pod, and stir well until you have a shiny, supple and liquid mix. Spoon this into la pouche a douille (a pastry bag).
I piped these out by hand, and then left them to develop le croutage (slightly dry top, so they do not stick when you touch them) before baking. About an hour, room temperature. You can slam the trays on the table to get the air bubbles out.
In the interim, make buttercream. Whip the soft butter, yes: Fouettez le beurre! Whisk the egg and two egg yolks. In a casserole, heat the sugar and water to 121C (I had a thermometer to check), then remove from heat. When it is at 110C, whisk the hot sugar and water into the egg yolks, and beat until mixture is tepid, five minutes or so. Now, add butter and fouettez this until smooth. Add vanilla extract. Cool in fridge, if your kitchen is hot.
Then bake the shells 12 minutes at 150C, turning the tray around halfway through the baking time.
After baking: leave to cool, then remove carefully (lift from below with spatula or such) and move to rack, upside down. Spoon buttercream into pastry bag when ready to garnish the shells. Pipe buttercream on the flat inside, and sandwich with another half shell. Cool carefully in fridge. Not perfect, but not as difficult as I thought. Voila! My first macarons! And I passed the French exam!
Notes: this was meant to make 70 coques, so 35 macarons. Mine were piped out free-form so sizes varied, maybe 30 final macarons? Surprisingly easy though! They still had air bubbles in them, I should have slammed the trays more to banish those. Excellent texture though.
I was rather traumatised by the very runny buttercream; even after two hours in the fridge, it was a little too runny. Next time, I will make it earlier. However, we popped the leftover macarons in the fridge and tasted them again for dessert, and they were GREAT by then. Crisp exterior, light interior, and cold buttercream for a sweet firm centre. Maybe they needed a little time to meld (de fusionner). Very sweet, of course, so I might try a tart jam filling next time. But for a first attempt, I was very happy.