"What are you making?" Eric says with mild interest as he wanders into the kitchen in search of Fritos, his current snack obsession.
"Oh, I love macaroons."
"No, not macaroons. Macarons."
Blank stare. Silence. Resumes search for Fritos.
I then go on to explain that the beloved macaroons to which he referred (I love them too, for the record) are the super-sweet, super-moist mounded cookies made of mostly coconut and often dipped in chocolate. A macaron, on the other hand, is a petite "sandwich" composed of two melt-in-your-mouth meringue-like almond flour cookies filled with buttercream, jam, or ganache. They were first created in the French patisserie Laduree in the 1800s, and they come in a variety of flavors and colors.
"Oh. Cool." Exits kitchen, Fritos in hand.
100 bucks says he heard none of that.
I should have just responded that I was making "cookies" and saved my breath.
I'm admittedly a little bit tardy to the macaron party. In the past twelve months, these adorable, bite-sized, traditional French sandwich cookies have gotten more media exposure than the Kardashians. They have been blogged about on-line, written about in magazines, made multiple T.V. appearances (most recently on Top Chef, Just Desserts), and they are even the subject of several popular cookbooks. Man, I need to find out who their agent is, stat!
Still, I had never made macarons before, so I wanted to give them a try and add my own bit of je ne sais quoi to the recipe. One can never have too many varieties of macarons, after all, and I sincerely doubt that these little pieces of cream-filled heaven will ever be at risk of overexposure (can't say the same about the Kardashians though.)
I've seen macarons created in just about every flavor combination under the sun, and although I was really tempted to make the scrumptious looking PB&J version that was recently a hit with the judges on TCJD, I decided to come up with something different.
Chocolate and gingerbread is one of my favorite flavor combinations, although you don't see it pop up in dessert recipes very often. I first tried it when I made a chocolate covered gingerbread cake, and the spiciness of the ginger, nutmeg, and cloves in the gingerbread served as a delicious contrast to the rich and sweet chocolate frosting. In this recipe, the cookies are gingerbread flavored, with a bit of molasses and dark cocoa powder for depth, and the filling is a smooth bittersweet chocolate ganache. I dare you to eat just one--not possible!
I realize that we still need to get through Halloween and most of autumn, but these guys would be a perfect addition to a festive holiday dessert table or a cookie exchange. Besides, it's never too early to start thinking about the holidays, right?
- The cookies will turn out the best if the egg whites are at room temperature. Place the egg whites in a bowl, cover, and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 6 hours or overnight before using.
- Don't have almond flour in your pantry or available at your store? Never fear! You can make your own: Place whole unblanched almonds in the work bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Be careful to stop the processor before the almonds turn into almond butter! Transfer the ground almonds to a fine mesh sieve and sift into a bowl. Voila! Almond flour! You can return any leftover almond pieces to the processor to process again and then resift.
- The cookies and the filling can be prepared one day in advance. Make sure that the cookies are covered tightly when stored so that they do not dry out. The filling can be covered and chilled.
- If you don't have equipment for piping the batter into rounds, you can use a large zip-top bag instead. Fill the bag halfway with the batter, and then snip off a corner to create a round piping tip.
Makes about 40 macarons
For the cookies
1 1/4 cups almond flour
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
For the filling
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cubed
1/8 teaspoon salt
Prepare the cookies: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the almond flour, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Process the mixture for 30 seconds, and then sift it into a medium bowl.
Fill a small saucepan with a few inches of water and bring it to a simmer. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until they are foamy. Place the bowl over the simmering water and whisk constantly until the temperature of the egg whites reaches 100 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and whisk in the cream of tartar.
Attach the bowl to the electric mixer and fit it with the whisk attachment. Whisk the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar. Continue to whisk until the egg whites are glossy and they come to stiff peaks. Switch the speed to low, and slowly mix in the molasses.
Carefully fold the egg white mixture into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly incorporated. FIt a pastry bag with a medium round tip and fill it with the batter. On the prepared sheets, pipe the batter into 1 or 1 1/2 inch rounds, spacing 1-inch apart. Allow the piped rounds to rest at room temperature, uncovered, for 1-2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees, and place the racks in the center positions in the oven. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, then reverse the positions of the two trays. Bake for 8-10 minutes longer, or until the cookies are firm and dry. Cool completely on a rack.
Prepare the filling: Place the cream and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Allow the chocolate to sit for 1 minutes, then stir until smooth. Stir in the butter and the salt. Allow the mixture to cool completely before proceeding.
Pipe or spread some of the chocolate filling onto the flat side of half the prepared cookies, and then create sandwiches using the other half of the cookies, pressing gently to adhere.