Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ladurée Macarons

Deb: When I was living in Paris, I was introduced to a delightful little perfect Parisian treat. I miss Paris, I miss my Parisian friends, and I miss my Parisian treat.

The person who introduced me to the sweet perfect morsel of joie is neither Parisian, nor French. He's a man I lervingly call Mister Scottsies, a dear friend who visited Paris from San Francisco. I have learned a great deal about the foods of the world from him, and he has been absolutely influential in my own discovery of and love for food and cooking.

I love Mister Scottsies' pure and endless curiosity about food (and his healthy lack of snobbery in general). I get such a kick out of the lengths he'll go to experience it (he has traveled 1.5 hours by bus for bread). Mister Scottsies has inspired and fully encouraged my enthusiasm for food excursions. (Which entails a commitment so deep you'll travel insane distances, via multiple modes of transportation, to find a delicious authentic tasty snack that you've read or heard about somewhere.) We once nearly willfully sacrificed our lives and bodies for BBQ in South Carolina – the gift of fear saved us – somewhere out of that menacing, fenced-in, isolated roadhouse we heard "dueling banjos" and we backed away; though, I gotta say, I still wonder how the 'que tasted. Did we choose wrong? I mean, how far is too far? Is there a foodie version of Fight Club out there in the world?

Anyway, being a poor grad student in Paris, I could not join Mister Scottsies for his 100 Euro lunch at L'Arpège (where he ate a sweet dessert made of tomatoes, if memory serves -- but wait, that's not my treat!), but I did join him for long metro + bus + walking excursions around town in search of regional delights.

One day, Mister Scottsies asked me where I go for Parisian Macarons. I say, "Errrm...macaroons...you mean those beige coconut things? I thought they were Italian." I don't remember much after that, because he immediately threw me out my 5th story window to the sidewalk below, scraped me up, dragged me by my hair to the Metro, yanked me up some stairs and along some long narrow winding streets, and finally plopped me in front of a magical shop window of eternal glory (do all French websites play music at you?), through which I saw neat little rows of alluring and colorful round things, so pretty and elegant I felt the need to tidy my hair and correct my posture before entering.

We bought a selection of flavors. I remember chocolate, lemon, coffee, pistachio (my favorite), and raspberry because I had to have a pink one. And I took a bite. My macaron was bright and sophisticated but modest and subtle, unexpected but comforting. And cheerful, almost playful. I think you simultaneously experience macarons as a kid and as an adult. I'm pretty sure we had macarons every day while he was in town, and I can't count the times I went back afterwards.

Zola and Guy, I can't find Parisian macarons in Seattle. They used to make them at Essential, but the big version (not in a Texasized way, you can find them in Paris, too), and it just seems ungainly to me, like they were created for Gerard Dépardieu and his giant hands. I want the small delicate ones. I have thought about making them myself, and I find this a bit intimidating. I mean, how do you get that perfectly crisp exterior with that unique soft chewiness and subtle deliciousness that makes me flip out? So...Zola, you've got a gift for the pastries...can you try it out for me? And then maybe I'll have the courage to give it shot? Sometimes I just visit the Ladurée website and just stare at the pictures, like I'm looking at an album of old friends. I'm not kidding.

Zola: Dear Deb,

Christmas has come early for you, my fair Francophile friend. Apparently, there's some place in West Seattle called Bakery Nouveau that makes the macarons (and I also hear the dude has won awards for his baguettes, so as soon as the Seattle roads are safe from treacherous snow, I'm on my way to check it out.) My other present to you is that I found a recipe for Ladurée Chocolate Macarons. Someone on the old internets machine translated the recipe. It's hard to tell if they don't know anything about baking or if they're *such* a baker that they left out all the key instructions because it's just so second nature, but not to worry. I did some research and I'm going to pull it all together for you. Please note that I'm sticking with using the weights instead of converting to cups. You get better accuracy for baking and you can buy a little scale for cheap in the weight loss department at your local drug store--and there's something satisfyingly ironic about that.

For the cookies:
275 grams powdered sugar
140 grams powdered almonds (I recommend toasting some slivered almonds then, once cool, "powder" them in your food processor)
4 egg whites
pinch salt
25 grams cocoa powder

mix your sugar, almonds and cocoa together. beat your egg whites and salt into stiff peaks. Gently fold your sugar mix into the whites. To do this, start at the center of the bowl and fold the mixture up, towards the edge of the bowl. Keep repeating this process, turning the bowl so that you're slowly spinning the bowl in a circle and incorporating all the sugar mix. The goal is to incorporate everything without deflating your whites completely. Now, the recipe says to put your mix in a piping bag to squeeze out little macarons onto parchment paper (I'd get about 4 cookie sheets prepared in advance to do this). I also tried a couple using just a spoon--you know, spooning out the batter and that seemed to work just as well so do as you wish. At some point, you'll need to get your oven heated to 350 F (or 180 C), but here's the secret to this recipe:

LET YOUR LITTLE RAW MACARON CIRCLES REST FOR TWO HOURS. I read somewhere you could wait between 1-2 hours--the one hour macarons (while still delicious) had that "cracked" look on the top (see picture below). The two hour macarons raised up perfectly flat and pretty like the ones you see on the Ladurée website. That first picture is my perfect little macarons--they are so pretty! I'm rather impressed with myself.

During your two hours, you can make and cool your ganache:
325 grams bitter chocolate (I used 2/3 bitter + 1/3 mexican chocolate)
300 grams heavy cream
75 grams unsalted butter
pinch salt

I should mention that, baking recipes often do not call for salt, and this recipe is no exception. I ALWAYS bake with unsalted butter and ALWAYS throw in a pinch of salt. Salt gives sweet a necessary base note--using unsalted butter and the adding your own allows you to control that better.

Put all the ganache ingredients in a heavy bottom pan on medium to medium high heat and stir until your chocolate and butter are melted and completely incorporated. Refrigerate until thick enough to spread easily. You can also make your ganache a week or two in advance and store in the fridge. Just let it sit out to come back to room temperature before spreading.

Bake your macarons for 11-12 minutes at 350 F. Let them cool and peel off the parchment paper. Spread a thick layer of ganache onto one macaron, then sandwich another onto the top. Voila!

oh, and FYI--Deb is *not* kidding. This may be the best "cookie". Ever. They are also really impressive for holiday giving; however decidedly difficult to give.

13 comments:

lauren said...

Don't forget Le Panier at the market! They have several flavors of macaron, including vanilla, chocolate, coffee, pistachio, and something orange-colored. (Maybe orange flavored too? Not sure.) I love Le Panier.

cdub said...

Having sampled one (or a few) of the results of this recipe, I'm definitely inspired. They're sublime.

Zola said...

Thanks for the tip, Laurent & great compliment, cdub! I'm already conspiring to make more of them for us. Maybe macarons should become the official wj mascot?

deb said...

Thank you, Zola!!!!! I want to buy you a trophy.

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