So I’m going to a holiday party tomorrow. It’s a pot luck and we’ve been assigned food groups based on the alphabet; I’ve been asked to bring something sweet. These are FOOD PEOPLE, so of course I want to impress them. And also of course, I want to bring something foraged, because that’s how I roll. But it has to travel well, I have to be able to make 25 of them, and it can’t melt (the party is an hour away).
In a flash of insanity, never having made them before, and having no stress in my life at all right now, I picked one of the trickiest cookies there is to make. Why not? I love to bake. But every macaron recipe I looked at was different. Some use more confectioner’s sugar than almond flour. Some use more almond flour than confectioner’s sugar. Some ask for sugar beaten into the egg whites, some require that a sugar syrup boiled to a very specific temperature be poured down the side of your mixing bowl into the egg whites. Some want you to age your egg whites for a day or two. Some ask for cream of tartar, others for a pinch of salt.
I watched three videos, texted my sister (who was NO help at all, Elizabeth Katie Zachos!), and read more macaron recipes than anyone should have to read. Finally I just dove in, and I’m really pleased with the results. Do my macarons look store-bought? No they do not. (I think that’s because I don’t have a pastry bag.) But they’re delicious, and look pretty damn good for a first attempt.
If you decide to take the macaron challenge, I hope my morning’s adventure will save you a little time. This method works VERY well, and because I declined to break out the candy thermometer (too. much. work.), it’s really not difficult. Sure, there are multiple steps, and precision in following the directions is required. But that’s no more difficult than assembling a bookcase, is it? (The correct answer is no, ma’am.)
These foraged macarons use some of my favorite fall flavors: spicebush berries and crabapples. If the party were cancelled and I had to eat them all myself, I would not be sad.
What You’ll Need to Make Foraged Macarons with Spicebush Berries & Crabapple Filling
for the cookies:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
1 Tablespoon dried, ground spicebush berries
2 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
for the filling:
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup thick crabapple sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon dried, ground spicebush berries
What You’ll Do to Make Foraged Macarons with Spicebush Berries & Crabapple Filling
Sift together the confectioner’s sugar, almond flour, and ground spicebush berries. I often skip the sifting step in baking, but for macarons it’s important. Throw away any bits that are too big to coax through your strainer. Then sift the mixture again and set it aside.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. (Use a stand mixer if at all possible, because you’re going to be beating these whites for a long time.) Add the granulated sugar a little at a time, then add the vanilla. Beat the whites on high for about five minutes. Almost every recipe I read said the whites should be so stiff that when you turn the bowl upside down, the whites don’t move. Do that.
Sift the almond flour mixture into the egg whites, then fold them together. This may be the most critical step in the whole macaron process. The ingredients take a while to integrate, but keep at it. They will eventually combine into a glossy, viscous batter. Stop when it gets to the consistency of maple syrup. It should fall in a ribbon from the spatula into the bowl.
Fill your pastry bag with the batter and pipe out circles onto your silicone mat. If you don’t have a pastry bag, fill a zip lock bag with the batter and make a small cut on one of the bottom corners of the bag. This is what I did, and as you can see, my macarons aren’t perfectly shaped. But why buy a new tool if you don’t intend to be a regular macaron maker? Of course, now, I DO intend to be a regular macaron maker, so I’ll be buying a pastry bag.
When the cookie sheets are full, drop each sheet onto the counter from a height of about six inches. Do this three or four times, to smack the air bubbles out of the batter. Then, let the cookie sheets sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. They need to form a skin on top. After thirty minutes, the tops will look shiny, and if you gently poke a cookie with your finger, it won’t leave a mark.
As you wait for your macarons to develop their skins, preheat your oven to 300F.
I found all sorts of baking times for macarons, ranging from 12-20 minutes. Much will depend on your oven and the size of your cookies. (I made my cookies small, because I needed a lot of them.) I baked mine for 18′, giving each cookie sheet a half turn at the 9′ mark. The cookies should NOT be brown, and they should lift easily from the parchment paper or silicone sheet. If they stick, give them another minute or two in the oven.
When the cookies are done, let them cool completely. And while they’re cooling, you’ll have time to make the filling.
Most commercial macarons are filled with ganache or buttercream, but I used a combination of butter and crabapple sauce. It’s got the same creamy consistency as buttercream, but a fruitier flavor and a lovely, natural color. The applesauce should be thick enough to stick to a spoon, so if yours is more fluid, strain it to eliminate as much liquid as possible.
If you’re substituting traditional applesauce, you won’t get the vibrant color you get from homemade crabapple sauce. Many macaron recipes use food coloring in both the cookies and filling, so that’s always an option.
Melt the butter in a small pot, then add the crabapple sauce and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking. Lower the heat to keep the mixture at a low boil, and continue to stir for two minutes.
Add the milk and ground spicebush berries, continuing to stir and boil for another minute. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool to body temperature. You should be able to touch the outside of the pot and have it feel neither hot nor cold.
Add confectioner’s sugar in increments until the filling is thick enough to spread. I used 1/4 cup, and it was still a little runny, but I didn’t want to add more sugar. So I let the filling continue to cool until it reached the right consistency.
As the filling cools, turn all your cookies upside down. Using a knife or spoon, spread a dollop of cooled filling on every other cookie, then place a plain cookie on top of each frosted cookie to make a cookie sandwich.
Apparently macarons should be refrigerated for 24 hours to reach the right consistency; the cookies soften as they meld with the filling. But no one would fault you for tasting one right off the cookie sheet. Each bite is a wonderful combination of crunchy and creamy, sweet and spiced. I’m hooked.