Lemon Raspberry Macarons
It's good to be back. Back at home. Back in my kitchen. Back with The Daring Bakers. I've been absent for awhile now, so when I was ready to get back to baking and blogging I was delighted to find out this months challenge was something that pulls at my heart simply due to what it makes me think of - Paris.
The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
French Macarons you see are a far cry from the Canadian version - those ubiquitous, sugary, coconut laden mountains that show up in coffee shops, church bazaars and cookie trays everywhere. Yet I have yet to meet anyone you actually enjoys them, although I think that is because so many of them out there are so bad. A future post perhaps - Macaroons rediscovered?
French Macaroons, or Macarons, are a different macaroon altogether. A meringue based cookie (sans coconut), light as air, is sandwiched between a filling of chocolate ganache, or buttercream, with endless variations from nutella to preserves. This creates a cookie that at first shatters on your teeth on contact, seemingly delicate and crackly, only to yield to a chewy interior layer followed by a creamy, flavour packed filling. 3 different textures, a single flavour or a mixture of contrasting flavours, makes these cookies a winner in my books. Not too sweet, delicate, but not too much, and oh so pretty make these a favourite tea cookie of mine. Of course they allow for so much creativity that it invites crazy combinations like green olive and olive oil, ketchup, matcha tea and everything in between.
Composed of a short ingredient list of egg whites, almond flour and sugar, they are a lot trickier than you would imagine. But then again a baguette is made up of the same number of ingredients and finding a good one is a lot more difficult than you would think should be. A challenge for those of us who like to bake, but also a gamble. Even if you've made dozens of these without thinking, most of them turning out near perfect, this is a cookie that eludes and sometimes just decides not to work out. So if you decide to tackle them, don't despair, it happens. Aging egg whites, grinding your own almond flour, sifting the almonds, letting the cookies air dry before baking. They come with a number of tricks and requirements. The good news is that once you get the hang of them, they are quick to make and even quicker to eat!
I began making these at home 4 years ago upon returning home from my first trip to Paris where they are as as common as the chocolate chip cookie or Nanaimo bar here. Back then a recipe for macarons was difficult to find, but I managed to find a couple and began baking (and selling) these little bits of Paris. These were cookies that inspired such smiles from people, especially fellow travelers and Francophiles. Reminders of beautiful times in the city of light. I was happy to bring that back for people and share something new for people who'd never heard of such a thing.
Now macarons have hit North American shores and I'm not sure if its for the better. I've seen them overpriced and stale at upscale gourmet grocers and just shake my head. Who would be so stupid to spend money on these? But apparently people do and I think I understand why. Food can often be as much about memory of time and place than the actual food itself. To me they have to taste good too, but to some people the purchase itself brings them back to happier times. Recreating my little bit of a city I love is exciting and challenging.
They are also a huge trend internationally and you've likely come across them somewhere near or far from home. What started as a darling little cookie seen only in Paris or France, some people say, are the next trend threatening to derail the cupcake. I don't know about that, but when McDo's (McDonalds) starts selling them, that's gotta mean its outgrown its humble roots. Although to be fare I can bet the Macarons at Mcdonalds in Paris are for certain going to be better than the sad ones at my local grocer.
This past April a friend of mine traveled to Paris and knew that the perfect gift for me, without my asking, would be a package of macarons. The pretty pink and silver embossed box from famed Patisserie Laduree made me smile and I promptly brought them home and savoured those macarons with tea that day. They'd made a long journey and were a few days old, so they weren't at the top of their game. But that didn't matter to me. I was transported to their picture perfect Left Bank tearoom, 2 years ago with a silver plate of these colourful treats, fresh and bright, a break in a perfect day.
Recipe and great tips written by a master can be found over on Helen's blog.