Contrary to what many of you may think (and what I thought up until a few years ago), there is a difference between a macaron and a macaroon, and it’s not that macaron is just a fancy way to spell and pronounce macaroon!
A macaroon is probably what a lot of you, including me, grew up eating as a delicious dessert. My Mama would make these delectable treats every Christmas and I would hide them from my Dad, because we were the two in the house with the biggest sweet tooths! Now, the main ingredient in this dessert is coconut, but they were originally made with almond paste. They are little mounds of goodness that can be enhanced with various flavorings and differ slightly with each region who claims them. The Turkish version resembles a cookie; in Ireland, they dip them in Chocolate; here in America, they are beautiful, white mounds of coconut. Their heritage can be traced back to Monks in a 9th century monastery. Their descendants came to France in 1533 and joined the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici. It was here that they began to develop what is known in France as the Macaron. They became a popular dessert within the Jewish community, because they be eaten trough Passover. They are leavened with egg whites rather than flour, and eventually became a year round favorite.
So, through all of this evolution, two distinct biscuit type desserts emerged. The Macaroon, that I have just described above, and the French Macaron; a beautiful filling between two light and fluffy merengue biscuit tops. They are the perfect canvas for your culinary imagination. If you can think of the colors and flavorings, the Macaron is ready to accept your ideas.
That is why this is the perfect choice for my French-Southern Heritage fusion cuisine. What is more Southern than the Muscadine Grape and more French than a Macaron? This short season grape can be found from Florida to Delaware and is like gold to many in the South. The jams and wines made from them offer flavors that you cannot find in any other grapevine variety. They have adapted to the harsher, hotter climate of the south and require fewer chilling hours than more well-known varieties; making them the perfect southern grape. When ripe, they range in color from a rich champagne to an almost midnight black. A deep, royal purple is the most commonly known color, and the color palate that I chose for this bake.
Don’t be intimidated by a Macaron. The four ingredients that go into the biscuits are actually quite forgiving and friendly. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them, but will admit to trying 4 different times before getting exactly what I was looking for. Like any merengue, humidity plays a big role in the process, and I decided to make them during the most humid two days that Kentucky experiences every year. What can I say, I love a challenge! After getting the consistency right, I had to play with the color to get the exact Muscadine purple that I was looking for. The recipe that I am providing for you comes straight from the famed Pâtisserie in France, Laduree. I am obsessed with all of their desserts and will feature more of them in the future, but I thought this would be the perfect place to start. The filling is my own creation, but you can use whatever flavors speak to you. I like to put Southern spins on a variety of different cuisines, and combining the sweet almond flavors of the Macaron biscuit with the tartness of the Mascadine grape spoke to me. You should experiment with flavors, and see what works for you. I promise that you will be the hit of your next party or luncheon when you show up with these bite sized goodies. The best part? They can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. It actually helps to enhance the flavors!
The measurements are very precise and you will understand why when you get to the pastry bag and start to mold each one. Too wet, and they will spread into blobs, to firm and they will not have the smooth texture a Macaron is known for. I’m not the best at following directions exactly, but for these, I get out all the measuring cups and spoons, and do it properly like my Mama taught me; leveling everything off with a knife and making sure there are no egg shells of yolk pieces in my egg whites! Now……Go forth and create!
Muscadine Macarons – Makes about 50 Macarons
– 2 ¾ cups + 1 tablespoon ground almonds (also known as almond flour. If you don’t see it in the baking section of the store, look in the organic or healthy food section)
– 2 cups + 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
– 6 ½ egg whites from large eggs (Yes, you really do need to have that ½ egg white. Keep it separately, it gets beaten on its own and added before you start piping.)
– 1 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (I like the super fine sugar, because it gives a smoother consistency. You can find it in the baking section with the specialty sugars and sugar substitutes.)
– You can add other flavors to the batter if you like. I chose not to, because I wanted my Muscadine filling to complement the almond shells.
– 10 ½ tablespoons softened butter
– 1 ½ cups Muscadine jelly
– Several dashes of heavy whipping cream. (The consistency of your jelly will determine how much heavy whipping cream you will need. Start by adding a little at a time. When the consistency of the filling is fairly firm, you’re in good shape.)
– Piping bag with a ½ inch plain tip (You can also use a Ziploc bag with a small bit of the corner cut off)
– Silpat liners (Parchment paper with 1 ½ inch circles drawn on them also works, but I decided to invest in the Silpat with the Macaron circles on it from William-Sonoma. It worked like a dream.)
– Fine mesh strainer (You can pick these up cheap at the grocery store. It really will make a difference to the consistency of your batter.)
– Combine the ground almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor and pulse to obtain a fine powder. Sift or strain through a sieve to remove any lumps.
– In a clean, dry bowl, (I used my electric mixer. You can do this by hand or use a hand
mixer.) whisk the 6 egg whites to a foam. Once they are frothy, add a third of the granulated sugar and whip until sugar is dissolved; add another third of the granulated sugar, whip for another minuet; finally add the remaining granulated sugar and whip for 1 more minuet. I was only making 1 color Macaron, so I added my food coloring at this point. If you are making several colors, divide the batter after you have completed the next step, and then add your colors.
– Using a rubber spatula, delicately fold the sifted mixture of ground almonds and confectioners’ sugar into the whipped egg whites. In a separate bowl, beat the remaining ½ egg white until just frothy. Then add to the final mixture, folding gently to loosen the batter. If you are making several colors, divide the batter into the desired number of colors that you want and add food coloring.
– Transfer mixture to the piping bag fitted with the plain tip. On a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, or Silpat, pipe small Macaron rounds 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches in diameter, about 1 inch a part. When you are finished, lightly tap the baking sheet on the counter, so that the Macarons spread fully, and any extra air is released. You could sprinkle with chopped nuts at this point, if you wanted to. Like I said, this is a very forgiving batter, and gives you room for your imagination to run wild!
– Preheat the oven to 300*.
– Allow the Macarons to sit uncovered for 10 minutes, until they begin to lose their sheen
and are not sticky to the touch. If it is a very humid day, you may have to let them sit a little longer.
– Place them in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes, until they form a slight crust.
– Remove baking sheet from the oven and place on a cooling rack. If you are using parchment paper, follow this step. If you are using Silpat, there is no need. With a small glass, carefully pour a tiny amount of water in between the sheet pan and parchment paper (life the paper ever so slightly corner by corner). The moisture and steam that result from the water on the hot baking sheet will allow the Macarons to peel off more easily once they are cool. Do not pour too much water, as this could cause the Macarons to become soggy.
– Allow them to cool completely.
– Remove half of the Macaron shells and place them upside down on a plate.
– Cut the softened butter into small pieces. I used my electric mixer, but you can do this by hand or with a hand mixer. Place butter in a clean bowl, and beat until fluffy. Add jelly and continue to beat.
– Add small splashes of heavy whipping cream, until everything is mixed and it begins to have a fairly sturdy consistency. Basically, you want it to form a pretty hard ribbon when the whisk or rubber spatula is lifted from the bowl.
– It is your choice to spoon filling onto the shells, or use a pastry bag. I chose to spoon. If you use a pastry bag, just rinse out the tip you used before and use it again.
– Fill the half of the shells that you had previously placed top side down on the plate, by placing a small amount of the filling on each. You don’t want to overfill your Macarons,so about 2-3 teaspoons should be sufficient, depending on the consistency of your filling. Once each one is filled, top with the remaining shells.
Laduree recommends that you let the finished product rest at least overnight in the fridge. Apparently this causes a reaction among the ingredients, further enhancing and refining the flavor and texture.
There you go! You have just made an incredibly popular, and often daunting French Pastry! Pat yourself on the back, sit down with a glass of wine, and decide what flavors you are going to wow your friends and guests with at your next party!