Trust Paris (Macarons)
Paris. Is there any place in the world more dreamed of, more longed for, more romanticized? Hemingway claimed that if you’re lucky enough to live there, then it’ll stay with you no matter where you go. Audrey Hepburn believed Paris was, “always a good idea.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” The city doesn’t demand its visitors wax poetic, but they certainly do anyway. What can be said that hasn’t been said before? Paris is at once a muse and a piece of art, both inspiration and inspired. Charming, chic, and cobble-stoned, the city slips on like silk every time. That is, if you’re willing to relinquish a bit of control.
Paris has two dissonant rhythms drumming at all times. There’s the frenzied beat of mornings spent on TripAdvisor and afternoons spent shelling out euros to stand in lines, of the scurry from river boat tour to iconic red windmill to every single museum to that arch we’re supposed to see to that famous bookstore to… It’s on loop, and it’s loud, and it can be hard to hear anything else. Beneath all of this, though, is the city’s luxuriating hum. A velvety bass coaxing calm like a steady breath or that warm feeling after a sip of whiskey. Give yourself over to that bass line. Drink wine, eat cheese, read poetry by the Seine, by day discover the unique personalities of each arrondissement by coiling through them on foot, take the unbelievably reliable metro home at night, eat more cheese, drink more wine. The Paris you’ve seen in movies or read about in books won’t reveal itself to you while you’re standing in line for the Eiffel Tower or pushing your way through the mob surrounding Mona Lisa.
To enjoy Paris, to really see Paris, is to trust it. Relinquish control. Trust this place.
All of this advice doesn’t hold true for the city’s most coveted cookie. In stark contrast to the place that made macarons famous, the success of these dreamy little things depends on precision. Full disclosure: macarons are one of my very favorite desserts to make. But… my first batch didn’t work out—I misjudged the stiffness of my meringue. Second batch, batter looked good, but my oven was giving off too much heat on top and not enough on the bottom. Third time, hollow. Fourth, good, but too grainy.
Without a properly equipped kitchen—I’m mixerless, food processor/blenderless, the heat in my half-sized oven is painfully uneven, and I’ve been using an upside-down roasting pan for a sheet tray—this dessert I could once make in my sleep was becoming the boulder to my Sisyphus. Enter: Thomas Keller. His recipe utilizes Italian meringue instead of French meringue, making the cookies just as chewy as you hope inside, just as crispy as you hope outside, and just as forgiving as you hope in the kitchen. I made it three times, and each time the macarons came out perfectly.
I may be in France, but my mind can’t help but drift towards Thanksgiving flavors. I adapted Keller’s seemingly foolproof recipe with a bit of ground ginger and filled them with my own ginger caramel, apple cider cream cheese frosting, and a bit of fresh ginger. Any control you were planning to exercise over a trip to Paris, you should get out of your system on this recipe instead. Both will be all the better for it.
Macarons with Cider & Ginger Caramel
Ginger Macaron (Adapted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller & Sebastien Rouxel)
1¾ cups + 2½ tablespoons (212 grams) almond flour/meal
1¾ cups + 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons (212 grams) powdered sugar
1 ½ tablespoons ground ginger
¼ cup +1½ tablespoons (82 grams) egg whites
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (90 grams) egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup + 3 tablespoons (236 grams) granulated sugar
⅔ cup (158 grams) water
You’ll also need: Thermapen or candy thermometer, a pastry bag, and ideally a ½ inch round piping tip, but you can get away with piping without a tip
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup heavy cream
1½ tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons butter
Apple Cider Cream Cheese Frosting
6oz (½ cup) cream cheese, softened
7 tablespoons salted butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup apple cider
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 pastry bags
For the macarons
1. We’re making sandwiches here, so consistency when it comes to size is crucial. Even the pros use a template. I used parchment, a sharpie, and the bottom of a pepper grinder to create a 2, 3x4 templates. Place sharpie-side down onto two baking sheets.
2. Preheat oven to 350.
3. Grind almond flour in a food processor. We want this as finely ground as possible.
4. Sift almond flour, powdered sugar, and ground ginger into a large bowl. I’m a notorious sift-skipper for most recipes—not this one. You must sift the dang ingredients.
5. Create a well in the mixture and add the ¼ cup +1½ tablespoons (82 grams) of egg whites. Mix with a spatula until combined.
6. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 203 degrees.
7. When the syrup is at 203 degrees, begin whipping your ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (90 grams) egg whites in a very clean stand-mixer with a whisk attachment on medium speed. We’re looking for soft peaks (refer to this great visual guide from Emma Christensen).
8. When the syrup hits 248 degrees and the eggs have formed soft peaks, reduce the mixer to medium-low and start adding the syrup slowly, pouring between the side of the bowl and the whisk. Don’t panic when the eggs deflate. Turn the speed back up to medium and whip for about 5 minutes, or until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
9. Gently fold 1/3 of the meringue into the almond mixture, continuously cutting a spatula vertically through the center and lifting the mixture up over itself. Add another 1/3 of the meringue and continue folding. At this point, we’re looking for a lava-like consistency. If you lift your spatula to create a ribbon across the top of the batter, it should seep slowly back into itself. Imagine putting this in a piping bag—it shouldn’t be so lose that it drips out the bottom, and shouldn’t be so stiff that you can’t pipe it out. When in doubt, however, stiffer is better.
10. Scoop the mixture into your piping bag. Hold the piping back straight up and down about ½ inch above the center of each circle, and pipe enough to fill the circle. Once filled, stop all pressure on your piping back and lift pastry bag away horizontally to avoid peaks. When tray is filled, lift about 6 inches above the counter and drop it—yes, drop it—3 or 4 times. This will remove any air bubbles and even out any peaks from the pastry bag.
11. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until tops are hard and shiny. Allow to cool completely before filling.
For the caramel
1. Mince ginger.
2. Add ginger and cream to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.
3. In a large (caramel bubbles up high when you add fat, always err on the side of a bigger pot!), heavy-bottomed saucepan, add water and sugar. The sugar should be the consistency of wet sand. You can make caramel by eye, or you can fix a candy thermometer to the pot at this point. We’ll cooking it to 348 degrees.
4. With a wet pastry brush or wet paper towel, brush down the sides of the pot to remove any sugar that might be stuck to the sides. This is important—if the sugar starts to boil and comes into contact with granules on the sides of the pot, it will create crystals. Nobody* wants a crunchy caramel.
5. Place over medium-high heat and allow to sit. Don’t touch it! No stirring! Agitation will also create crystals!
6. When the sugar becomes a rich dark amber color, or hits 348 degrees, whisk in the butter and ginger cream immediately. It will bubble up for a second, and then settle into a smooth sauce.
7. Allow to cool at room temperature. It will set up to a firm but pourable consistency.
For the cream cheese frosting
1. Place cider in a small sauce pan and reduce to 1/8 c.
2. With the paddle attachment, beat softened cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar all at once and beat on low until just combined, and then medium high for one minute.
3. Add vanilla and cider, beat until combined.
1. Pair similar sized macron halves side by side.
2. Scoop frosting into a pastry bag and cut a ¼ inch hole.
3. Pour cooled caramel into a pastry bag and cut a ¼ inch hole.
4. Pipe a circle of frosting around the edge of each macaron bottom, leaving a tiny amount of space between the frosting and the edge, and an empty hole in the middle.
5. Fill each hole with caramel until it’s even with frosting.
6. Sprinkle with grated fresh ginger and press macaron tops carefully on, so as not to break the cookies but pushing the frosting to the edge.
*Maybe somebody, but I’m not happy about that.