Pumpkin Spice Macarons
This post reminds me a lot of the post about a year ago, when I successfully made a croissant loaf for the first time. I was overcome with this feeling of complete and utter joy, like walking on cloud nine -- shock and surprise were mixed in with those feelings, too, as if I had never expected to make anything on the level of croissants. It was magical: sitting on the floor in front of the oven (where I always am, honestly) scanning every inch of the loaf, waiting for it to rise, and then seeing it rise, and then seeing it flake, and then seeing the hundreds of little layers rise along with it and thinking to myself, wait, this croissant loaf actually looks like a croissant loaf. I felt the same way after I successfully made these French macarons, but I haven't had as much luck in the past. The croissant loaf was a pure miracle: I began the process without any expectations, fully okay with the thought (and likelihood) of failure, and succeeded on the first and second tries -- but with French macarons, I've tried twice before and failed. Miserably.
In the world of baking, just in case you're not involved with it, French macarons are a little infamous. If we back up a step and just think about meringue -- an inherent step in the macaron process -- we can imagine all the possibilities for something to go wrong: the temperature of your egg whites, the state of your sugar, the cleanliness of your mixing bowl and the skill it takes to know when you need to keep beating or when you need to stop beating and sometimes, by the time you realize you need to stop beating, the meringue is over-beaten and you need to start over and by that time you don't have any more eggs in your fridge and if you do, you need to place them in a bowl of warm water and wait until they've come to room temperature.
I used to be terrified of meringue. I now love it. I will take any excuse to whip up a meringue and torch it. Or, even better, I will almost always choose Swiss meringue buttercream over American buttercream when I'm frosting anything, because it's just better, and the process is a lot more fun. And by "fun" I mean hard. Because that's how bakers roll. So there's that. With macarons, of course, there is every single other ingredient and every other step in the process that are just as valuable as the meringue.
I mean, look at these! They're adorable. They're girly. They're those tiny, little cookies you see scrunched into adorable rectangular boxes tied in ribbons. There are way too many of them in Paris. And there are way too many people who call them macaroons.
I'm not going to say much about this, because I get too worked up about it. Yes, I studied French for 6 years, and yes, I lived with a French family in France for 6 months. That doesn't mean I'm being pretentious about the difference between macarons and macaroons. It just means macarons aren't macaroons and macaroons aren't macarons. It's really, really simple.
And now, we are going to move on.
We know macarons are small and adorable. They are also extremely, wildly delicate, and this makes them a challenge for any baker, especially on your first try. The perfect macaron should be a bit crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside; it should have small, tight and uniform feet, and the inside of the shells should be completely filled, not hollow. The perfect macaron does, indeed, exist -- but it is very hard to execute. I will not tell you that I've made the perfect macaron because I haven't, but I've gotten close enough, and that is totally fine with me. If you don't make the perfect macaron, please don't fret - fill and sandwich the shells anyway, and tell me they're not delicately delicious even so.
A few important things to note before you embark on this great baking feat:
Sift twice. Sift three times. Sift as many times as your time will allow. Macarons are made using almond flour. It's very fine, and the finer it is, the smoother macaron you're going to have. I used - and would highly recommend - Bob's Red Mill superfine almond flour, but just because it says finely-ground doesn't mean you don't have to sift it. Whatever almond flour you use, you absolutely cannot skip this step.
Figure eight makes it great. If you ask me, this is the most crucial step in the process, and it is conveniently the most difficult. You're going to fold your flour mixture into your meringue, and when you do, you're going to make 40-45 folds, circling the batter and then cutting through the middle each time, until you have a mildly thick, marshmallowy mixture that forms a figure 8. Take your spatula and make a figure 8 with the batter in the bowl - this should be easy, and the shape should hold before slowly melting back into the batter. If you're struggling to form a figure 8 with the batter, it's too thick. Keep beating. If you can make the figure 8 but the mixture feels soupy, and it melts immediately back into the mixture, your batter is over-beaten, and yes, you need to start over. This will take a few tries to get (at least it did for me), and after a few runs, you'll begin to recognize the consistency you're looking for. Stop folding immediately after you reach this step, and be very gentle with the batter as you move on with the recipe.
Rest. Also a crucial step, resting your macarons before baking gives the shells time to prepare for the heat, and it gives you a breather before anxiously staring into the oven. Before baking, the shells should feel dry to the touch, and your finger should not stick to the shells when you gently test one.
Be patient! This goes for anything you bake, but particularly for macarons: be patient with the cookies and be patient with yourself. If you fail, no biggie - I promise you they will still taste divine, and you'll be smarter going in for your next try! These are certainly not easy, but they are well worth the effort.
Do you feel prepared? It's okay, I didn't really either. The best way to learn is to try, and try, and then try again -- and if you end up like me, maybe your third try will mean success. Go forth and be brave! Don't be afraid of these little French cookies!
Pumpkin Spice Macarons
Adapted from Preppy Kitchen
Prep + Rest Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes | Bake Time: 12-15 minutes | Makes about 36 macarons
For the cookies:
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of salt
For the buttercream:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup pureed/canned pumpkin
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of allspice
In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy, then slowly add the white sugar. Turn speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.
Sift almond flour, powdered sugar and salt in a in large bowl. If you have time, sift this mixture twice. Fold flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture, about 40-45 folds, until your mixture is marshmallowy, mildly thick, and a figure 8 appears for a few seconds before melting back in the mixture.
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with the end snipped, or fitted with a plain round tip. Pipe out one inch rounds on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper, and then lift the baking sheet about six inches off the counter and drop it. Repeat a few times - this ensures there are no air bubbles in the batter for an ultra-smooth shell.
Allow to rest uncovered for about 40 minutes to an hour. The shells are ready when they are no longer sticky when gently tapped. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Place your macarons in the preheated oven, and immediately turn down the temperature to 325 F. Bake for about 12 minutes, until the macarons have raised feet and look dry. They are ready when they can be easily removed from the baking sheet without sticking. Repeat this process with the remaining macaron shells - preheating your oven to 350 and immediately decreasing to 325 - until all macarons have been baked. Let shells cool completely before filling with buttercream.
To make the buttercream, cream the softened butter and pumpkin puree until smooth. Add in sugar and spices, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add vanilla and continue to beat until fully incorporated and still slightly thick. Pipe a small dollop of buttercream on the back of a shell, and sandwich with another.