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For this post about macarons, I asked my pal Amy to join me for the cooking session. Amy's new to New York City, and soon after she arrived, she acquired a taste for, and obsession with, macarons. She's since been mapping out the patisseries of New York, eating all the macs that she can get her hands on. (This sort of behavior is quite common around these parts.) More and more folks fall head-over-heels for crisp, candy shells, soft, chewy interiors, and playful, pastel palates.
Amy's obsession with macarons sparked her quest for homemade macaron perfection, which of course led her to the internet for advice, which, it turns out, is plentiful and a little strange. As we began to lay out our mis en place for the project, Amy began asking me bizarre questions. Did I leave my egg whites out on the counter for no less than a week? Why didn't I put the almond flour in the oven before grinding it? Had I pulled out my hair finding confectioner's sugar that doesn't contain cornstarch? And, didn't I think it's too humid to attempt this project? It turns out that blogosphere rumors have transformed cookie production into a project worthy of NASA scientists, intimidating bakers everywhere in the process.
It had been a while since I'd made macarons, but there was once a time when I could successfully produce them by the hundreds in one session, without batting an eye. Several different mentoring chefs had taught me how, and never once did they tell me to age my egg whites at room temperature, dry out my flour, or avoid corn starch. These ideas may add mystique, but they also complicate the process and distract the baker from what is really important when making macarons.
So what is important? Technique, control, and patience every step of the way. Details like ensuring that ingredients have been measured accurately, whisking the meringue until it has truly achieved stiff peaks, and grinding and sifting the almond flour to eliminate the presence of larger pieces, will get you halfway there. It's also critical that the batter be mixed thoroughly and to the right consistency during a process called macaronage; fold it too little and the batter will be stiff and clumpy, too much and it will be runny and out of control.
The final steps are equally important. Ensuring that the oven is at a proper and consistent temperature, with the convection fan turned off (I forgot about the fan during my session with Amy, which resulted in macarons with flat, wrinkled tops), and allowing the macs to fully bake undisturbed will help you get the desired effect. So will wrapping them up and allowing them to age in the fridge for at least a few days before eating.
Above all else, don't stress. Macarons take practice and it's important to acknowledge that with all these variables, it takes most people a few tries before getting them right. Remember, a cracked macaron is still a delicious cookie, and still worthy of the ganache, buttercream, jam, or other yummy filling that you sandwich in between.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthalhas logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.