Artisan Cuisine is published monthly.
The French macaron cookie is so sweet and pretty, but is well known for being finicky and difficult to make.
Pronounced like "macaroni" without the i, these are the petite, colorful and delicate sandwiched French cookies, not the macaroons (two o's) that are made with coconut.
With the proper tools and technique it is much easier than I was led to believe. They are naturally gluten-free and are elegant and delicious.
What has helped for me is using the Italian meringue method. It involves cooking the meringue beforehand and lessens the chances of the cookies not cooking properly.
It's also helpful to have a pastry bag (or disposable piping bags) and round tip that is a half-inch in diameter. A digital scale is needed, as is a food processor and a Kitchenaid.
If you don't have these wonderful kitchen tools, find a friend who does and make macarons together. They are most typically shaped in round circles, but you could get creative and pipe them into Easter eggs or even bunnies if the mood strikes.
When adding color to the macarons you want to add powdered coloring or just a tiny bit of gel coloring. Regular food coloring will upset the balance between liquid and dry ingredients and can cause issues with your cookies.
Fillings can be anything you like, with the most common being chocolate ganaches or flavored butter creams. Some chefs have even tried making savory macarons, but the consensus has not been good.
Consider these a sophisticated tea time treat for a special occasion. I like to freeze mine and take a couple out at a time and let them thaw for 15 minutes before enjoying. This way they can last weeks, although, at my house they are usually gone within the week.
You can also make macarons using other nuts ground into a flour/meal like hazelnuts, pecans or pistachios. Some chefs have had success making macarons from sunflower seeds and other seeds.
To decorate the tops of the macaron you can brush on edible gold or other food coloring on top of already baked macarons, dust the tops lightly with nuts or other treats before baking (not too much or they won't puff up as much) or simply dust with cocoa once baked. In the picture I've used little white sugar pearls to decorate the edges of my macarons to make them even more girly for my daughter.
Try making them and coming up with your own versions and don't forget to take pictures. They are like works of art, and you'll feel like you have a French pastry shop in your kitchen.
They won't be something you whip up every week, but you'll be delighted when you try them. Even an ugly macaron finds its way into somebody's belly.
Here's the recipe I've used with success at least a dozen times. Enjoy!
Anne Boulley is a local chef and culinary instructor with a passion for artisan foods. Her cooking classes and services are offered via her website,www.thegourmetguide.com.