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French Almond Macaroons

Servings: Makes 50 sandwiched macaroons
What are French Macaroons?

A French macaroon, or macaron, is a light-as-air almost meringue-y almond cookie, or rather two of these light and flavorful cookies sandwiching a filling: creamy chocolate ganache for the chocolate macaroons, buttery caramel for the hazelnut ones, pistachio cream for the pistachio macaroons, orange filling for the the tart orange macaroons and tangy raspberry preserves for the raspberry meringues.

French-style macaroons typically involve two meringue-like cookies, with a paper thin crunchy exterior and a moist, almost cake like interior, sandwiched together with ganache or pastry cream, with melt-in-your-mouth results.

Macaroons were once a rare find in American bakeries, but lately they have become increasingly popular. At the pastry shops around the country that do offer them, chefs say they are having trouble baking enough of the treats to meet demand.

Macaroons are, indeed, a delicate treat. And chefs say they must be made by hand to achieve the sought-after texture.

The cookies are typically made simply with almond flour, egg whites, sugar and possibly food coloring. The goal is to achieve a very light, crisp crust and moist, chewy interior.

Baking at "too low a temperature will dry them, like a meringue, and just a minute too long will ruin the texture, and it's all about texture. Some chefs say they add flavoring to the cookie dough as well as the filling. Others contend any variation from the basic ingredients in the cookies ruins the texture, so they add flavorings only to the filling.

Some chefs pipe their macaroon dough onto a lined baking sheet and lets it sit for a few minutes to form a skin before baking, which helps ensure a smooth top without cracks. They also find using fresh egg whites doesn't work quite as well as those that have aged for a few days. And they prefer to bake the cookies a day ahead, keeping them in the refrigerator, to allow time for the flavors to develop.

A classic macaroon is the color of sand but bakers looked at the colors of the rainbow and started to do things accordingly." With the help of food coloring, the cookies now come in almost every color, from vivid green for pistachio to bright pink for rose.

The celebrated tea shop Laduree, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, is given credit for the invention of the French-style filled macaroon, though the cookies themselves are thought to have originated in Italy during the Renaissance. The name comes from the Italian word maccherone, meaning fine dough.

Early in the 20th century, Pierre Desfontaines, grandson of Laduree's founder, Louis Ernest Laduree, who opened the shop in 1862, is said to have come up with the idea of sandwiching flavored cream between the cookies. And macaroons remain a signature item at the bakery, which now has four outlets in Paris.

Laduree claims that in 2003 he baked 110 tons of macaroons. The tea shop also pioneers new exotic flavors each year, and options include salted butter caramel, lime-basil, cotton candy, and Champagne.

For the Macaroons:
10 oz. confectioners' sugar
10 oz. finley ground almonds
5 large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/3 cup granulated or superfine bakers sugar
Red and yellow food coloring

For the Fillings:
9 oz. unsalted butter, softened
5 oz. confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. orange blossom water or orange flower water
1/2 cup raspberries
1 tsp. rose flower water

1. For Macaroons:
Using a fine sieve, sift confectioners' sugar and finely ground almonds, pushing through with a wooden spoon.

2. Using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks form. Add sugar, 1 tbsp. at a time, and whisk until dissolved. Stir meringue mixture into almond mixture (mixture will be stiff), then halve. Tint one half pink, the other half orange.

3. Spoon 1 mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip. Pipe walnut sized rounds onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets, then repeat with other mixture. Set meringues aside, uncovered, on baking sheets for 1 hour (this will help minimise cracking).

4. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F/150 degrees C and bake macaroons, 2 baking sheets at a time, swapping sheets halfway through cooking, for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets. Slide a knife under each macaroon to release from paper, then store in an airtight container until ready to fill.

5.For Fillings:
Using an electric mixer, beat butter until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until combined. Transfer half the mixture from the bowl to another bowl and add orange zest and orange blossom water. Stir to combine. Add raspberries and rose flower water to remaining mixture in mixing bowl and, using the electric mixer, beat until well combined. Sandwich pink macaroons with raspberry filling and orange macaroons with orange filling.

Makes 50 sandwiched macaroons.

To create a perfectly smooth top on your macaroons, dip a finger into a bowl of water and gently smooth out any peaks.

Date: September 14, 2006