French macarons have become extremely popular in the past few years. They're not quite as popular as cupcakes, though, probably because the perception is that they're a little more difficult to make (which is really not true). And, after all, cupcakes are an American creation, while macarons are have a French pedigree. But I love how versatile macarons are, how many different flavors one can conjure up, and how supremely light they are. Here's a simple coconut variety, made with organic unsweetened desiccated coconut, which you can get at health or whole food stores. By the way, if you prefer to buy them--and they make a great holiday gift--my friend Florian Bellanger, owner of Mad Mac, makes the best, along with a great selection of madeleines (www.madmacnyc.com).
Makes about 24 macarons
2/3 cup almond flour or meal (available at health food stores)
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut (available at health food stores)
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
¼ cup unsweetened coconut
4 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the macarons:
1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, process the almonds with the confectioners’ sugar until well blended. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the coconut and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy. Very gradually add the granulated sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla and beat until blended.
4. Add half of the sifted almond mixture and fold it in with a spatula. Add the remaining almond mixture and mix it in a light circular motion. Press and spread out the batter against the side of the bowl. Scoop the batter from the bottom of the bowl and turn it upside down. Repeat this motion about 15 times (no more, no less). When the batter becomes nicely firm and drips slowly as you scoop it with the spatula, it is ready to be piped.
5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Fit a pastry bag with a .4-inch plain tip (Ateco #4). Scrape the batter into the bag. Pipe out 1-inch rounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them ½ inch apart. Rap the baking sheet firmly against the counter. Dry the batter at room temperature, uncovered, for 15 minutes. The batter circles should not stick to your finger when you touch them. If they do, let them dry a little longer.
6. Stack the baking sheet with the macarons on it on another baking sheet. Place both sheets, stacked, in the oven and bake the macarons for 15-18 minutes, until slightly crisp (they will crisp more upon cooling). Cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the buttercream:
7. Put milk and coconut in small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover pot and let stand for 10 minutes.
8. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar until well blended. Add the warm milk and coconut and whisk until smooth. Strain the mixture back into the pot, pressing down on the coconut to extract the flavor. Discard the coconut. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and reaches 175°F.
9. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix, using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed until cool. Increase the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Change to the whisk attachment and beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, 1-2 minutes.
Assemble the macarons:
10. Scrape the buttercream into a pastry bag fitted with a .4 inch plain tip (about the same size as you used to pipe the macarons). Pipe a grape-sized dollop of buttercream onto the underside of a macaron. Gently press the underside of another macaron against the buttercream until it spreads almost to the edge. Repeat with the remaining macarons and buttercream. Store the macarons in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 5 days. (Yes, 5 days!)