In my mind, the process of making French macarons perfectly represents the frustrations inherent in the world of pastry. Yes, there are rules in the world of savory cooking, but the penalties for disobeying them are not as severe as with pastry. For example, if you overcook the meat or fish a bit, though it might not be perfect, it’s probably still presentable. Pastry, on the other hand, presents a
minefield of possible disasters that can be downright demoralizing. Over-cook the crème Anglaise, and you’ve got a curdled mess of egg pieces and milk on your hands. Undercook the sugar syrup for your buttercream, and it’s a soupy mess fit only for the poubelle. Get your chocolate too hot as you’re melting it, and it seizes up, transformed into a dull, grainy clump of expensive brown gunk
with not much of a future as the star of a dessert. Making perfect macarons requires precision and practice. They should be smooth and shiny on top, with a textured ‘pied’ or ‘foot’ at the base. Start with a recipe from a reliable source, and follow it to a tee. If they don’t come out perfectly, try to determine the cause and make the necessary adjustments next time you make them. If they never
come out right, it’s time to move on to a new recipe.
Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I decided to make macarons with the flavors of fall: Spiced Pumpkin Seed Macarons with a Chestnut Buttercream filling. The macarons are flavored with cinnamon and ginger and topped with three raw pumpkin seeds. The filling is a standard French buttercream (my
favorite filling for macarons) flavored with chestnut puree. You can make your own or buy it canned from a gourmet shop. If you’re brave, you can serve these with the coffee after Thanksgiving dinner, but my guess is they won’t be appreciated then. Better to give each guest two or three macarons (wrapped in a cello-bag tied with a ribbon) to take home to enjoy the next day, when eating is once again possible.
Spiced Pumpkin Seed Macarons with Chestnut Buttercream
Makes about 24 macarons
Spiced Pumpkin Seed Macarons:
¾ cup (96 grams) almond flour
1 3/4 cups (201 grams) confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
3 large egg whites*
3 tablespoons (37 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup (84 grams) chestnut puree
2 tablespoons (14 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons dark rum
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, at room temperature
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened (it should be cool)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
*Note: If you have time, it’s best to ‘age’ your egg whites before using them. Separate the whites, then store them in the refrigerator in a covered container for 48 hours. Bring them to room temperature before using.
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, cinnamon and ginger until well blended. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl.
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 20-25 times. When the batter becomes nicely firm and flows slowly as you scoop it with the spatula, it is ready to be piped. (When you spoon a little on the baking sheet, it should not form a peak.)
5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375° 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 12 minutes. Place three pumpkin seeds on top of each macaron. Dry the batter for another 12 minutes.
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 13-16 minutes, until slightly crisp (they will crisp more upon cooling). Cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the buttercream:
7. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the chestnut puree at low speed with the paddle attachment as you gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and rum. Mix until relatively smooth and set aside. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pot from the heat while you start beating the eggs.
8. In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until the sugar syrup is ready.
9. Place the sugar syrup over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.
10. Beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture at medium speed. Add the vanilla, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the buttercream until it is completely smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes. Beat in the reserved chestnut mixture until smooth. (The buttercream must be used at room temperature.)
Assemble the macarons:
11. 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 room temperature for up to 5 days. They can also be refrigerated for up to a week.