Anyway, way back in the day, when Helen was in town, I took a few hours out of the day to learn to make macaron, those lovely little french sandwich cookies. Can you believe I had never made them before? In fact, I had only eaten them once before as well (Honore makes some delightful flavors). Luckily, Helen made it all quite easy. If you do get a chance to attend one of her classes (either photography or macaron), I strongly urge you not to pass it up! She is a delight.
The thing I love most about macaron is that they are beautiful little flavor delivery vehicles. They really don't have much flavor on their own, so you can make them into just about any flavor you can dream up. Change the color or flavor of the shell, swap out the filling and you have an endless variety. Plus they are simply so damn cute.
The only real trick when you do go to flavor the shells, Helen warned us, is to make sure not to add the flavor (or color) in liquid form, or you may wreck the meringue. For her flavorings, she often dehydrates fruit and then pulverizes it into a fine powder. But, you can buy quite a bit of dried fruit at the grocery without needing to do it yourself. I picked up some of the "Just" brands at Whole Foods... first the raspberries, which powdered like a dream and gave a fantastic color and flavor to the shells. And then, more experimentally, I grabbed a carton of Just Carrots, and got the idea of carrot cake macarons wedged into my head.
The carrot bits were a bit chewier than the raspberries (which practically turn to powder in your fingers), but a good turn in a spice grinder, and they worked just fine. Adding a bit of the powdered carrot and a few little hints of spice and the macaron shells are just the most lovely shades of peach, and smell and taste of warm cake. Fill them with a smear of maple cream cheese frosting and let them sit for a day. I know it is nearly impossible to wait... but it is so worth it!
The texture of the shell relaxes just right, and the flavors melt together to create a much better cookie. And, if you start making them now, they will be perfect for Easter morning (and a lovely addition to any easter basket!)
Carrot Cake Macarons with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Helen Dujardin
3 large egg whites (90 grams)
1/4 cup Just Carrots dried carrot pieces
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground mace
1 pinch ground ginger
200g powdered sugar
110g slivered almonds
a pinch of salt 25g caster or granulated sugar
4oz cream cheese, room temparture
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 pinch salt
1 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Place the freshly separated egg whites in a bowl, lightly covered with plastic wrap, and leave them overnight (or up to 4 days in the refrigerator). It is important to age the eggs before starting the cookies.
When the eggs have been aged, grind the carrot pieces to a fine powder in a spice (or clean coffee) grinder.
In a food processor, grind the almonds with the powdered sugar until it resembles coarse sand. Add the powdered carrot, cinnamon, mace (or nutmeg) and ginger and give a quick whir to mix. Set aside.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, and beat for about 30 seconds until the whites are a bit broken. If you are measuring by weight, this is a good time to make sure you have 90 grams and adjust as needed. The egg whites are easier to work with when they've been beaten a touch. Toss in the small pinch of salt, and beat them to a foam. Then, start slowly adding the sugar letting "rain down" (as Helen says). Beat until the meringue is glossy and holds a peak, stopping and checking frequently to make sure you don't overbeat.
Add the sugar/almond mixture to the meringue and stir with a rubber spatula to combine, about 10 strokes. Then, start more gradually folding to slightly break down the meringue. Test the batter every few strokes. Drop a small dot of the batter on a plate. If the top flattens after a few seconds, it is ready. If it holds a peak, give it a few more strokes. If it spreads quickly, you've over folded.
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip, and pipe small rounds onto a parchment lined baking sheet (I've had better luck with parchment than silplat, but some people like the silplat better). Preheat your oven to 280F. Let the macaron sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour before putting them in the stove. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. If the interiors still seem wobbly (lightly touch the top with your finger and move back and forth to check), turn the oven off, but leave the cookies in while it cools. Then, remove the cookies from the oven, and let cool to room temperature before filling.
To make the filling, whisk the cream cheese, butter, maple syrup and salt together until smooth. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time until you reach your preferred texture and sweetness. The shells are quite sweet, so the filling doesn't need to be.
Spread a good sized dollop on one shell, and then top with a shell of a similar size and shape, giving it a little turn as you do. Place the cookies in an air tight container overnight, either at room temperature or in the fridge, for at least 12 hours before eating.