When the macaron craze hit a few years back it was legendary French pastry chef Pierre Hermé who led the pack with seasonal collections of colorful, chewy almond cookies filled and decorated in colors of the rainbow. Earlier this year, Hermé published a new cookbook, Pierre Hermé Macarons: The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Pâtissier, filled with fun photographs and detailed instructions on how to make these cookies at home. We snagged Hermé's chocolate macaron recipe (below), in which two lightly crisp, densely chewy cookies are sandwiched together with a rich, truffle-like chocolate filling.
French macarons are trickier to make than American-style coconut macaroons, but don't let that stop you. Once you understand a few key steps, macaron making becomes just as fun as stirring together truly great chocolate chip cookie dough. Hermé's precise technique includes blanching your own almonds; however, one can save time by using already prepared blanched almond meal. These elegant cookies would make a classy finish to a holiday meal or an extra special gift.
This is the recipe for macaron shells that I learned when I was an apprentice at Lenôtre in Plaisir, France. It was made with raw almonds so the skins had to be removed first. Then the blanched almonds had to be left to dry for 48 hours before being used.
Makes about 72 macarons (or about 144 shells)
For the chocolate macaron shells:
1⅔ cups (240 g) whole almonds, with skins (or, substitute 1 ¼ cup blanched, ground almonds or almond meal)
4¾ cups (480 g) confectioners' sugar
¼ cup (20 g) unsweetened cocoa
8 drops / ⅛ teaspoon (0.5 g) liquid red food color
Generous 1 teaspoon (5 g) water
2⅓ large (70 g) fresh egg whites
1 tablespoon (20 g) apricot puree
To finish the macaron shells:
3½ large (110 g) fresh egg whites
For the chocolate ganache:
1 1¼ ounces (320 g) Valrhona Extra-bitter 61% cacao dark chocolate
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon (220 g) fresh whole milk
½ cup minus 1 tablespoon (100 g) fine French unsalted butter, preferably beurre de la Viette, room temperature
If using whole almonds: Two days in advance, place the almonds in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, then immediately remove the skins. Spread the skinned almonds out on several layers of paper towels. Let dry for 48 hours at room temperature.
> Prepare the chocolate macaron shells:• Lightly beat the 3½ (110 g) egg whites just until frothy then add them to the food processor with the ground almonds and confectioners' sugar. Process to combine, then transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #11, ½-inch (11-mm to 12-mm) pastry tip.
• The day before, process the almonds in a food processor with a little bit of the confectioners' sugar. Add the rest of the confectioners' sugar then process again until the almonds are finely ground. Sift and press the confectioners' sugar-almond mixture through a medium sieve. Re-process any remaining large almond pieces with the sifted confectioners' sugar-almond mixture until all of the almonds are very finely ground and will fit through the sieve. (If using already-ground almonds, process in food processor or stir in a bowl with confectioners' sugar to combine.) Dilute the cocoa and the food color in the water then add this along with the 2⅓ (70 g) egg whites and the apricot puree and process again until the mixture forms a rough mass.
• Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe disks about 1½ inches (3.5 cm) in diameter and ¾ inch (2 cm) apart on the lined baking sheets. Set aside for at least 1 hour at room temperature to allow a skin to form.
• Preheat a convection oven to 300°F (150°C). Place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, quickly opening and closing the oven door twice during baking to release moisture. Remove the shells from the oven and slide them still on the parchment paper onto a work surface.
Chocolate Ganache• Chop the chocolate using a serrated knife then melt it to between 113°F (45°C) and 122°F (50°C) set over a bain-marie or in a microwave.
• In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Pour the hot milk in thirds into the melted chocolate, stirring after each addition starting in the center then in increasingly wider concentric circles toward the sides of the bowl. Using an immersion blender, blend the ganache until smooth.
• Add the butter in small pieces. Blend again until smooth. Pour the ganache into a baking dish. Cover it by gently pressing plastic wrap onto its surface. Refrigerate for 2 hours, just until the ganache has developed a creamy consistency. Transfer the ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a plain #11, ½-inch (11-mm to 12-mm) pastry tip.
• Turn half of the shells over with the flat sides up onto a new piece of parchment paper. Fill them with the ganache. Close them with the rest of the shells, pressing down lightly.
• Refrigerate the macarons for 24 hours. Remove them from the refrigerator 2 hours before eating them.
Reprinted with permission from Pierre Hermé and Abrams Books (c) 2015.