French Macarons: Part 1, the Preliminaries

MACARONS_1Photo courtesy of www.pierreherme.com

Sweet, delicious melt-in-your-mouth macarons aren't difficult to prepare but they do require some advance planning.  Here's what you need to get started:

I           Ingredients

  • Almond flour:  Purchase pre-ground blanched almonds from a health food or nut specialty store.  Grinding them yourself doesn’t achieve the same degree of fineness.  Two or three days before you intend to bake the macarons, spread out the almond flour in a paper-covered jellyroll pan and let it dry uncovered at room temperature.  I always use ground blanched almonds from American Almond Products.
  • Egg whites:  Separate a dozen large eggs (save the yolks for making the fillings) and put them in a clean glass jar; cover the jar with cheesecloth and secure it with an elastic band.  Refrigerate the whites at least 3 or 4 days before you intend to bake the macarons so that some of the water evaporates and the albumen becomes more concentrated.
  • Confectioners’ sugar:  Open a fresh box.  After you’ve weighed out what you need, transfer the sugar to an airtight container so it won’t absorb moisture from the air.
  • Granulated sugar:  The sugar has to be as clean as possible; don’t use sugar from a canister from which you’ve taken out handfuls while your hands might be greasy.  The granulated sugar is made into a syrup so its moisture content isn’t a factor.
  • Coloring and/or flavoring:  These have to be concentrated and not liquid or the equilibrium of the macaron paste can be disturbed.  Gel coloring is perfect.

II         Equipment

  • A digital scale that measures grams
  • An instant-read thermometer with a digital readout
  • A small saucepan, preferably with a lip,  for the sugar syrup
  • A new pastry brush, bristle or silicone
  • Stand mixer such as KitchenAid with whisk attachment
  • Food processor with steel blade
  • A strainer with visible openings in the mesh, NOT the tightly woven mesh kind
  • A new or very clean silicone spatula
  • Heavy pans, such as commercial half-sheet pans
  • Parchment paper and vegetable cooking spray
  • A disposable or new pastry bag
  • A 1/4- to 3/8-inch plain tube
  • An oven that has a convection setting
  • Deep tins or plastic containers with tight-fitting covers for refrigerating and aging the macarons

 Tomorrow:  The Recipe!