Mad for Macarons!

I'm a little giddy.
 OK...a lot giddy.

Macarons have been on my "must try someday" list for ages now.  I first saw them in Martha's Baking Handbook and just could not get over how darn CUTE they are.

Then, I read about their reputation for being they don't react well to they're so easily if you look at them funny, they'll develop hollows.  Etcetera, etcetera. 

I went back to regular ol' cookies.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when my gorgeous, adorable friend Lupita invited me over to...make macarons!!! Lupita, who makes the prettiest decorated cookies, had been to a macaron class and volunteered to teach me to make them.  We (she) made these little chickies:
I'm totally making these for Easter!

The other person who helped me jump on the macaron bandwagon: Stella from Brave Tart.  Stella is, well, amazing. Her posts on macaron making are down-to-earth and really take the scary out of the equation.  Check out: macaron mythbusters, all about hollows, 10 commandments, and macarons are for eating. don't even need to age your egg whites!  (...if you've never heard of aging egg whites just pretend you never read that sentence.)

Thanks to Stella's wisdom, I know WHY my heart macarons are "broken heart" macs (most likely, a rogue streak of meringue).  But, hey, for Valentine's Day...I'm going to pretend I made them that way on purpose.  Who hasn't had a broken-hearted Valentine's Day before?

(And because of these, I can't get the Bee Gees singing, "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" out of my head.)

OH!  And here's the best thing about macarons...I mean, besides eating them...they really don't take long to make at all!  Compared to baking batches of cut-out cookies, tinting and thinning royal icing, piping and flooding cookies, macarons feel like they take about a nanosecond.
First batch doesn't work?  Make another!  

I wanted to go simple, simple, simple...and was still a little worried they wouldn't turn out, so I didn't even make a filling.  I went to my go-to, spread on everything...Nutella.

Simple Macarons
{makes about 40-ish shells for 20 cookies}

3/4 cup ground almond flour/meal
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 large egg whites
3 & 1/2 TBSP granulated sugar
food color (optional)
buttercream, ganache, or Nutella for filling

Stack 2 cookie sheets, one top of the other, unless you are starting with very thick, insulated sheets.  Use a 1 & 1/2" cookie cutter to trace guidelines for piping the macarons on a piece of parchment.  Leave about 1 inch between each circle. Flip the parchment over, and place on the top cookie sheet. 

Combine the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor.  Process for about 30-seconds to 1 minutes, until combined.  Sift the mixture or shake through a fine sieve into a bowl.  (About 2 tablespoons of larger pieces are ok, just stir them into the rest.)  Set aside.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium-low, until frothy.  Increase the speed to medium, and continue whisking until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  With the mixer running, gradually add in the granulated sugar.  Scrape down the side of the bowl if needed.

Increase the speed to medium-high, beating until the eggs are glossy and come to a stiff peak.  Add food coloring, if using, note that more food coloring may affect the baking time. (I used just a bit of AmeriColor Deep Pink.) Beat until the egg whites form a clump in the whisk attachment and are stiff.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and sift about half of the almond flour mixture over the meringue.  Use a silicone spatula to fold into the meringue, using about 10 strokes; don't expect it to come together completely.  Sift the remaining almond flour mixture into the bowl, (it's ok to add in the 2 TBSP or so of larger pieces that won't go through the sifter), and continue to fold into the meringue.

Don't worry about being gentle; you want to deflate the egg whites.  Fold until the mixture comes together, but avoid overmixing.  Be sure to scrape the bowl to avoid stray bits of meringue remaining unincorporated.  The batter will loosen and start to fall in the "ribbon" off of the spatula.  A ribbon or dollop of batter dropped back into the bowl, should reincorporate into the rest of the batter in 20-30 seconds.  This should take no more than 50 strokes total.

{Warning to you cookie decorators out there....I found it very easy to overmix the batter since I'm so used to thinning royal icing for flooding.}

Spoon the 1/2 the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2" tip (I found that just using the coupler without a tip worked great for this).   Pipe the batter onto the parchment, using the circles as a guide, staying just inside the lines (the batter will spread a bit).  Repeat with the remaining batter.

Let the piped batter to dry for about 15 minutes-30 minutes while the oven preheats to 350. 

Bake for 11-12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  The tops should be firm and glossy and the bottoms of the shells should have formed "feet" or frills at the bottom.  When done, the cookies will lift fairly easily from the parchment.
 Remove from the oven, place the cookie sheets on a wire rack and let cool completely on the sheet.

Once cool, remove the cookies from the parchment and fill.  Lightly press the cookies together.

Macarons taste best after 24 hours, so place in a container between layers of wax paper and be patient. :)  After 24 hours, remove from the refrigerator and let the cookies come to room temperature, or close to it, before serving.

See? Not so scary!  The most difficult part?  Deciding how many to eat in one sitting.  
I settled on a serving size of seven.  Sounds about right.

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