As if the arrival of spring with the vernal equinox this Thursday were not cause enough for celebration after the winter we’ve had in the Northeast, March 20th also is JOUR DU MACARON, or International Macaron Day!
Begun nine years ago by noted Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, of la Maison Pierre Hermé Paris, in association with Relais Desserts, an association of 100 pastry chefs and chocolatiers from 19 countries, Macaron Day is now celebrated by more than 60 bakeries around the world who use the occasion to raise money for a local charity. At Pierre Hermé locations customers receive a badge if they make a donation to designated cystic fibrosis foundations. (A badge? No macaron? Really?)
In New York customers receive a free macaron if they tell the shop they are there for Macaron Day NYC. Many of the participating bakeries also are donating a portion of their proceeds to City Harvest, which helps feed nearly two million New Yorkers who face hunger each year.
If you are not familiar with macarons, they are delicate, airy sandwich “cookies,” but the similarities end there. When the macaron craze hit New York a few years ago, The Wall Street Journal described them:
Macarons are made with egg whites, ground almonds and sugar. Their hard outer shells are sandwiched together with a soft creamy center that can consist of anything from fruit purée to chocolate ganache. Macarons, pronounced mack-ah-rohn, typically come in fruit flavors, pistachio, chocolate and sometimes more exotic varieties such as violet, foie gras and white truffle. The English spelling is “macaroon,” but the French confection is not to be confused with the dense chewy treat made with sweetened coconut.
Finding Your Macaron
Over the weekend I found the best macarons I have had outside of France at Asalt & Buttery, a little hole-in-the-wall bakery located on a side street in a suburban New Jersey town, operated by a former chemistry teacher turned pastry chef. Her macarons have a thin, crisp crust that yields at the lightest bite to expose a soft merengue interior. The flavors are vivid, clear without being cloying. On any given day the shelves are lined with a rotating display of macarons in a variety of flavors that can include: Tahitian Vanilla, Chocolate, Pistachio, Hazelnut Ganache, Hazelnut Buttercream, Coconut, Pear, Fiori Di Sicilia, Blood Orange, Salt Caramel, Green Tea, Green Tea w/Strawberry, Raspberry, Raspberry w/ Choc Ganache, Blueberry, Lavender Honey, Lemon, Passion Fruit, Black Currant, Almond, Cherry, and Chocolate Cherry.
On the day I was there Earl Grey was the featured flavor. My macaron possessed the same light touch of bergamot as a fine cup of the tea.
For those who are intent on mastering the art of macaron making, I present an instructional video and a recipe from The Wall Street Journal story. They don’t agree.
That’s why I am hanging up my whisk and heading to Asalt & Buttery on Thursday.
Recipe for “Macarons Classiques” from The Wall Street Journal
- Line a baking tray with rice paper or buttered grease-proof (waxed) paper.
- Mix 350 g (12 oz, 1 ½ cups) caster (superfine) sugar with 250 g (9 oz, 3 cups) ground almonds.
- Lightly whisk 4 egg whites with a pinch of salt and mix thoroughly with the sugar and almond mixture.
- If liked, a little finely chopped candied orange peel or cocoa powder can be added to the mixture before cooking.
- Pipe or spoon small heaps of this mixture onto the baking tray, spacing them so that they do not run into one another during cooking.
- Cook in the oven at 200 C (400 F) for about 12 minutes.
- Lift the macaroons off the baking tray with a spatula, transfer to a wire rack, and leave to cool completely.
- Macaroons can be stored in an airtight container for several days in the refrigerator or for several months in the freezer.