orange flower macarons

Macarons have temporarily taken over my life. I’m blaming it on my Halloween costume, which inspired the initial undertaking. A few months back, I decided that I was going to be Marie Antoinette for Halloween (again). And this Marie Antoinette needed her some fancy French confections. Hello, macarons!

I love macarons. French macarons are an almond and meringue based cookie, much more refined than their coconut-filled American counterpart, the macaroon. They are light and slightly crispy on the surface, a bit chewy in the middle and typically filled with some sort of buttercream or fruit curd. They are heavenly. Macarons are a little bit luxurious, but not overly indulgent. They are one of my favorite treats.

I also love i ♥ macarons.

i ♥ macarons is a sweet little book all about macarons. My first encounter with the book was at Kinokuniya Bookstore, one of my favorite places in San Francisco. Sadly, it was written in Japanese. While I’m not opposed to buying Japanese magazines (I think of them as picture books), I find it sort of pointless and sad for me to buy cookbooks in foreign languages, no matter how tempting. Luckily for me the book has been translated in English.

I very recently received my copy of  i ♥ macarons and since the Queen said, “let them eat… macarons!”, (or not), I knew I had to give it a go. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the idea of making macarons because I’ve heard and read so many times that they are extremely difficult to produce. But the book had great step-by-step photographs and lots of pointers, so I was feeling strangely confident. There are several different macaron flavors and filling suggestions and combinations mentioned throughout i ♥ macarons, but I was immediately drawn to the orange flower variety for both the macaron and the buttercream filling. The orange flower buttercream was really impressive; it was silky and rich and surprisingly very light – the perfect accompaniment to the delicate macarons. And in the spirit of Halloween and a certain team that just won the World Series for the first time in over fifty years (which literally caused San Francisco to explode last week), I tinted my macaron batter orange.

There is certainly an art to making macarons, one I have yet to perfect. I know that I am a long ways away from being Ladurée.  But all things considered, I was very pleased with my results, especially since it was my first attempt. I was able to achieve a pied, or the “little foot” that forms at the base of the cookie, which is an essential feature of a successful macaron. And nothing cracked or melted while baking – definitely a plus in my book. A few days after that first batch, I felt very compelled to make more macarons, which I decided to fill with an orange-flavored bitter-sweet ganache, another favorite of mine. It was such an extreme contrast to the light buttercream of the first batch, a totally different animal but equally lovely, in my opinion. More macarons, s’il vous plaît!

orange flower macarons

from i ♥ macarons by Hisako Ogita

makes about 2 dozen macarons

for the macarons:

2/3 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) almond meal

1-1/2 cups (5.25 ounces/150 grams) powdered sugar (use powdered sugar that doesn’t contain cornstarch)

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

5 tablespoons (65 grams) granulated sugar

1/2  teaspoon orange flower water

orange food coloring (optional)

Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit your baking sheet. Trace 1-inch circles on the paper, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart. This will be your guide for piping your macarons. Place parchment on baking sheet (pencil/ink side face down). Set aside.

In a food processor, grind the almond meal and powdered sugar together to a fine powder. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve. Repeat. Set aside. Place the mixture in the refrigerator if it is warm in your work area.

In a stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until they are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg whites and continue to beat on high speed until they reach stiff, glossy peaks. Add the orange flower water and food coloring and mix lightly.

Add half of the sifted flour mixture to the meringue. Stir with a large spatula,  scooping up from the bottom of the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and mix lightly in a circular motion.

When the flour is incorporated into the meringue, press and spread the batter against the sides of the bowl. Scoop the batter from the bottom and turn it upside down. Repeat this process about 15 times, but no more than 20 strokes. When the batter becomes nicely firm and drips slowly as you scoop it with a spatula, the mixture is ready.

Attach a 1 centimeter round pastry tip to a pastry bag and pour the batter into the bag. Squeeze the batter onto the center of the circles traced on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Make small circles as the batter tends to spread. Rap the baking sheet firmly against a table or counter top. This helps the macarons hold their rounded shape and helps the pied (little foot) to form.

Dry the batter at room temperature, uncovered, until a slight crust forms on the surface, about 30 minutes to one hour. When the batter no longer sticks to your finger when touched, the drying process is complete.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Position the rack  in the center of the oven. Stack the baking sheet with the batter onto an empty baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking time. If the insides of the macarons are still soft after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 300°F, cover the tray with aluminum foil, and bake for another 2 to 3 minutes. When the macarons are done, remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool on a wire rack. When the macarons are completely cooled, remove them from the baking sheet. Macarons can be kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container for about one week.

for the orange flower buttercream:

7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces/100 grams) unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons (1.4 ounces/40 milliliters) water

3 tablespoons (1.4 ounces/40 grams) granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tablepoon orange flower water

Stir the softened butter with a spatula until it becomes smooth and creamy like mayonnaise. Set aside.

Put the water and sugar in a heat-resistant container (I used a coffee mug), and stir them well. Heat this mixture in the microwave oven for 1 minute. Take the container out of the microwave and mix until the sugar is completely dissolved. Heat for another 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling.

While heating the sugar syrup, lightly beat the egg with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Take the sugar mixture out of the microwave and stir with a spoon. Be sure to wear oven mitts as the container will be very hot. Drop a small amount of the sugar syrup into a small bowl of water. Scoop the syrup out of the water and make a ball with it using our fingers. If you can do this, the syrup has the right density.

When the syrup is ready, slowly pour the syrup into the bowl with the egg while beating at a high speed. Reduce the speed to medium and then to slow, and continue beating until the bottom of the bowl is no longer hot, and the mixture becomes white and heavy. Divide the prepared butter, adding it to the egg and sugar mixture in two or three batches. Beat at medium with each addition. While adding the butter, the mixture may appear to separate. Keep mixing! When the mixture appears creamy, stir in the orange flower water. When the mixture is well combined, the process is done.

for the bittersweet orange ganache:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

In a small saucepan, bring cream just to the boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, butter and orange zest. Let sit for three minutes and then whisk until smooth. Chill the mixture until cool, about 20-30 minutes.

to assemble your macarons:

Pour the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a 1 centimeter round tip. Pipe the filling on the flat side of the macaron puff. Cover the bottom puff with another puff, flat side facing in. Gently press the top puff into place.

A little orange and black…