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You Can Make Macarons at Home (Honest!)
So when I met Daniel Hebet at a macaron-making demonstration in southern France, I had a few questions. (To start, why do my macaroons come out like broken jelly bombs while yours are perfectly airy, brightly hued confections?) Hebet cut his teeth at Ladurée, the famous macaron shop that opened its Parisian doors in 1862, and he's now the owner of the Michelin-starred Les Jardins du Quai in Provence. (It's from there that he leads cooking demonstrations for Trafalgar Tours.) As we whipped up a batch of perfectly shaped, perfectly baked macarons, Hebet shared these secrets, which will work with any macaron recipe you favor.
Easy does it: To make macarons, you beat egg whites and sugar syrup and then fold that mixture into ground almond meal. Here's where the cookie's texture is determined, Hebet says, and the gentler you are with the batter, the easier it will be to form perfect little circles. He skips a spoon entirely in favor of a wide spatula, which he uses to lift and fold the batter, just until it's evenly mixed.
Hold 'er steady: These cookies won't spread, and because you'll probably be making a lot of them (each sandwich is two cookies, after all), you can fill the parchment-lined baking sheet from edge to edge. To keeping that macaron-laden parchment paper from sliding around on its journey in and out of the oven, though, Hebet first dabs a little bit of raw batter under each corner, then presses the parchment in place. The bright pink batter acts as a glue, yet doesn't burn.
Low and slow: Once you've filled your plastic bag or pastry bag with the batter and you're ready to start piping the cookies onto the parchment sheet, hold the tip down close to the baking sheet and hold steady. My corkscrew shapes, Hebet explains, came from holding the bag too high and moving it before I'd finished piping the cookie. "And practice, practice, practice," he advises.
Not all creams are created equal: French macarons can be filled with everything from whipped cream to caramel to coconut cream to jam. "But the sweeter the filling is, the less of it you should use," he suggests. Anything but a thin layer of preserves or jam will be too cloying (see: my old jelly bombs), while lightly sweetened whipped cream can be piled high and studded with fresh fruit. A recent twist we classmates enjoyed: a mountain of whipped cream mixed with sweet mascarpone cheese, finished with raspberries.
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