“You want a story on a macaroon?”
“No, on a macaron.”
“That is what I said. Macaroon.”
“Not macaROON, but ‘rrrrrrrruuuu..gack gack .uun.’ It’s pronounced mack-ah-rohn.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place. So you want me to go out and find this so-called mack-ah-rohn right here in L-A? All right then.”
And so began my second quest for the “It” sweet of the ’10s. Apparently the adorable and ubiquitous cupcake is getting knocked off her tiered serving stand by a classy French treat that has been known to make grown adults stare off misty-eyed when asked to describe this sweet, tasty delicacy.
My first, albeit misguided, foray to find Maine macarons yielded the usual macaroon suspects — chewy sugar, egg white and coconut confections often dipped in chocolate. But, hey, I like seeing those cookies in a baker’s case. There’s something delectably delicious about a good-old American coconut macaroon. What’s not to love about chocolate and coconut. C’mon.
Apparently, however, the macaron I was supposed to be hunting down was the French version that’s become all the rage in the U.S.: a sandwich-style sweet, usually small and often in a variety of colors and flavors, with a top and bottom made of egg white meringue and almond flour and a tasty smooth filling.
The macaron traces its origins, possibly, to, maybe, as far back as Catherine de Medici. If that’s true, how cool is that! But I digress. The pastel-imbued delicacies found in some bakeries these days are inspired by those popularly found in the venerable French tea salon Laduree and those created by renowned contemporary French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, whose macarons have paved a regular pastel brick road to dessert nirvana.
My search led me to numerous fine bakeries in Lewiston-Auburn and well beyond. But while many had the delicious macaroon, none had the elusive macaron. That is, until I got to the Bread Shack in Auburn, where artisan bread baker and pastry chef Dara Reimers has added a variety of macarons to her pastry choices.
When Reimers went to Paris this past March to compete in the Bakery Masters she was focused on the competition, but she also had ulterior motives. “When we went to the competition, being in Paris, well, it was also a hunt for the perfect macaron.” Indeed, after a long day preparing for the competition, walking around Paris to sample macarons from the city’s many patisseries became the perfect way to unwind. Of all those she tasted, she favored those at Laduree for the classic taste, but also for the whole experience of relaxing in the cafe and savoring each bite.
Reimers developed her macarons from the classic French recipe she learned at the Notter School of Pastry Arts in Orlando, Fla. What distinguishes the macaron is the meringue outer cookie and the smooth filling. Biting into one of these treats is a multisensory experience. First comes the delicate crispy exterior followed by the sweet and chewy inside and finally the smooth flavorful filling. Reimers offers six different flavors: lemon, raspberry, chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and caramel.
The perfect mid-afternoon treat, macarons are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee, tea or, for those who want a mid-afternoon getaway, drinking chocolate. (A combination of bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate, milk and half-and-half, drinking chocolate is said to be the ideal accompaniment because its rich flavor stands up to the feisty little macaron.) Reimers makes her macarons bite-sized so that you can sample three different flavors and not be too full. “My absolute favorite thing,” Reimers says, “is for people to sit, have a coffee, tea or drinking chocolate and pastry, and take their bread home. It makes my heart go pitter patter.”
Chocolate Macaron Cookie
You can have your macaron moment at The Bread Shack or you can make your own at home. Shack owner Dara Reimers advises to make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature when you begin. Another tip she insists on is to allow the meringue batter to dry for an hour after piping it onto the parchment paper before placing it in the oven. This helps the cookie “jump up” as it bakes.
1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup almond flour — sliced almonds, pulverized very fine in a food processor
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Chocolate Ganache Filling ingredients
½ cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 290 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a #10 pastry tip (about 1/2-inch) ready.
Sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and the almond flour.
Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they begin to foam and add the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a spatula. When the ingredients are just incorporated — do not over mix — and there are no streaks of egg whites, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag. Placing the bag into a tall glass helps with this.
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch circles, evenly spaced. Let the cookies dry for about an hour so that a crust forms on the top. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the trays.
To prepare filling, place heavy cream in a saucepan on medium heat and set the chocolate over the saucepan in a stainless steel bowl. As the heavy cream warms and begins to boil, it will begin to melt the chocolate. Just before the cream boils remove it from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Put the mixture in a bowl; on low, blend ingredients together with an electric mixer; turn up to medium and whip until it lightens and cools to room temperature.
Spread filling on one half of the cookies and place a second cookie on top of the filling. Yields 12 macarons.