paris trip and scout 1-2-2012 154

What does my son like best about Paris?

The pastries and Peugots. When we visited a couple of years ago, his favorite way to spend the day was eyeballing swank cars, then shoving confections into his mouth. He loved to saunter into a patisserie, scope out the display case and choose the fussiest galette, tarte or croquembrouche on offer.

Me? I’m not so high-maintenance. I only wanted the macarons.

Crispy outside, chewy within, macarons are the classic cookie of France. I ordered a different one for each day of our trip, from chocolat to framboise to pistache.

Once home, I sang the macaron’s praises so much that my friend, T, gave me the cookbook I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita. I flipped through its 80 pages of detailed photos and painstaking instruction and decided macarons were best left to the pros.

But a couple of weeks ago, Melissa Clark offered a streamlined macaron recipe in her weekly New York Times column. I was sifting about for gift ideas for clients, and her version of the flourless meringue cookies seemed perfect — particularly for the couple who’d hired me to cook their Passover seder.

Melissa has never steered me wrong, so I bought a bag of almond flour, hauled out my pastry bags and lined my cookie sheets with parchment. I expected marvelous macarons within the hour.

Uh … no. My macarons emerged hard and burned, hardly edible and not at all gift-worthy. (“Is this what these are supposed to taste like?” the husband had the audacity to ask.)

A saner woman would have scrapped the pastry-making and the gift idea (particularly with three big dinners on the horizon). But not me. Macaron had become personal. Macaron had become a quest. I would not be cowed by the (dumbed-down) macaron!

I pulled out T’s book and scoured its directions. I noted all the techniques I should have used. I pulled out the almond flour. Cleaned up the pastry bags. Relined the baking sheets and started again. An hour or so later, I pulled out …

… soupy, soggy, flat-as-pancake cookies.

Again, a saner woman would have scrapped the pastry-making. But I don’t roll with sane. I would NOT be taunted by a macaron!

I decided to pick and choose: Use Melissa’s recipe, treat the cookie batter with an ethereal touch rather than the tougher technique called for in I Love Macarons and adopt the latter’s insistence on baking times and layering my baking sheets.

An hour later, my cookies emerged from the oven looking like this:

cookies baked

Gorgeous chocolate macarons!

Fifteen minutes later, they looked like this:

cookies fallen

Deflated mounds.

Here’s the thing, though … They were delicious! Sweet with a hint of bitterness from the cocoa; slightly nubby from the almond flour; delightfully chewy and chocolaty. Wrapped in lovely cellophane bags, they made a perfect Passover gift for my clients. I just didn’t call them macarons.

Chocolate-almond crinkles, anyone?

Chocolate-Almond Crinkles (Adapted from Melissa Clark and I Love Macarons, Hisako Ogita)

  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour (whisked to lighten and remove any lumps)
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, then stack those sheets atop two others.

In a large bowl, whisk the powdered sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder and salt:

cookie ingreds

Once the egg whites are at room temp, whisk them on high speed until soft peaks form:

cookie loose whites

Continue whisking on high, adding the 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar slowly, until you have stiff peaks:

cookie firm whites

Carefully, carefully fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients, working with a quarter of them at a time. Fold until the dry ingredients and the whites are completely incorporated:

cookie batter

Gently spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. Pipe 1-inch circles onto your parchment-lined baking sheets:

cookies on pan

Rap the pans on the counter a couple of times, then let them sit uncovered for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

After the cookie batter has rested, place the stacked pans on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove the cookies from the oven only when they are puffed and firm. Cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container, where they will keep seemingly indefinitely, firming up more and more as they sit.