A new book about macarons brings the French confection into American kitchens
Not to be confused with the American notion of a sticky sweet coconut-covered macaroon, the French macaron provides a tasty morsel, whether sweet or savory. With a newly published cookbook, and a decent amount of practice—meringue can be tough to conquer—you can make them at home.
In Les Petits Macarons: Colorful French Confections to Make at Home (Running Press, Philadelphia; 270 pages; hardcover/$18), authors Kathryn Gordon and Anne McBride attempt to change domestic attitudes about a very continental dessert. “Macarons are a pretty popular item right now,” says Gordon from her office in New York City. “People like them because they’re pretty, they’re eye-catching. That’s their first appeal, but then they taste them and discover how good they are.” Email
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Gordon, who will preside over a book discussion and signing on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m., at Creekside Books & Coffee, 35 Fennell St., Skaneateles, will also speak Thursday, Oct. 20, at Le Moyne College. She is a chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education at Manhattan. She also was a contestant on Food Network Challenge: Sugar Adventures. Her co-author, McBride, has written several other books about food. “I get to go to France every year and work with chefs over there,” notes Gordon, who first began making macarons more than 15 years ago when she was working at The Rainbow Room in New York City.
While different chefs bring variations to their macaron creations, there are four basic ingredients that go into every recipe: almond flour, egg whites, and granulated and confectioners’ sugar. Gordon did a high-tech computation for her recipe by using an Excel spreadsheet. “I input as many different French macaron recipes as I had worked with, obtained in classes, and the like,” she explains, “and took the bakers’ percentage average to help develop the base recipe. It was modified somewhat in the recipe-testing phase for the book, but that was the beginning.” The result is 50 recipes published in the book.
“All the fillings and combinations are completely out of my head,” she says.“The base recipe itself is really only four ingredients, so it’s hard to come up with something completely unique.”
And even though it would seem that those four basic ingredients translate into an easy-to-make cookie, think again. Making meringue is tricky, especially for rookie bakers, and it’s not something you can rush or fake. Remember the punch line to the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice, practice.
With 15 years of practice under her chef’s cap, Gordon devised variations that will delight those with a sweet tooth as well as satisfy the savory-lovers among us; consider a non-dessert macaroon for hors d’oeuvres duty or even as an amuse-bouche. And while the sweet filling is smooth enough to be piped between the shells, the savory fillings are too textured, so Gordon recommends spooning them onto the shells.
In addition, she and McBride wrote a section of the book outlining multiple meringue methods, including French, Italian, Swiss and Kathryn’s Easiest French. Especially helpful is the section on piping and baking the macaron shells; the authors include instructions but the photographs give bakers a better guide.
While at Le Moyne, Gordon will be speaking to a Sociology of Food class about how French food and American culture influence each other. Although the class is closed to the public, the topic of conversation can resonate with everyone.
“Kathryn Gordon will be talking about how food became a part of pop culture, especially how French food became a part of elite food culture,” explains Farha Ternikar, an associate professor of sociology at Le Moyne and the director of the department of peace and global studies. “The macaron craze has really hit the East Coast, and I think this book is going to be important.”
For a helpful crash course on how to make the macarons, visit Gordon’s website, lespetitmacarons.com and click on the “video” link on the left. Then you can use the book as a guideline as you impress friends and family with your Europeans sensibilities. Be sure, too, to teach your guests the proper pronunciation of this ever-so-Gallic word: say “mahkah-rohn,” with a nasally emphasis on the final syllable.