Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pistachio Macarons

Pistachios are one of those rare non-vegetable, fruit, or herb, naturally green foods. Really, it's kind of difficult to think of green things not in those categories. Besides the base of green, they've got gold and mauve hues, too, but it's the distinctive shade of green they're identified with.

At the shop we have access to a pistachio oil and wonderful thick, dark evergreen and fragrant pistachio frucht paste (why it's so dark, I'm not sure). It's got a beautiful, deep flavor somewhat similar to cherries and almond.
There was one day when I opened the refrigerator to grab some cream and it smelled fantastic in there (not that the fridge smells bad, but it normally has no scent). It took a bit for me to figure out what it was: a pistachio frucht paste spill. Great smell, not a fun cleanup.
The paste is certainly a nice product for pastry and confections, and a little seems to go a long way to add an intense flavor.
However, that's not the kitchen I live in. While I can find nice things like this at work, they're not found at the grocery store. 
I suppose I can lament the fact that there are many nice things out there that are inaccessible to the home cook. Perhaps the reason is that there's not much call for them, they're more of a niche market sort of thing.
Well, actually, the only person I can think of who would want something like that on hand at all times might be a pastry chef... and I doubt they regularly turn out things at home like they do at the restaurant.
(It's like any other job- work vs. play, and maybe pastry chefs don't "play" like that at home because it's really work.)

So, we make do with what we can find, and in this case raw, whole pistachios are it.

I've been meaning to write about macarons for a long time.  I wrote about them once upon a time...
I make them, but it's very rarely, so I can't say my practice is what it should be for turning out perfect-every-time confections. But even if they're not "perfect", they still taste good.

So, I may have made macarons 12 times in the past four years.
While they usually turn out "fine", they've never been picture perfect. Most of it has to be that they're finicky little things and they take practice. You have to get a feel for them. You have to know the textures you're looking for in the beaten whites, the ground almonds and sugar, the feel of the integrated whites and almonds. They can't be under-folded, and they can't be over-folded.
They can certainly be frustrating.

I've been trying to get these just right.  The combination of measurements and techniques, studying a bit, changing things a little in this way or that with each attempt turned out to be quite a learning experience. 
The same general recipe three times in four days... ugh.
I think I would have had to take a break before I tried again if it hadn't worked out.

But it did (third time's a charm). The batter neither mounded nor pooled into shiny little puddles, the macarons rose better than any I had worked on before, they stayed relatively round, each had a ruffly little pied (foot).

My first attempt at these was a flop. They tasted great on their own without the filling (kind of like wedding cake, and the kitchen smelled like a bakery), but they were lacy from the top all the way through- far too delicate. Too fragile, they pretty much crumbled to sugar when picked up with fingers. Looking into the problems, the textural issues could have been that I needed to pulverize things a bit more in the food processor as well as fold a few times more that I had. After some measurement and technique adjustments, round #2 was certainly better, but still not exactly what I was looking for. This time over-folding could have been an offender as the batter was more liquid than it should have been and though nice and smooth on top, the baked macarons were flat. Although each macaron DID have a pied...

Mistakes happen all the time. There's less room for error with baking than with cooking. And if you have a scale, this is one instance you would really want to use it. A scale will make measurements much more precise.

Another thing, heavy and un-warped pans help keep the macarons ROUND. It's nice that they feel comfortable, like they can relax. They want to be organic and look home-y. Great, but this is neither the time nor place.
Not to be so controlling, but they need to cooperate a little better. It's much easier to match up cookies that are the same shape.

The filling used here is a white chocolate and pistachio ganache with a touch of cardamom. Other potential fillings include chocolate ganache, raspberry, cherry, blackberry, or strawberry jam, vanilla buttercream, lemon curd, or whatever might sound good to you.

You can, of course, add a little food coloring to green things up a bit if you wish.  Remember that the color will always fade upon baking.

Pistachio Macarons
makes about 33

3 large egg whites (about 100 g)
2/3 c (85 g) almond flour (lightly packed)
1/3 c (45 g) ground pistachios (lightly packed)
2 c (200 g) confectioners' sugar
pinch of salt
3 T (40 g) sugar
1/2 t (2-3 ml) vanilla extract (optional)
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)

*Separate the egg whites from the yolks, place in a covered container, and leave the whites out at room temperature 24 hours. If "aging" the whites ahead of time, place them in the refrigerator after they've been left out at room temperature (this can be done a few days in advance). If previously refrigerated, bring the whites to room temperature before use.*

Have two baking sheets prepared with parchment paper.

Place the ground pistachios, almond flour, and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process the mixture a couple minutes to combine and further grind the ingredients.  Sift the ingredients into a medium bowl and re-process if you have an excessive amount of nuts that didn't pass through the mesh of your sifter. Set aside. 

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt with a hand-held electric mixer until the mixture becomes foamy. Slowly add the 3 T sugar and beat a little longer to combine. Add the vanilla and food coloring (if using). Beat until the mixture becomes stiff- thick and glossy like shaving cream.
Add 1/3 of the almond mixture to the egg whites and fold a few times to combine. Add half of the remaining almond mixture and again fold until slightly combined. Finally, add the last of the almond mixture and fold from the bottom of the bowl, up and over, and pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl. Do this about 10 times and take a look at the consistency. At this point you need to be careful not to over mix- check it, you can always fold once or twice more, but you can't go back. The consistency should be a thick and creamy, an almost liquid-y mixture. When dropped onto itself it should sink back into the mixture after a couple seconds. Fold again as necessary.

Spoon the macaron mixture into a piping bag or into a plastic bag (if using a plastic bag, cut one corner off so that the opening is 1/2 cm across). Pipe rounds of the batter about 1- 1 1/2 inches across onto the parchment paper.
Pick up the pans and hit them against the counter a couple times to release any air bubbles in the cookies. Pop any bubbles that come to the surface with a toothpick.
Set the pans aside for 30 minutes to an hour so that the piped macarons dry on the surface.

Preheat the oven to 275 F/130 C.

Bake each pan 15-20 minutes. Let cool, then using a spatula (a metal pastry spatula if you have it), remove the macarons to a rack to cool completely. If not immediately assembling the finished macarons, place in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to finish.

White Chocolate and Pistachio Ganache

1 c (160 g) white chocolate
1/4 c (60 ml) heavy cream
2 T (20 g) ground pistachios
2 pods cardamom, cracked, seeds removed and finely ground (optional)

Melt the white chocolate with the cream in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water (bain marie). Whisk the mixture until smooth and remove the bowl from the heat. Let cool a few minutes to thicken slightly and add the pistachios and cardamom and whisk to combine. 

To Finish:
Spread a small amount of ganache onto the flat side of one cookie and top with another cookie, flat side against the ganache. Set aside on a sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining macarons. 

Let the macarons sit at room temperature until the ganache is set, then place pan of finished macarons in the refrigerator for a few minutes until they are cold and the ganache is stiff. Remove the macarons to an airtight container and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. During this time the macarons will develop their distinctive texture and the flavors will meld. 
Bring to room temperature before serving.



  1. Yes, the ruffles on the cookies are so wonderful in the pictures.
    These would be so great for an Easter dessert!
    I just wish I could reach into the pictures and grab one or two of these confections to have with my morning coffee. They almost appear too difficult for an amateur,though.
    Your "green" March foods have been fun to watch so far, Natalie!Thanks for the effort you put into this for sharing.