Vanilla buttercream frosting (see recipe)
Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Add sugar to a small pot. Pour enough water over the sugar just to cover it. It should look like wet sand. Turn burner onto medium. Allow to sit, without stirring, until it reaches 240 degrees (check temperature periodically).
While the sugar syrup cooks, add almond flour, powdered sugar and 1/3 cup egg whites to a large bowl. Combine using a rubber spatula or bowl scraper, to make a paste. Mix until every thing is incorporated and you can’t see any dry ingredients.
Add food coloring to paste, mixing until evenly distributed.
Check on the sugar syrup. When it reaches 230 degrees, begin whipping the remaining egg whites. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed.
When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, add it to the egg whites. Pour it carefully and slowly down the side of the bowl. Be careful not to pour it into the whisk.
Beat egg whites and sugar until the bowl is warm to the touch and your meringue has formed. The meringue should be shiny and loose — it almost holds together, but it still falls a little.
Add egg whites to the paste in thirds, folding with a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to incorporate. Fold it in gently, not mixing as strongly as you did when forming the paste. Fold until egg whites are fully incorporated.
Spoon the cookie batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.
Squeeze half-dollar-size circles of cookie batter onto prepared cookie sheets. Because the cookies do not grow or spread, they can be squeezed close to each other. (When squeezing cookies out, finish by pulling the tip out to the side instead of directly upward. This will give your cookie a better shape.)
Once you have piped all of the cookies for a sheet, bang the cookie sheet against the counter to pop any air bubbles.
Let the cookies rest for 13 minutes.
Bake in a preheated oven for 16 minutes at 275 degrees.
Allow to cool 15-20 minutes. Turn over cookies. If they stick to the parchment paper, use a knife or spatula to ease them off.
Using a pastry bag filled with vanilla buttercream frosting, place a dollop of icing on one cookie and gently press another cookie on top to form a sandwich.
Note: You can buy eggs whites by the carton in most grocery stores (find them with the eggs). You can use them straight out of the refrigerator.
— Provided by Walton’s Fancy and Staple. Makes approximately three dozen macarons.
Vanilla buttercream frosting
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Beat butter at medium-high speed in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment for about 20 seconds.
When butter is smooth, add powdered sugar and salt and beat at low speed until most of the sugar is incorporated, about 45 seconds. Scrape down sides of the bowl, beat at medium speed for about 15 seconds.
Scrape down sides of the bowl again and add vanilla and heavy cream; beat at medium speed until everything is combined, about 10 seconds.
Beat frosting at medium speed for about four minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Frosting should be light and fluffy. Makes 3 cups.
— Adapted by Melissa Martinez from Cook’s Country. Originally published April 9, 2007.
About this story
This story about Melissa Martinez tackling her biggest culinary fear is the first of an occasional series in which people conquer challenges big and small in the kitchen. In coming months, we'll feature a variety of Statesman staffers, as well as a few readers, pairing up with professionals to do just that. If you have a food or technique you've always wanted to try to make but have always been intimidated to attempt, let us know by emailing Addie Broyles at email@example.com.
Watch as Walton’s Fancy and Staple’s pastry chefs teach Melissa Martinez the ins and outs of making macarons in a video with this story online.
There are few baked goods I won’t attempt in my kitchen. I typically approach each new challenge apron-on, confidence-up, and I’ve seen many successes and a few failures. The fear of those failures had steered me away from one confection altogether: the Parisian macaron.
A sandwich of two meringue cookies with various fillings, the French macaron has gained popularity stateside in the past few years. I still remember my first, a lavender macaron that got me hooked for life.
As a baker, I knew I wanted to replicate the experience in my own kitchen, so my Internet research began. As I read blogs and message boards and comment threads, I realized I possibly was in over my head.
Everything from the temperature and age of the egg whites to the perfect time in the oven needed to be controlled. Even if those are right, your almond flour might not be dry enough. Then, once you’ve formed the cookies, how long should you dry them out before sticking them in the oven?
My anxiety beginning to increase, I closed my laptop and decided to go with an old favorite instead. But chocolate chip cookies just don’t hit the light, airy meringue cookie spot.
Then, a book came across my desk at work. The cover of “Bake It, Don’t Fake It: A Pastry Chef Shares Her Secrets for Impressive (and Easy) From-Scratch Desserts” showcased bright red macarons with white filling.
Macarons and the word “easy”? It was a connection no one had made for me on the Internet. I looked over the recipe, but still recalling all I had read before, remained unconvinced of my ability to succeed.
Then came the new year, and as I resolved to face my fears in 2014, the book cover glared at me. I couldn’t continue to let the fear of a little cookie sandwich keep me from learning to bake one of my favorite treats.
Resolved to pursue macaron-making, I got in touch with a professional, Walton’s Fancy and Staple’s head pastry chef Christina Villarreal. With Caitlin Simmons, who makes pastries and bread for Walton’s, she kindly walked me through each step of the process.
The crew at Walton’s pumps out more than 600 macarons in a variety of flavors on a weekly basis, so I felt like I was in good hands. Still full of self-doubt, I put on one of their aprons and got to work on peanut butter banana macarons.
Villarreal and Simmons made the experience feel like a breeze. From the beating of the egg whites to the making of the simple syrup, the steps for macarons were familiar to me from other baked goods.
Along the way, Villarreal and Simmons offered plenty of handy tips particular to macarons. The most important thing they taught me was to not allow excess air into the batter by over mixing; always mix or fold until just incorporated.
Excess air will not allow your cookie to bake properly. I learned this the hard way, losing an entire sheet of cookies in my own kitchen, when I forgot another one of their tips: Rap the baking sheet against the counter to pop any air bubbles before baking.
Perhaps my favorite tip from the whole experience was the use of a bowl scraper to combine ingredients, rather than a spoon or spatula. Unable to acquire a bowl scraper in time, I nearly broke my spatula mixing the paste in my own kitchen.
Another great tip? Placing your pastry bag in a large container to stabilize it as you fill it. This takes care of the awkward spills that often come from filling an empty bag.
We filled the cookie sandwiches with buttercream and enjoyed them together, but I still wasn’t sure I could replicate the experience on my own, in my own kitchen.
The only thing left to do was try, so I gathered my ingredients and got to work on a batch of vanilla macarons. I carefully followed each step as Villarreal and Simmons had shown me.
It could have been a result of my own insecurity, but the batter for the cookies felt thicker than I remembered it from working in the Walton’s kitchen. Regardless, I went ahead and formed the cookies on my baking sheet.
I waited 13 minutes. I banged the cookie sheet on the counter. I baked the cookies for 16 minutes. I pulled them out of the oven nervously, and did a celebratory dance when I realized they looked just right.
In my excitement, I tried to grab them off the cookie sheet a little too early. Once they had thoroughly cooled and were filled with buttercream icing, I bit in.
They didn’t taste exactly the same (they were a different flavor, after all), but I was satisfied that I’d finally conquered what used to be my greatest food-making fear.