December 8, 2004

macarons, a rediscovered beauty (in my world, at least)

Friday, December 3

French macarons weren't my favorite confectionery. In fact, they were among ones I would least crave for. I don't care for baked meringue products in general, because they are, for me, too often too sweet and/or too chewy. So I rarely buy macarons and have never even thought trying to make ones myself. Until very recently.

The recipe caught my eyes when I flipping through the book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking (2001, Hyperion) in my local bookstore. It was pistachio macaroons, and while they were called "macaroons" in the book, the author Nigella Lawson would have meant "macarons", I supposed. Anyways, even if I am not generally looking for recipes for macarons, this one somehow caught my heart, probably because the idea of using real pistachios both in the batter and cream sounded fabulous.

I didn't buy the book at that time, but instead in LA where I stopped by before going to Boulder, as the day I spent in LA was conincidentally the day Nigella did book signing in bookstore called Cook's Library which, as its name tells you, has an outrageous collection of cookbooks. There I bought a copy (at the list price, yes) and got it signed by the author. Hooray.

This is a lovely book that has a lot of appealing recipes and beautiful photography, and while there are a lot of sweets that I was determined to try, I chose the pistachio macaroons as the first runner, partly because it was the one that had caught my eyes in the first place, partly because I had just acquired all the ingredients, and partly because I was in a mood for trying macarons having looked at the beautiful pictures of artistic macarons created by Clement.

Nigella's recipe looked pretty simple, and so it turned out. All I needed to do to make the batter was to grind raw (unsalted, of course) pistachios with some sugar, beat an egg white, combine the both, pipe it on a cookie sheet, and bake.

The only problem I encountered was that I didn't own piping bags or tips; so I put filled a small plastic bag with the batter, cut off one corner, and piped it. I couldn't quite make them round-shaped, oh well.

Making the butter cream was even easier, especially with a jar of pistachio cream, one of my acquisitions from a Whole Foods store.

Fifteen bucks for an 8-ounce jar would be quite a luxury, but it comes from Sicily and it is made of organic pistachio and sugar. I didn't hesitate for a second before throwing one in my basket.

Anyways, I whipped some butter and put some of the pistachio paste instead of ground pistachio nuts as instructed in the recipe. It had a pretty green color and smelled good.

Now I had macarons and cream ready, and it was time to put them together to produce graceful macarons. Or so I wished - my macarons weren't as pretty as the ones in the picture in the book nor as any other one sold in a fancy shop. (The butter cream has even started meling and becoming messy in the picture below.)

I have to tell you that, despite all the hopes and imaginations about making macarons myself, part of me didn't exactly have very high expectations for the macarons, really. I had been so wrong.

The pistachio-green macarons were delicious. That's all I need to say. The macarons came out rather flatter than the ones in the picture in Nigella's book, but it might actually have been better, as those thin macarons were less chewy and more crisp than most macarons that I had had before. I made half of what is given in the recipe and had ten sandwiches, but we ate them all up by the end of the day. I really should have made more.

This has overturned my long-held attitude toward macarons forever. Come to think about it, maybe I had never really appreciated good macarons even when I was having supposedly good ones (I have tried some from Pierre Herme in Tokyo, about which I remember nothing particular to note), and I am sure that this world has a whole lot of good macarons to offer (not in my neighborhood, though). I got my mind set on trying good ones made by professional patissiers, next time I am in Tokyo or Paris.

We both liked the pistachio macarons so much I will probably make ones again. Next time, I will still not be too adventurous to try another flavor but stick to the same pistachio one again, but I do think I will do the job with more care; after this very first successful experience with macarons, I read Clement's post more closely and found that there were more details that should be taken care of (to tell you the truth, I had been astonished by his beautiful macarons and details about the three variations, but I hadn't read the recipe part - like I said, I had never even thought about making macarons myself, you know). For example, egg whites should be left at room temperature overnight, and the batter should sit for an hour or two to form skins (Nigella tells us to leave them for 15 minutes). I can't wait to see how much difference it would make.


Cat said...

mm those look delicious, ive never had a macaroon before *gasp* :)

Reid said...

Hi Chika,

The macarons look wonderful. I haven't had pistachio ones before, but I'm sure these are really good. Since you've posted many recipes that contain pistachios, I'll take it that you like them a lot. I do too. =)

chika said...


Cat - get in the car, and drive to Paris right away! ;)

Reid - oh, there are more to come! :D

Estelle said...

Hi Chika, I have never experienced this on any blog before: your pictures made my mout water! I should try these one day...

chika said...

Hi Estelle,
I can't wait to go to France and taste what the real macarons taste like!! :D

Anonymous said...

Your Nigella macarons came out far better than mine! Isn't that pistachio paste wonderful? I eat it directly from the fridge with a spoon. 

Posted by hilary

Anonymous said...

can you send the recipe for those macaroons

Posted by alty

Anonymous said...

Please Please submit the recipe..........they look amazing

Posted by Altaf

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

hilary - yeah I love that pistacio paste too! too bad I don't get to find it in my neighborhood :(

alty & Altaf - the recipe can be found in book How to be a Domestic Goddess  by Nigella Lawson. Although I am aware it seems available online here . 

Posted by chika

Caroline said...

Chika - I just ate my first macaron yesterday and I am a convert! I never had them when I lived in Paris. Thanks for this post, and I will try making them (once the rain dies down here in Vancouver BC).

But - a question: is there actually a Whole Foods store in Japan? Or do you live somewhere else? Confused... 

Posted by Caroline

Anonymous said...

those look good...but i must admit that the macarons could do with a little improvement. I don´t like the way they have that lacy outer crust, instead of the smooth one. It happens to me all the time and is SO frustrating...but once you get that smooth shell it makes my day