When you hear the word "macaroon", most people that I know think of those really dense and sweet, mountain-shaped coconut cookies. That's what I thought too until my friend Peter started bringing over these outrageously delicious vanilla macaroons from La Maison du Chocolat. (Now, I know what you're thinking, "La Maison du Chocolate makes VANILLA macaroons?" Well, they DID, but now they only make ones that are filled with a ganache au chocolat.)
These french macaroons look nothing like the american ones. For one, it is a sandwich cookie. They are also not made with shredded coconut flakes nor sweetened condensed milk. If you google "french macaroon", you'll find various photos along with online recipes, websites, and discussion threads dedicated to this cookie. Turns out, there are a lot of people who are OBSESSED with this cookie. Trust me, it did not take very much for Terence and me to become obsessed as well.
So here's our story: Soon after we started eating the vanilla macaroons that Peter so kindly shared with us, La Maison du Chocolate stopped making the vanilla flavored ones. So we started eating the chocolate ones. As much as I adore chocolate, the vanilla macaroons from La Maison were far better than the chocolate ones they continued to produce. So we stopped getting them. Then one day, while Peter, Terence and I were in the Time Warner Center, in search of another type of cookie at Whole Foods (shortbread cookies by Dancing Deer, www.dancingdeer.com), the three of us happened upon at least 5 different flavors of macaroons at Bouchon Bakery, which is upstairs from Whole Foods. I ordered 3, vanilla, pumpkin spice, and caramel. They were phenominal! Problem is, they were expensive. We're talking at least $3 a cookie! Granted, they're not small and they're very very delicious, but still! We paid $10 for 3 cookies!! I would have been happy paying for the cookies, but I'm a lazy Manhattanite and venturing out of my neighborhood for a cookie every time I get a craving (which was almost every day at one point) can get a little old, especially in the dead of winter. And Terence, being much more money savvy than I, decided that sugar, flour, eggs, and butter mixed together was not worth $3 a pop. So he started obsessively researching these cookies for a recipe.
After several iterations, Terence perfected the recipe. There are only 3 ingredients needed for the cookie, egg whites, blanched almonds, and powdered sugar, but making them is an intricate process. For example, you have to set the egg whites out overnight so some of the liquid evaporates. If you don't do this, the cookies may crack in the oven while baking. They may crack anyway, for no apparent reason. But when they come out right, they are beautiful.
A perfect cookie will have what is called a "foot", which is the little edge on the cookie that forms as it bakes. It will also have the right combination of crunchy and chewy as you bite into it. Perfection is difficult to achieve. After the cookies are baked and cooled, they can be filled with many different things. Traditionally, they are almond flavored, but I have seen many different flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, violet, caramel, gingerbread, rose, and raspberry flavored ganache. It's no wonder the cookies are expensive!
All of the pictures posted here are Terence's creations. The first cookie is a vanilla macaroon. The second is a chocolate one. (He made a modification to the recipe and created a chocolate cookie and I made a dark chocolate ganache as the filling). The last picture is a pistachio macaroon. The cookie itself it the same as the vanilla one, but it is filled with a pistachio flavored buttercream. We made it using this pistachio flavored liquer that we purchased from Curacao.
My favorite flavor is almond, which looks exactly like the vanilla macaroon. I prefer the almond because I think the almond extract that is used in the buttercream brings out the sublte almond flavor of the cookies. So if you ever happen to encounter one these little gems, I encourage you to splurge and taste for yourself. You won't be disappointed!