Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dark Chocolate Pecan Macarons

Ok, it's confession time. I am not a French pastry chef. I know, shocker right? But that did not stop me from trying to make macarons last week. (Perhaps it should have.) I had tons of trouble with them. For those of you who aren't familiar with them, a macaron is a meringue sandwich cookie that's often filled with jam or buttercream and in shops they're often died in unnatural, Easter-egg colored hues.
It all started with some egg whites I had left over from making lemon curd. And after some googling, I found an awesome macaron recipe by David Lebovitz, who is a pastry chef. And even though I should have been wary seeing as it took him 7 tries to get them just right, I brazenly decided I would try anyway.

What's especially funny is I don't even like meringue that much. Meringue cookies are often under-flavored and have a weird styrofoam texture. And even when meringue is good like on lemon pie, it has a tendency to weep and make the pie a sloppy mess. If you were going to personify foods, meringue is a prima donna. If you get one little tiny thing wrong, you'll just get frothy whites instead of meringue. By some dumb luck, I'd never had a problem making meringue. This time I failed three times before realizing my whites were contaminated by a tiny bit of yolk and therefore wouldn't turn into meringue.

But by then, there was no turning back. I had powdered sugar in my food processor and meringue murder in my heart. Oh yeah, I also realized I didn't have any almond flour, which is an essential ingredient for macarons, but I did have pecans. These might be the worlds first pecan macarons. 

And then I under-baked the first batch and got a gooey mess stuck to the baking sheet. And then I over-baked the second batch. And then I cried inside for all the chocolate I was wasting and made the filling anyway.

And in the end, I got the world's ugliest macarons. They have air bubbles and blemishes. And they don't have the proper 'foot' at the bottom. And a good number of them caved in because the shell separated from the interior.

Despite all the drama, they taste AMAZING! It's like eating little clouds of dark chocolate. They're chewy and melt in your mouth. And after they sit for a while, the filling melds with the cookie and the macarons gets even better. I will be making these again with some strategic changes.

The first step is to combine the nut meal with powdered sugar and cocoa in the food processor and process until smooth.

Then you should do some thing I didn't: sift the resulting mixture so any random nut chunks don't give your mixture a grainy texture.
Then make the meringue.  If you've never made meringue before, you should know that fat, grease, or extra moisture of any kind can ruin meringue. This includes egg yolks and greasy or wet mixing bowls. The easiest way to ensure perfect meringue is to do two things. One, take a cloth dampened with vinegar or lemon juice and wipe down your mixing bowl and beaters, then allow to air dry. Two, be very careful about separating the egg yolks from the whites. Separate over a smaller bowl and then transfer the white to the mixing bowl each time. That way if you break a yolk you only have to toss one egg rather than all of them.

As you're making the meringue you add in the granulated sugar gradually. You want the finished mixture to be at the soft peak stage, not firm peaks. My meringue is over beaten and that's probably the number one reason the macarons came out so ugly.

Next you very gently fold in the cocoa/nut/powdered sugar mixture into the meringue until they are just combined with no streaks of white. Then you load the batter into a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe them onto lined cookie sheets. Then you smack the cookie sheets against a counter a few times to flatten them slightly and release any air bubbles and bake.

Unlike with most cookies, with macarons you should err on the side of over-baking because even if they are a bit too crisp, they absorb moisture from the filling and the air so that 24 hours later they are the perfect texture. It's also a good idea to use two stacked baking sheets rather than one. Supposedly this helps keep air pockets from forming between the shell and the interior of the cookie. This blog has some great tips and troubleshooting for macarons.

While the macarons are cooling you make the filling, which is basically a dark chocolate ganache made with a half pound of dark chocolate. You chop the chocolate pretty fine:
Then you just boil the cream, remove it from the heat, stir in the chocolate, and let it stand for a minute or two. Then you stir and add the butter. Then you've got to let it set up for about 20 minutes so it's a spreadable paste. When it's done, it will look like this:
Then you assemble:
You can store them at room temperature for 5 or 6 days or freeze them. Since they're pretty labor intensive for a cookie, I made a double batch and we had no problem eating them within a week.

Dark Chocolate Pecan Macarons
Yields about 15 cookies
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz's recipe 


Macaron Batter

1 cup (100 g) powdered sugar
½ cup powdered pecans (about 2 ounces, 50 g, chopped pecans, pulverized)
3 tablespoons (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 g) granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling

½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 g) dark bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, cut into small pieces


Make the macarons:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, grind together the powdered sugar, pecans, and cocoa powder. Sift the resulting mixture.
  3. Beat the egg whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until you have meringue at the soft peak stage (you should be able to make peaks with a spoon, but they should sort of melt back into the mixture after a second or two).
  4. Gently fold the sifted dry ingredients into the meringue until there are no streaks of white.
  5. Stand a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip in a tall glass and transfer the batter into the pastry bag.
  6. Pipe 1 inch circles of batter onto a lined cookie sheet two inches apart. Rap against the counter a couple of times to flatten and remove air bubbles. Stack the filled cookie sheet onto another cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes until completely firm. Err on the side of over done. Let cool on cookie sheet.
Make the filling:
  1. In a saucepan, heat the cream and corn syrup until it just bubbles around the edges. 
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Let stand a minute or two.
  3. Stir until smooth and then stir in the butter until smooth.
  4. Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes or so until the filling sets up into a spreadable paste. 
  5. Gently remove the macarons from the cookie sheets and assemble with the filling. I only used a couple of teaspoons of filling for each cookie so I had some filling left over.


  1. I'm thinking about trying out these, they look great, thanks for the tips.

    1. They're definitely fussier than a regular cookie, but they are so worth the trouble. Just go into it knowing you'll probably ruin some macarons before you get them right. The good news: even stuck to the pan or filled with air bubbles, they taste great!