By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016
Time to try the metric system! I used my trusty little digital scale that I bought for soap crafting. It only measures up to six pounds but does grams and ounces.
I’m a fan of vanilla as I don’t think it’s plain. Vanilla’s a spice, it comes from an orchid and grows in the tropics. It’s not white, it’s black. And I finally tried vanilla bean paste. I highly recommend it. I used Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste because I wanted the tiny seeds and didn’t have to scrape them out of a vanilla pod. I was also curious to try the paste, as I’d read several online reviews from bakers of all levels of expertise citing it was very flavorful. According to the Neilsen-Massey website: “Due to its thick consistency, similar to molasses, this culinary paste enables you to add more delicious vanilla flavor without thinning out your batters or sauces. It’s also ideal for recipes, such as crème brûlée and ice cream, in which you want to add the enticing visual flair of vanilla seeds.” As macaron batter can be finicky, I didn’t want to take a chance in adding vanilla extract and I wanted the vanilla seeds. Win win!
Now, I was supposed to precisely weigh the ingredients but the three eggs didn’t weigh 110 grams but 88 grams. I figured I’d take a chance and I’m glad I did because this batch turned out fine. In fact, by using three rather than two eggs, I ended up with 53 shells. Since I had so much batter, I used a silicone mat on top of two warped cookie sheets. I’d read not to use warped cookie sheets but it didn’t make a difference—the shells came out just fine. So fine that they were effortlessly removed from both parchment and silicone surfaces! That was another first. What’s as good as a macaron with feet? Shells that don’t have to be scraped off with a spatula!
When I added the vanilla bean paste right after the blue gel colorant, the black seeds were apparent and the blue changed to mint green. After sitting in the fridge overnight, the shells returned to robin’s egg blue again!
TIPS: Sift the almond flour three  times before you make the macarons. The fourth time is when you blend it with the confectioners’ sugar. This is why macarons average $2.00 each – they are labor intensive. Patience is needed for crafting these fancy French cookies.
Sifting almond flour isn’t tons of fun but the more you sift, the smoother and shinier your finished macarons will be. [Check out the one to your left].
French Vanilla Bean Macarons
110 grams ground almond flour
200 grams confectioners’ sugar
100 grams egg whites (3 eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste [or extract]
50 grams granulated sugar
3 drops blue gel colorant
Pinch of salt
Oven temperature: 300
* Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. If the sheets are thin, double them up. Macarons are sensitive to heat so they need to be baked on a durable tray that has lots of insulation. You’ll also need a pastry/piping bag with a large round tip ready before you begin.
* Sift powdered sugar with the almond flour. Large grains that don’t make it through can be thrown away or used as a skin exfoliator. I discovered this when I washed the equipment by hand the first time!
* Whisk the sugar and flour to make sure it’s fully blended.
* In a stainless steel or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy like a bubble bath before adding the salt. Then add granulated sugar in 3 batches. Start at a low speed and gradually increase the speed. When finished, the mixture should have stiff peaks. Add color last, but only whip for the briefest amount of time to mix in the color.
* Add dry ingredients to the meringue in 2 batches using a spatula. Fold until the mixture comes together, scraping the sides and flip batter over. When the sugar/flour mixture is blended, the batter will be easier to mix and will look shiny. Lift the spatula and see how quickly batter falls in “ribbons” from the spatula. A ribbon of batter dropped into the bowl should merge with the rest of the batter in 20-30 seconds. Another test is to “write” the number 8 with the batter.
* Add tip to piping bag and then twist near the bottom to prevent any mixture from escaping. The tip should face upwards and that also helps keep the mixture in the piping bag as you place it in a cup and form a cuff over the rim so it’s easy to add the batter.
* Spoon batter into piping bag. Twist the top of the bag and untwist the bottom, gently pushing the just-poured batter toward the bottom. You’ll remove any excess air that way.
* Pipe the batter onto the parchment or silicone mat. With parchment, you can use a template.
* Pipe batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1.5-inch circles. Keep the batter inside circles if using a template.
* Rap baking sheet several times on the counter. This will further flatten the macarons, and remove air bubbles.
* Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
* Allow macarons to sit for 30-60 minutes until a film forms. Lightly touch a macaron and if no batter clings to your finger then it’s dry and ready to be baked.
* Bake for 12 minutes. The tops should be firm and glossy and the bottoms of the shells should have formed “feet” or frills at the bottom. The risen macarons should be firm with the slightest amount of give. If it wobbles, they require another minute or so. When done, the cookies can easily be removed from the parchment.
* Remove from oven, place cookie sheet on a wire rack or flat surface and let cool completely.
Next Week: More vanilla bean macarons ~ with a unique twist!