French macarons are thin, chewy, meringue cookies that are sandwiched together with some kind of filling. The cookies should be light and chewy, with a very thin, crisp “crust” that gives way as soon as you bite down into it. The meringue has a lot of ground nuts – usually almonds – incorporated into it, which contributes a nice nutty taste and adds to the chewy finished texture by giving the cookies some substance. They’re very elegant to look at and are available at many, many bakeries in France. Here in the US, they’re a lot less common, but they’re relatively easy to make at home, although they are slightly more involved than baking up a regular batch of chocolate chip cookies.
These are Nutella Macarons, made with ground hazelnuts and cocoa powder in the meringue cookie and smeared with a little bit of Nutella to sandwich them together. The cookies themselves have good chocolate flavor and a nice nuttiness to them. The recipe seems to call for a lot of sugar, but the cookies aren’t actually all that sweet on their own. Nutella is a great filling for these because it highlights the chocolate and hazelnut, and requires no prep work (it goes straight from the jar into the cookie). The cookies only need a thin layer of Nutella to hold them together; you could pile it on like an Oreo filling if you really want too, but the cookies taste and store better if you keep it pretty thin.
The cookies are made by folding a meringue into a dough of ground nuts, cocoa powder and egg whites, creating a lightweight batter with a lot of flavor. The cookie batter must be piped onto baking sheets to ensure that you get cookies of uniform size and shape. Piping is also much faster and much cleaner than trying to hand-drop this batter. Once the cookies are piped out, they must sit at room temperature for a few minutes to form a slight “skin” that gives them their classically smooth look. The cookies are then baked, cooled and filled. The cookies are best within 2-3 days of baking and keep well when stored in an airtight container.
You can either buy whole hazelnuts and grind them yourself in the food processor, or look for hazelnut meal in a specialty store (Whole Foods, for instance, sometimes carries it). It is not necessary to skin the nuts before processing them if you start with whole hazelnuts, as you will not be able to see the brown flecks from the hazelnut skin in the chocolate cookies. If you can’t find hazelnuts, you can easily use ground almonds in this recipe, but the finished cookie will have a slight almond flavor to it in addition to the flavors of chocolate and Nutella.
2 1/4 cups hazelnut meal (180 g)
2 cups confectioners’ sugar (200g)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (30g)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar (180g, granulated)
1/4 cup water
approx 1 cup Nutella
Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together hazelnut meal (finely ground hazelnuts), confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Add in two egg whites and stir mixture until it comes together into a very thick dough. This may take a few minutes, but the mixture will eventually all come together.
In a small saucepan, bring granulated sugar and water to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, in another large mixing bowl, beat remaining two egg whites until frothy. When sugar mixture comes to a boil, beat egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer on medium speed, drizzle the hot sugar mixture into the egg whites very slowly until all of the syrup has been incorporated and you have a thick, fluffy meringue.
Take 1/3 of the meringue mixture and mix it into the chocolate paste with the electric mixer. Fold in remaining meringue in two or three additions.
Transfer batter to a piping bag (or plastic bag) with an approx 1 cm opening. Pipe dough onto prepared baking sheets to form 1-inch discs (approx 1 1/2 tbsp per disc); batter will spread slightly after piping. Leave about 1-inch between discs on the baking sheet. Once all of the batter has been piped out, let the macarons sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes to form a “skin” that will give them a smooth, shiny top during baking.
While the macarons sit, preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake macarons for about 11-12 minutes, until the tops are set.
Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once macarons are cool, sandwich them together with about 1 teaspoon of Nutella. There is no need to be exact with this measurement, just so long as there is a thin layer between each pair of cookies.
Cookies are probably best served on the day they are made, but can be stored at room temperature for a day or two (resulting in a slightly chewier cookie, but still with good flavor).
Makes about 36 sandwich cookies.