Macaroons were once the specialty of a convent in Nancy, capital of Lorraine. At the Revolution, the nuns were forced out into the world, and two of the sisters set up a bakery, found to this day in the rue des Soeurs Macarons. While all macaroons are based on the same three ingredients — almonds, egg whites, and sugar —they vary enormously. When made in sophisticated Parisian style with milled almond paste, the finished cakes have a fine, soft texture and crisp shell. When made at home with whole almonds, as I do here, they turn out coarse textured and chewy, with an intense almond taste and a rustic, homey look that I can never pass up. Thank heaven for the food processor. Making macaroons used to require hard labor with a pestle and mortar to obtain the correct stiff paste. Macaroons stick easily, so use a silicone sheet or parchment paper for easy removal.
Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C and set a shelf in the upper third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with the silicone sheet or with parchment paper. Put the almonds, granulated sugar, egg whites, and vanilla in a food processor bowl. Pulse several times until the mixture starts to pull away from the sides into a ball. Process on high speed, scraping down the sides twice, until the mixture is a smooth, sticky paste, 2 to 3 minutes. The mixture will be thick enough not to fall from a spoon, but if it seems very dry, add a little more egg white.
Moisten your hands with water, shape the mixture into balls the size of walnuts, and set them on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten them slightly with your dampened palm. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Bake the macaroons until lightly browned and firm on the outside but still soft in the center, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if using parchment paper, lift one end and at once pour a cup of water under it. The water on the hot baking sheet will form steam, loosening the macaroons. Leave them for a minute or two, then transfer to a rack to cool. They keep well for up to a week in an airtight container.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Chronicle Books.