It wasn’t until I was in pastry school that I first learned what a French macaron was. They are delightful, chewy almond cookies that also happen to be extremely addictive. The flavor combinations span from classic vanilla buttercream to foie gras or curry fillings. Sometimes I’ll make carrot powder from dehydrated carrots and add it to the recipe to make ‘carrot cake’ macarons with a cream cheese filling. They are very versatile and a great palette for creativity.

In the last two years it’s been fun watching them grow in popularity. I am always in support of products that utilize traditional French pastry techniques because many American pastries and desserts these days are the bi-product of so many artificial ingredients and shortcuts.

They are also a bit more involved to make than the always-popular cupcake, but that makes the whole process even more rewarding.

At altitude, I have found that my French macaron recipes passed along to me by my chef mentors are still successful. I have used variations of these recipes at the restaurant, and my red velvet macaron was even featured in Saveur magazine’s January 2011 issue.

So I’m going to do something that I don’t do very often, and that’s share one of my more prized recipes. I hate being discouraged when trying recipes, and no one else should have to be either. Especially for something as tasty as a French macaron.

The recipe below is for chocolate macarons. These ones were filled with a white chocolate key lime ganache, but virtually any filling you desire can be used. If you wish to make an almond macaron, for instance, use confectioner’s sugar in place of the cocoa powder.

Chocolate Macarons (courtesy of The French Pastry School)

5 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups finely ground almond flour
3 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder

Preheat your oven to 300 F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the whisk attachment to whip the egg whites and sugar to create firm peaks.

Meanwhile, sift the almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, and cocoa powder to remove any lumps. You want the macaron to have a smooth, shiny shell.

When the egg whites and sugar are whipped, fold the dry mixture into the whites. Continue folding in the same direction, until the mixture looks like ‘lava’. It will be shiny, slightly runny, and fall on top of itself when you lift a spatula from the batter. You want it to be thin enough that you can pipe it without straining your wrist muscles, but not so thin it runs out of the pastry bag.

Scoop the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe quarter-sized bulbs on parchment-lined baking sheets. Place another baking sheet underneath and whack it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Place both sheets in the oven (the double baking sheet technique gives your macarons an even, beautiful ‘foot’). Bake for 10-11 minutes. The macarons will need to cool before you can remove them easily from the parchment. If you try to take the off when they are still warm, you will rip the tops off and leave the ‘bellies’ behind.

Sandwich with your desired filling and refrigerate the macarons for at least 12 hours. The almonds in the macaron will absorb moisture from the filling and create that signature chewiness we all love about French macarons. The longer they mature in the refrigerator the chewier and softer they will get. Patience! But it is well worth it.

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