For the first time ever, M’s Belly participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap hosted by my super blogger neighbor Lindsay. The premise of the swap is, once a food blogger has signed up to participate they will then receive the names of 3 other food bloggers to whom they must ship 1 dozen cookies each. In turn, the participant will also receive 3 dozen cookies from 3 different bloggers. The cookies have to be a new never-before-posted-on-your-blog-recipe. The bloggers pay a very small fee, and all the money raised goes to Cookies for Kids Cancer. Amazingly, over 600 bloggers from 8 different countries participated (WAY TO GO LINDSAY! WHAT A STUPENDOUS THING YOU’VE ORCHESTRATED!!!) and along with the partners OXO, Dixie Crystals, Gold Medal Flour, and Grandma’s Molasses monetary matches, over $13,000 was raised!
Who knew charity involvement could be so enjoyable! It was super fun to make and send cookies to complete strangers, even if I did forget to put a note in the boxes (duuuuh) telling the other bloggers who I am and from where exactly their cookies were coming! Sigh, the holidays make me have crazy brain sometimes.
Macaroon vs. Macaron… As far as I can tell, the cookies I made for the swap were macarons; delicate little french cookie treats made from meringue and ground almonds. Piped just so, and finally finished together with a sandwich layer of buttercream frosting. YUMMMMMM. I’m not the greatest baker, so I was shocked when I opened the oven and batch #1 was sheer macaron perfection. The tops of these cookies sort of mushroom out of the bottom and they end up being hard on the outsides and soft on the insides. It is a perfect cookie crunch to softness ratio. For batch #2, I added food coloring to the already mixed batter, eventually over-mixing, causing the batter to lose it’s airiness. Batch #2 definitely did not puff up and out the way batch #1 did. For the next color addition batch, I opted to add the food coloring when I added the sugar to the beaten egg whites before they became stiff peaks instead of adding it in with the confectioner’s sugar and ground almond mix. Just wait, you’ll see!
First things first, make your buttercream frosting and then set it aside for later. To make the buttercream frosting, you’ll need a stick of unsalted butter, 3 cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. In your standing mixer, mix the butter and sugar on low (so you don’t blow a Scarface confectioner’s sugar cloud in your kitchen) until well blended. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 4 minutes. Add vanilla and heavy whipping cream and continue to beat on medium for one minute longer. If frosting is too thick, add a little bit more cream. Scoop frosting into a piping bag or Ziploc bag and reserve for later. You can make frosting the day before, just be sure refrigerate it and let it sit out for an hour or so to let it soften for easier frostability. (Frostability, yep, I just made it up, so what?)
Time to make your macaron batter. Something you will need to absolutely do the day before; take your eggs out of the fridge and leave them out overnight. It will be ok, I swear. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. No way around it, you will need a spice/coffee bean grinder. I bought an el cheapo Cuisinart grinder at Macy’s for $20. I’ve always wanted a spice grinder, and this one works well for almonds too! Grind up a cup’s worth of almonds. The almonds I bought from the bulk aisle were slivered and still had some of the brown skin on them. One of the recipes I researched on-line stated you can blanch the almonds in boiling water, dry them and then the skins rub off very easily. Holy smokes, we are knee-deep in the holiday season and I have places to go and shit to do! Who has time to rub a million almond skins??? I figured my macarons had a more rustic appeal with the brown flecks in the batter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground almonds (they should be the consistency of finely ground coffee beans, see above photo) with the already sifted confectioner’s sugar. Set this bowl aside. Next, add the 2 egg whites to your standing mixer with a small pinch of salt (use 3 fingers when pinching). With the wire beating attachment, start on medium speed (4) until the egg whites turn frothy and foamy. Bump up the speed to high (8) and gradually add in the granulated sugar. If you desire, this is also the time to add in food coloring. The whites are ready when stiff, glossy peaks form.
Turn off the mixer and gently fold in your ground almond mixture, taking care not to over-mix the batter.
Scoop the batter into a piping bag or ziploc bag and put on your macaron piping game face! Get 2 cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper. I bought parchment paper from Whole Foods and the sheets were pre-cut for cookie sheets! Such a small, lovely and appreciated surprise! When piping the macarons, I tried 2 different ways: concentric circles, or start low in the middle, and let the cookie puff up around the tip of the bag. I found the former to be more effective and also easier to make more uniform macarons without getting a pointed tip in the middle of the cookie. Once piped, the dough will spread out slightly, but once cooked, the cookie doesn’t get much bigger outwardly than it already is. They will, however, puff upwards slightly.
Once you’ve piped the cookies, you must let them sit out for 20 minutes before baking. This is so a soft skin can form over the batter; guaranteeing a crusty outer shell of the cookie. It’s best to multi-task and have multiple cookie sheets going so you aren’t constantly waiting that 20 minutes for the skin to form over the raw dough. You will know the macarons are ready for the oven when you touch one with your finger and the dough doesn’t stick to your skin. Bake macarons for 13-15 minutes, turning the cookie sheet at the halfway point.
Let the macarons cool directly on the baking sheet. Once cooled, peel gently off the parchment. The tops are easily crushed, so be careful when removing them from the parchment. Once cooled, pipe your buttercream frosting on the flat side of one cookie and press the flat side of another cookie together to make a sandwich. Piping the frosting doesn’t have to be perfect, as no one will see the insides!
You can alter the recipe and add pistachio paste (1 tablespoon pistachio paste to a half cup of frosting) to your butter cream frosting, and green food coloring to the egg whites. Similarly, add strawberry jam and red food coloring for pink macaroons. Play around and have fun with it! I added pretty pink sprinkles* to my pink macarons and ground pistachios* to the tops of the green macarons (*before baking). These are fun little beauties to create! I hope the swappers enjoy eating my macarons as much as I enjoyed baking them!
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 cup finely ground, unsalted almonds
- 2 large egg whites
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350. Let eggs temper on countertop overnight. In a medium bowl whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and ground almonds. Set aside.
2. Using a Kitchenaide mixer with whisk attachment, blend egg whites with salt on a medium speed of 4 until foamy. Increase speed to high (8 worked for me) and gradually add granulated sugar until completely incorporated. If you are adding food coloring, add it to the mixer with the granulated sugar. The whites are ready when stiff glossy peaks form.
3. Using a spatula, gradually add the ground almond mixture to the egg whites, taking care not to over mix the batter. Add the ground almond mixture in fourths until all is incorporated.
4. Scoop batter into a piping bag (or ziploc) and start piping in 1″ diameter sized concentric circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave spacing of 2″ between cookies. Let the piped cookies stand for 20 minutes until dry. A soft skin will form and the cookies will look dull. The cookies are ready to be baked when you touch the batter and it no longer sticks to your finger.
5. Bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes or until the surface of the macaron is completely dry. Let macarons cool on the cookie sheet. Gently peel from parchment once cooled, taking care not to crush the delicate tops.
6. Pipe in your favorite frosting and smush 2 flat halves together to form the macaron sandwich.