Friday, August 10, 2012

Almond Macaroons

by Sheila Connolly

One morning recently I woke up with an odd thought in my head:  I have more early memories of food than I do of my sister, who was born when I was four. What does that say about my priorities? I do remember my mother boiling glass bottles for her formula (aren't we glad those days are gone?), and wearing a medical mask when she had a cold, but I don't remember my sister as a baby.  Go figure.

But I do remember food, and I realize that most of those food memories had to do with sweets (I'm sure there's some scientific reason for that, but I don't know what it is).  My absolute earliest memory, from when I was around three, was of our next-door neighbor handing me a homemade grape ice-cube pop, and I remember how intense the grape flavor was.  The second? My father feeding me pistachio ice cream.

I had a mild chocolate allergy when I was very young, which didn't stop me from tracking down those supposedly hidden chocolate bunnies at Easter and consuming them, bit by bit (yeah, like my mother wouldn't notice that the ears were missing).

I'm not going to fight it.  Sugar/flour/butter in all their lovely permutations are still my favorite foods, although I get along better with my sister now than I did when I was four, and I think she's forgiven me for liking cookies better than her. Anyway, cookies still top my list, and I have the cookie cookbooks to prove it.  I've mentioned Robert Day-Dean's ginger cookies before, but they also made wonderful almond macaroons that my grandmother would bring when she visited (she never learned to cook, but she knew where to find good food!). 

In this world there are two kinds of macaroons:  coconut and almond.  I have no patience with the coconut ones, and they don't deserve the name—just call them coconut cookies and be done with it.  But I love the almond ones, and they're ridiculously simple to make.


This recipe is about as basic as it gets, with all of four ingredients:  almond paste (do not confuse this with marzipan, which has more sugar added), sugar, egg white and almond extract.  Amazing what combining these things in the right way can do!

1 can (8 oz.) almond paste

1 cup sugar

2 egg whites (from large eggs)

½ tsp. almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Break up the almond paste into 1-inch chunks.  In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste and the sugar and blend on very slow speed until the mixture is reduced to coarse crumbs, at least three minutes.

Add the egg whites in three or four installments, beating well in between and scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add the almond extract and mix until blended.

Transfer the mixture (it will be stiff) into a pastry bag with a ½" to ¾" opening. Pipe the macaroons onto the cookie sheets.  They should be about 1½ inch across, and spaced at least 2 inches apart (they will spread during baking).

Pat them down a bit.  I found one recipe that gives a very elaborate method of folding a linen towel and laying it gently upon the cookies, but really, you can use your fingers (clean, of course).  A spatula won't work because these are sticky.

Bake until the macaroons are puffed and golden.  It will take about 20 minutes, but check regularly for the last ten minutes to make sure they don't overcook.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheets on a rack, then peel carefully from the parchment paper.  These are best if  eaten quickly, while the outside is still crisp and the inside chewy. If they don't all disappear immediately, store them in a sealed container.

Out of curiosity I looked up the origin of the name, which was not terribly satisfying.  According to the Online Etymology dictionary, in the 1610s it meant a "small sweet cake consisting largely of ground almonds," from Fr. macaron (16c.), from dialectal It. maccarone.  Doesn't explain much of anything, does it?  Wikipedia is more helpful: "This word is itself derived from ammaccare, meaning crush or beat, used here in reference to the almond paste which is the principal ingredient."



  1. Sheila, what a simply sweet cookie. And so pretty. I love your non-memories of your sister and your memories of food. I think we all have those. I remember a lot of scents as a child. My other memories are because of photo albums my mother made.

    Congrats on your new release! Sour Apples, indeed. The numbers look great!!!
    ~Avery aka Daryl

  2. Oh yum! And I love that there are only a few ingredients!!

  3. Wow, that's a lot of almond. They must have a very intense flavor. They look fabulous. Sometimes the best things come from few ingredients.

    ~ Krista

  4. OH, I do enjoy almond macaroons - grew up on my mom's. Great post, Sheila, and congrats on your new release. An exciting week for the women of mystery!