Last year, someone decided that French macarons were the new “cool kids” in pastry.  I was definitely not this person.  In fact, if given the choice between one of these airy, chewy, colorful, gems, and a chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate cookie would always win.

Yet, I have a soft spot for these flashy, expensive, sandwich cookies.  Maybe it’s because they are so eye-catching, or because customers at the bakery always get a big smile on their face when they see them, or maybe it’s because, last year, I had to spend countless hours teaching myself to make them to perfection in the midst of the hottest, most humid, Houston summers ever (to keep up with said trend).

Mostly, I secretly admire macarons because they play hard to get.  Humidity must be low, the egg whites should be aged just long enough, the almonds must be ground to the precise consistency, you mustn’t over-beat the meringue or over-mix the batter, your piping must be exact and consistent, they need their beauty rest, and finally (whew!) your oven has to stay at temperature.  And even if you can get all those things right, for the ten minutes the suckers are in the oven, you anxiously hold your breath hoping that when you open the door you find a batch of cookies equal in size with smooth, shiny, domed tops and delicate airy feet (or pied) circling their base.

I’m no scientist, and despite having taken 5 semesters of chemistry in college, I am still relatively clueless when it comes to why certain reactions happen and the science that makes baking possible (although Alton Brown and this amazing book do help out a lot).  For me, baking is about feeling and gut instinct.  This worried me when beginning my quest for macaron perfection and was the reason I had never bothered making them before.  Over and over I had heard how precise everything had to be (see above) and while that is true, I found that being patient, failing a few times, and becoming familiar with how recipes look and feel (yes…get your hands dirty!) is a science in itself.

So, bear with me on this recipe.  I created it based on flavor, appearance, and feel.  I want you to have fun and enjoy the process (don’t get frustrated if it takes you more than one try, I have ruined an entire speed rack full of these buggers, just brush it off and try again).

Macarons are also exciting because there are endless flavor possibilities.  I have made everything from açaí to pumpkin spice to hatch chili (be creative!).  I thought grapefruit would be great this time of year, when citrus is so bountiful.  I flavored the cookie with grapefruit zest and made a quick buttercream with even more zest and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.  The result, a refreshing, zesty, floral cookie!  Enjoy.

Grapefruit French Macarons

Makes about 30 sandwich cookies

Cookie recipe loosely based on my work at Central Market, but with many adaptations.

Note:  At the bakery, we use almond meal as it makes our lives a lot easier, however when making smaller batches at home, I prefer to grind my own blanched almonds.  This results in a slightly coarser meal which I feel results in more consistently beautiful cookies.  You can buy either at most grocery stores.

As for the egg whites, fresher is not better.  I would recommend using egg whites that have been in your fridge for 3-4 days (I have heard that French bakeries us 7 day old whites that have been at room temp the whole time…not so sure about that), for some reason the older they are the better the cookie.  Bring them to room temperature for a few hours before you make the cookies.

If you want to be super precise with your meringue you can use a food thermometer.  When the egg white/sugar mixture has reached about 250°F, it is ready to whip.  I, however, use my finger.  If the mixture has reached the point where it is too hot to touch for more than a second, its ready (works every time…for me).

Lastly, you will need some special equipment.  A kitchen scale, a stand mixer with whisk attachment, an 18″ pastry bag, #806 round pastry tip, and parchment paper.

Whew!!! Now have fun!

For the cookie:

8 oz granulated sugar

6 oz (liquid) egg whites at room temperature, separated (see note)

8 oz finely ground blanched almonds or almond meal

8 oz confectioner’s sugar (sifted if clumpy)

1 heaping tablespoon grapefruit zest, from 2 large grapefruit

2 very small drops red food coloring (optional)

2 very small drops yellow food coloring (optional)

1-2 tablespoons finely ground, unsalted pistachios for decorating (optional)

For the grapefruit buttercream:

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons grapefruit zest

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the macaron cookies:

It’s best if you have everything measured and ready to go before starting and have 3 half-sheet baking sheets covered in parchment.  Bring about an inch of water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan.  Combine granulated sugar and 3 oz of egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over boiling water.  Whisking constantly, cook egg whites until hot (see note above), sugar is completely dissolved, and mixture is frothy.  Remove from heat and place on stand mixer with whisk attachment.  Whisk for approximately 5 minutes, on high speed, until mixture has cooled and medium-soft peaks have formed (you want them to be more firm that soft peaks, but not extremely stiff as this will result in a cracked/dry cookie).

While meringue is mixing, combine granulated sugar, ground almonds, and grapefruit zest in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with your hands until well combined and any clumps of zest have been evenly distributed.  Add remaining 3 oz egg whites and food coloring (if using) and mix with hands or a spatula until well combined.  Once meringue is finished, add in three additions to almond mixture until combined, but not mixed too much as you do not want to deflate meringue completely.  It typically takes me 2-3 minutes to mix properly.  Mixture should be sticky and loose, but not extremely liquid.

Fill pastry bag with some of the macaron batter.  Piping completely vertically (i.e. bottom of pastry tip should be perpendicular to pan), pipe batter into 1/2-inch rounds (once they spread they will be close to an inch in diameter) leaving about an inch between each cookie (I was able to fit about 20 cookies on each tray).  The cookies should spread and be perfectly smooth on top, if you are left will a little peak, dip your finger in some water and gently tap down peaks.  Sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of ground pistachio, if using.  Allow cookies to rest for about 45 minutes, until they feel tacky and a little dry when touched and they have a slightly matted appearance.  While cookies are resting, heat oven to 350°F and place an oven rack in the center of the oven.

Working with one tray at a time, bake cookies for 10 minutes.  Don’t be tempted to open the oven to take a peak, this will drop the temperature and could deflate the cookie.  Repeat with the remaining cookie sheets.  Allow baked macrons to cool for one hour.

Meanwhile make the buttercream (and wash pastry bag,tip, and mixer bowl as you will need them again):

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium high speed for about 1 minute.  Stop mixer and add confectioner’s sugar.  Mix on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy and sugar has dissolved completely.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice, and vanilla extract.  Beat for another minute.  Taste buttercream, if you would like more grapefruit flavor add more zest and/or juice to your taste.

Assemble cookies:

Flip half of the macarons onto their backs and pipe a small dot of buttercream on the center of the cookie (about 1/2-1 tablespoon).  Find a good match (in terms of size) for each cookie and gently sandwich the two cookies together with buttercream in the center.  Repeat with all the macarons (you should end up with about 30 total).  Macarons will keep for about 3 days at room temperature.