I love December, the gentle melancholy as we tiptoe to the end of the year, juxtaposed with the swirling joyousness of the holidays. I always smile when I realize the approach of things that suffuse me with the warm, fuzzy holiday spirit: gaily colored Christmas cards in the mail; children running about in puffy, scarf and coat-plumped bundles; store windows aglitter with all things gleaming and sparkly (I love sparkly things); the murmur of Christmas songs in the air, songs I’ve never learned but somehow to which I always remember the words; and, of course, the prospect of baking batches of Christmas cookies and filling my kitchen with scents of vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, peppermint, cloves – the very perfume of yuletide.
My very first attempt at making a Christmas themed cookie was to take a chocolate chip cookie recipe and add in red and green M&M's (Coincidentally, this brainstorm occurred right when bags of only red and green M&Ms starting showing up in stores). Emboldened by the happy response, I started doing holiday riffs on my favorite cookie recipes every year – there's something about taking a familiar cookie and cutting it out in the shape of snowflakes or presents, or sprinkling it over with red and green sprinkles, that never fails to elicit a delighted reception.
This year, I'm eschewing the M&M cookies for a few bolder experiments – ones I think have turned out just as well, and that I'm happily tucking away into gift boxes, along with diplomatic suggestions to enjoy as soon as possible. (What can I say? I'm an ardent supporter of enjoying cookies while they're fresh, and I'm terrible at waiting until Christmas Day to open presents). Over the next couple weeks, I'm excited to share with you my cookie cache – starting with that most elegant and party-ready of cookies, the macaron itself.
With its infinite adaptability, the macaron is a natural for customization to the occasion at hand, be it refined or outré. I must admit I'm bedazzled by the visions of M. Hermé, who has included among his macarons de Noël this year a macaron with balsamic vinegar cream, one with black truffles, and a chocolate one with foie gras – oh, the lucky recipients of that box! I'm afraid I can't afford to be that generous and luxurious with my ingredients, but I did fancy making a chocolate macaron, since my Christmas cookie collection always includes something rich and chocolatey. And what more seasonal a touch than to add a bit of peppermint to the ganache filling?
This recipe is adapted from Tartelette's excellent macarons made via the Italian meringue method, creating perfectly smooth and shiny, crackly and chewy little discs ready to be filled and sandwiched. Do you imagine that Santa might enjoy a plate of these waiting for him by the chimney?
Next week – Menu for Hope – and caramels!
Chocolate Macarons with Peppermint Ganache
makes about 40 macarons
150 g sugar
50 g water
120 g egg whites
35 g sugar
150 g ground almonds
150 g confectioners' sugar
25 g cocoa powder
100 g bittersweet chocolate, chopped in pieces
100 g cream
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
Combine the 150 g sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it cook until it reaches 230 degrees F.
Meanwhile, combine 60 g of the egg whites and the other 35 g of sugar in a stand mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form.
When the syrup has reached 230 degrees F, remove from heat and pour in a slow, steady stream into the mixer bowl while the whisk is still going. Let the whisk keep going until the mixture cools down, about 10 to 15 minutes. The mixture should look shiny and fluffy.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
While the mixture is going, sift the ground almonds, confectioners' sugar, and cocoa powder together into a bowl. If you want your macarons to have the smoothest tops possible, blend the mixture in a food processor and then sift it.
Add in the remaining 60 g egg whites and mix together until it forms together into a moist ball.
Take the cooled meringue from the mixture and fold it carefully into the almond mixture. You may want to add about 1/3 of the meringue first and fold it in to lighten the almond mixture before adding the rest. Do not overfold and deflate the meringue or the batter will turn runny.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Scrape the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2" round tip. Pipe out 2 inches rounds about 1 1/2" apart on the sheets.
Bake the macarons for about 15 minutes in the oven. Let them cool on wire racks before trying to remove them.
To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
Bring cream to a boil on the stove, then pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for a couple minutes and then stir to melt and combine the chocolate with the cream.
Add in the peppermint extract.
Let the ganache cool and firm up; when it is solid enough you can spread it on the macarons as a filling. If it becomes too firm, you can warm it carefully over a pot of simmering water.