Matthieu Chamussy, certified executive pastry chef and chef instructor in the Baking & Pastry Program at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California -- Inland Empire, suggests a wonderfully French confection for this Valentine's Day: the macaron.
Not to be confused with the shredded coconut dessert macaroons, macarons have become increasingly popular stateside. Some news articles say it may be overtaking the cupcake as the "au courant" or must-have confection. If you search online for macaron gift boxes you can find a number of options ranging from $20 for a dozen to $90 for 35 from a high-end retailer.
If you want to try making your own meringue-based treat, Chamussy offers up his recipe below for pink, heart-shaped macarons encircled with raspberries for this Valentine's Day. Chamussy, born and raised in Paris, learned the art of bread and confection making from his grandfather early on and had the opportunity to learn from the prominent French pastry chef Francois Payard. Since then, Chamussy has worked all over the world including Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
When trying out the recipe, Colleen Johnson, lead instructor in the Baking and Pastry Program at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California -- Orange County, advises "macarons look fairly simple, but there are a lot of tricks that you will learn with practice.
"Let your egg whites sit out at room temperature for 48 hours. I like to use a ceramic bowl and put a cloth over my whites. I also suggest grinding your almond flour and powdered sugar really well in a food processor, and then sifting it," add Johnson, who also teaches a "Mastering Macarons" course at a cookware retailer in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Even if your first attempt at baking macarons is imperfect, Johnson mentions that presentation is another important element of the culinary arts. "Proper presentation and plating can make even the tiniest morsel of dessert seem sumptuous and something to be savored," she says.
For a plated dessert like heart-shaped macarons: "I like clean lines and color. So I would say a pink macaron would look simply great on a white plate," she says. "Or, if you want to give your treats as a gift, I'd put them in long, thin cellophane tube and tie both ends with a lovely ribbon."
Another great way to make this dessert even more special is to serve it with a glass of champagne, prosecco or cava, adds Chamussy.
Valentine's Day Macarons with Raspberries
2/3 cup almond flour
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1.3 fluid ounces water
1/4 cup egg whites
Note: Almond flour, food color and raspberry dessert sauce can be found at Trader Joe's. User may use bottled egg whites from the grocery store.
Preheat oven at 300 Fahrenheit.
For mixture 1: Sift the almond flour with the confectioners' sugar, stir until combined, set aside. Stir the red color into the egg whites. Add the colored egg whites to the almond flour and confectioners' sugar, set aside covered with plastic.
For mixture 2: In mixer bowl, or in a stainless steel mixing bowl, start whisking the egg whites slowly. Mix the granulated sugar with water in a pot, set on stove to boil. When the syrup reaches 238 F., remove from stove. Start whisking the egg whites on high speed, add the syrup slowly in a steady stream onto the egg whites. Let mixture whip for four minutes. When mixture is done, it should be dense, glossy, very similar to a marshmallow.
Fold in 1/3 of mixture 2, into mixture 1, making sure the mixture looks homogenous.
Fold in the rest of mixture 2 into mixture 1, folding a little more energetically. Put this mixture in piping bag with a round tip.
On a parchment paper, draw heart shapes, spacing them out evenly to facilitate heat circulation in oven. This will be used as a stencil. Place another sheet of parchment on top. Pipe the mixture following the traced heart, making sure not to pipe too thick in order to preserve that heart shape. Start with the outside of the heart, finishing with the inside of the heart. Let set at room temperature approximately 30 minutes until a "skin" is formed on the macaron.
Bake in the preheated oven, making sure to leave the door of the oven partially opened for the first 13 minutes of the baking process. Close the door after 13 minutes are up and bake another 10 minutes. Rotate. Bake another eight - 12 minutes depending on macaron size. They should be set up, not moving at all on the sheet and with no extra color. Let cool one hour. The macaron should gently come off the paper and be slightly moist in the center.
To finish the dessert, you will need two macaron shells. Place one upside down; start placing fresh raspberries on the edges, trim them if necessary to make them sit straight. Fill the inside with a good quality jam of your choice. Place the other side of the macaron on top of the raspberries. Decorate with a fresh rose petal (organic preferably), and a fresh raspberry. Serve with a good quality vanilla ice cream and a raspberry sauce.