...or we are truly French. I'm embarrassed to say that four years of French classes haven't gotten me very far, at least outside of food-terms. I can give you chocolat, sucre, beurre, œuf, or gâteaux, but I'm somewhat limited beyond asking for directions and ordering cafe au lait. I must confess, my high school French class had a student-led International Food Day just about every week, and by the end of my first semester I'd eaten enough French onion soup, apple tarte and stinky cheeses to consider myself French enough. The cerise sur le gâteau (icing on the cake) was a new name, I'd transform into a saucy Frenchwoman named Juliette for 90 minutes a day, writing my loopy new monogram on the top of vocabulary quizzes and letting the jzhoo-jzhoo sound at the beginning of my new autograph linger on my lips an extra second or two. But I really only memorized my verbs to make it to food-days. I made a dozen gâteaux de Naploeon by the time I graduated, which really was nothing more than vanilla pudding layered with graham crackers and melted chocolate, but in hindsight I probably should've taken a left turn at Puff Pastry instead. One night during winter, I sliced a 5 pound bag of Vidalia onions into whispy strands (I've never cried so much over soup) and left them to sizzle in a huge pot with lots of butter and thyme until they were caramelly and sweet before bathing them with amber-colored beef stock and letting the steam waft up into the cold kitchen. It was wonderfully comforting, a silo of warmth against the chilly countertops. But it's just plain onion soup until you put the French in it: a toasted slice of baguette with oozy cheese melting down the side, bubbling and brown on top.
So, singing Les Etoiles all the while, I arranged a mental trip to Paris with a batch of chocolate macaroons, a word that used to make me cringe. When I hear macaroons, I think of a tooth-achingly sweet ball of coconut, glued together with condensed milk, sitting next to each other in oddly uniform rows thanks to the ice cream scoop they were measured out with. C'est d'accord, I'll pass. I can't imagine the French are too hip on their version of the cookie, almonds blitzed to a fine powder and mixed into fluffy meringue, sharing a name with something so cheap, the Red Light District of confections. French macaroons are something entirely different: a chewy meringue with a soft underbelly that succumbs to your bite with the slightest pressure, filled with (in my case) bittersweet ganache to offset the crispness of the macaroon's outer shell.
Now then, this being my first rodeo with macaroons, I wasn't sure what to expect. Like how difficult it would be to convince the ground almonds it would be really lovely if they actually mixed into the meringue instead of insisting on falling to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Or that macaroon batter could probably be a great substitute for Krazy Glue if you ever needed it. Nonetheless, I wasn't about to be bullied into a corner by this recipe, not after what happened with the toffee.
Double Chocolate Macaroons
Inspired by Epicurious
6 oz sliced blanched almonds (not slivered; 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 large egg whites
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
Blitz together the almonds and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in the food processor for about 3 minutes until it's a fine powder. Add the cocoa powder and remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar and sift twice into a large bowl.
With a stand mixer (or by hand if you're muscle-y), whisk the egg whites and the salt until they form soft peaks, then slowly add the granulated sugar and whisk on high until they are glossy and firm. Fold the almond mixture into the meringue (or rather, beat it into submission) and mix thoroughly. Scoop the batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (about 1/4 inch across, I made mine bigger so they're more like giant macaroons, but I'm American and that's generally how we do things) and let them rest at room temperature for half an hour.
Place your oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Bake the macaroons for 20 minutes, swapping the trays halfway through. Let cool completely on the baking sheets before filling.
For the ganache: Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a mixing bowl with the butter. Simmer the heavy cream until it just barely boils then pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or so, then slowly whisk in concentric circles until it is smooth and shiny. Let it cool until it is thick enough to sandwich the macaroons together (or if you're impatient like me, just stick it in the fridge for a bit).
Nous sommes véritablement français, n'est-ce pas?