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Pistachio macaroons (my turn)

May 1, 2010

The last macaroons I photographed were from La Boulange in San Francisco. These are mine; and they are my first.

That is, they are the first I’ve made, though I have known and loved macaroons for a long time. The sweet little sandwich cookies are inextricably linked to memories of my French grandmother, whom we—the seventeen grandchildren—called Mamine.

Often they were unveiled at the end of a meal shared in her apartment in Neuilly on the outskirts of Paris—a quiet neighborhood: tidy streets lined with chestnut trees and black-painted iron fences, purple and blue hydrangeas demurely flanking front doors that led into mirrored vestibules where you would wait at the buzzer, hear the click, then wait at the elevator door for the carpeted elevator hardly wider than you were.  The hydrangeas were fresh and pale, like the colors of macaroons.

The macaroons always came out of their pastry-shop box in the classic quartet of flavors—chocolate, coffee, strawberry, and pistachio—with their subtle shades of russet, taupe, pale pink and jade.

I always favored the pistachio, even before any notion of its origin could send me into reveries about places to the East—Afghanistan, where the tree originated, or Iran, where the way a ripe pistachio’s shell yawns open to reveal the emerald kernel inside is described as “laughing.”* Something about its subtle, rich flavor has always enchanted me; and I thoroughly approve of a food whose value is tied to the intensity of its color.

In my search for a recipe that matched the macaroons of my childhood, I discovered Nigella Lawson and her cookbook How To Be a Domestic Goddess, which my good friend Eliza had introduced me to briefly, like a beloved cousin I would have to spend more time with later.

As it turns out, Nigella favors pistachios too, as she explains in the headnote to her pistachio macaroon recipe. The index corroborates her claim: she loves pistachios enough to put them in baklava, chocolate-pistachio cake, white-chocolate-pistachio biscuits—even to make them the centerpiece of a soufflé that smolders pale green, like the pistachio macaroon’s filling.

As though the pistachio affinity weren’t enough, the more I read, the more I uncovered an almost alarming number of recipes for desserts that fascinate me enough that I’ve felt compelled to write about them.  And here they were, fabulously conceived. There were “rosebud” madeleines made with rosewater, three types of curd—cranberry, passionfruit, lime—each with their own distinct hue, and three types of trifle, each more gorgeous and decadent than the last: cherry, lemon-raspberry, and passionfruit-mascarpone topped with meringue. And, like some dream version of a partridge in a pear tree, there was a chestnut ice cream meringue cake. It was almost too much.

It’s strange and wonderful to discover a cookbook that feels like an old friend. The macaroons were like that too. I was back in my grandmother’s apartment, leaning against silky pillows while the adults drank coffee.

I don’t think my grandmother fancied herself a domestic goddess. But she had her triumphs, like her ratatouille, which no one has been able to replicate, apprentice with her though they might. And she knew where to get pistachio macaroons.

Pistachio Macaroons (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess)

[Note: I added one drop of green food coloring to the buttercream filling, which turned it the perfect subtle shade of green. The cookies themselves emerged from the oven a little flatter than I’d like, and there was far more buttercream to fill them than I needed, so I could tinker a little with the recipe. But everyone who tried them was more than happy to forgive the first-attempt glitches.]

For the macaroons

1/3 c. pistachios

3/4 c. powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 tablsp. sugar

For the buttercream:

1/4 c. pistachios

1 2/3 c. powdered sugar

1/3 unsalted butter, softened

1 drop green food coloring (optional)

Line two baking sheets with wax paper; preheat oven to 350F.

Finely grind the pistachios and powdered sugar in a food processor. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, adding the sugar at end. Fold the egg whites into the pistachio powder. Pipe through a 1/2″ nozzle onto the parchment paper, making small rounds. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until set, then cool on the sheets.

For the filling, grind the pistachios and powdered sugar as above. Separately, cream the butter. Then cream the pistachio powder with the butter. Add the drop of food coloring, and disperse it well by beating.

Sandwich the cookies with the buttercream. Makes about 20.

* see Alan Davidson’s the Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford UP (2006)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 2, 2010 11:54 am

    Those look incredibly delicious. I’d love the recipe, if you’re willing to share!

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