It started with an ingredient, and then a flavor, and then became a perfect excuse to finally use my untouched cast iron Japanese teapot and matching teacups. Green tea, or more precisely, matcha green tea powder, possibly with something floral? Lavender, maybe. Lavender and white chocolate. Matcha-something with lavender and white chocolate, all served with a steaming pot of green tea in my gorgeous little teapot. There were so many possibilities with those components — matcha chiffon cake, green tea ice cream, matcha lavender lattes… I could go on. So naturally, I decided to make macarons, one of the most notoriously finicky pastries. The one known for flopping if the humidity isn’t right, or if your voice is too loud and you clap your hands four times instead of three.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am not a baker, much less a pastry chef. This is rather unfortunate seeing as pastry is practically the perfect medium for my utter obsession with experimenting with flavor combinations, as well as my love for aesthetics. But I had an artistic and culinary vision to manifest, and everyone knows one mustn’t ignore such urges.
Did I make these macarons all by myself? Oh god, no. Of course not. Can you imagine? No, I enlisted one of my best friends who just happens to be quite baking-inclined (our friendship was founded on our shared food-geekery).
Here’s how we split the task: I developed the recipe, focusing on flavor, and then the styling and photography, while she handled technique (though I helped).
I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous – anxious, even. Macarons require so much precision, and I am so bad at precision. I developed this recipe through too much research, to the point where it felt inorganic, procedural and inauthentic to my relatively disorganized self. Even more, everything about this recipe, from the quantities and proportions to the meringue method was basically an educated guessing game. Based on what I knew of macarons, these were almost destined to fail.
My friend was due to arrive in just a bit, so I knew I couldn’t mope for much longer. Instead, I decided to be proactive and measure out the ingredients beforehand. What a fool I was to think it’d be that easy.
Do you know how damn hard it is to measure a perfect 55 (+55) grams of egg whites? Did the inventor of macarons realize that every egg white weighs differently? How do you control for that? What do you do with the 13.6 grams of extra egg whites? Whatever, egg whites were measured. Now on to the almond meal, which should be much easier – wait, is it 150 grams before or after sifting? What about the bits of grain that were too big to go through the sieve? I guess I needed to sift it again. And again.
A knock on the door.
I scrambled to leave mid-weigh, running to the door a flustered mess.
“Hey Becky! How are-”
“I JUST WEIGHED THE ALMOND MEAL FOUR TIMES.”
She stared at me and I stared back, both likely thinking the same thing: Becky needs to chill.
Fortunately, that didn’t set the tone for the rest of our baking day. My friend came into my kitchen with quite the macaron know-how, spewing jargon like “piping” and “tapping the pan”, “batter glues” and “drying shells”. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the theory of macarons, but I had never put that theory into use. My friend had the practiced hands and an archive of macaron info from all the pastry books she’s read (she’s a dork). She taught me some pretty handy tips, and I’ll go ahead and call them pro-tips because they’re brilliant in their humble functionality.
This was also one of the first times I got to shoot more process-style photos, because that style is nearly impossible when I’m the one cooking, styling, and holding the camera. My friend handled the limelight with grace, patiently waiting for me to set the scene and moving her spatula a quarter of an inch to the left, then a touch down, back to the right, per my instruction. She moved through the kitchen methodically, with a precision that almost brought me to tears at the thought of having to make these without her.
For her help, I cooked us lunch – some homemade pad Thai because somehow I always end up making noodles when she comes over. Then it was time for the climactic dessert. I brewed some fresh sencha green tea in that Japanese teapot, then let it go cold as I tried to capture a moody shot of my friend pouring the tea into a cup.
Finally, we got to indulge in our creation. One bite in, and it was clear that the stars aligned because I suddenly became convinced that magic existed, and it existed as these macarons. They were perfectly crisp, yet chewy. The matcha flavor was just strong enough to be noticeable but not fishy as it often can be. The lavender offered a light floral note, avoiding the soapiness often associated with it. I know that I used the green tea mainly for aesthetic, but it cut through the sweetness of the macarons in that slightly bitter, earthy way that is likely why tea has been made the compliment of confections throughout history.
I shared these with some of my other friends later that week. At first they thought I had bought them – had a new fancy-schmancy pastry shop opened up? Clearly, they didn’t know me very well.
“I made these myself,” I proudly declared.
Green Tea Macarons
(Makes 20-40 macarons, depending on how large you pipe them)
150 grams almond meal
150 grams powdered sugar
2 teaspoons matcha powder
55 + 55 grams egg whites
120 + 30 grams granulated sugar
40 grams water
1 cup lavender white chocolate ganache (for assembly; recipe below)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Double sift the almond meal, powdered sugar, and matcha powder in a large bowl (that is, sift them twice to be extra sure there are no lumps).
In a stand mixer, whip the first 55 grams of egg whites until frothy. Add in the 30 grams of sugar, and continue whipping until it just starts to form into a fluffy white mass.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cook the water and the rest of the sugar medium-high heat until a “soft ball” syrup forms (a candy thermometer will read 118 degrees Celsius). .
Pour the syrup into egg whites and whip on high until you have shiny meringue with stiff peaks.
Mix in the rest of the egg whites with the dry ingredients until a paste forms. Gently fold in half of the meringue into the paste until incorporated. Fold in the rest of the meringue and keep folding until the mixture is thick, but will slowly flow off of the spatula (many would describe this as having the consistency of lava).
Transfer the batter to a piping bag or large Ziploc bag. Pro tip: place the bag into a tall glass and fold edges over the rim so that when you scoop in the batter, you don’t make a mess.
On a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper, pipe the batter into circles to your desired size, leaving about an inch in between each. Once all the macarons are piped, strongly tap the pan on the counter to level the macarons and release air bubbles. Pro tip: to keep the parchment paper steady, take some of the leftover batter and put a little bit on each corner of the pan. Stick the parchment paper on top and it’ll stay there!
Let the macarons dry for 15-20 minutes, and then bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until feet have formed and they are crisp to the touch. You can also sprinkle the tops of the macarons with a little matcha powder while they’re drying, if you feel like it.
Lay the pan on a cooling rack and let sit until completely cooled.
To finish, spread a bit of ganache on the flat side of one shell and then sandwich it with another. Repeat with the rest of the shells.
Note: This recipe makes enough for 2-3 trays of macarons, but only bake one tray at a time.
Lavender White Chocolate Ganache
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons dried lavender
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Heat a small saucepan with the heavy cream and lavender on medium-high until the cream just comes to a simmer.
Pour the infused cream through a sieve and into a bowl with the chocolate. Stir until all of the chocolate has melted and then stir in the salt.