Cookbook Review: I Heart Macarons by Hisako Ogita: Sweet, Fluffy, and Imperfect

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Photograph: Helen Rosner / Eat Me Daily

Hello! This book review comes with a contest! Make it all the way to the end for details on how to win your own copy of I Heart Macarons.

I've never made macarons before. I'm really way too impatient and haphazard by nature to be much of a baker, I've had zero experience with meringue or a pastry bag, and my kitchen's oven is ancient and finicky with plenty of hotspots. But despite all that, I followed the instructions for the basic vanilla macaron in I Love Macarons (Amazon), by Japanese pastry chef Hisako Ogita, and the very first batch I made came out so close to perfect that I hardly believed it.

Maybe even more surprising than the near-perfect cookies, though, was that I found the process of macaron-making surprisingly straightforward. This was not something I expected, given the gallons of virtual ink spilled on the subject on practically every cooking blog I read — some time in the last year or two, everyone (myself included) became obsessed with macarons. Brightly colored but prim, sweet but not too childlike, mysterious and beautiful and ephemeral, truly they are the Zooey Deschanel of bite-sized desserts. And nothing seems to fuel the allure so much as the myth that they're hard to make. That's right, myth: friends, macarons are not actually that difficult. I measured my ingredients, whipped my meringue, folded in the dry stuff, did my dozen turns of macaronnage, measured, piped, slammed, rested, baked, sandwiched, and ate. All told it took about an hour. Okay, call it two, if you want to count the time it took to bring the egg whites to room temperature.

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Photograph: Helen Rosner / Eat Me Daily

Unforgivable recipe sins

The question of the recipe's success answered, though, others arise. Like: how much of the creation of my perfect macarons can I really attribute to this book? Because macaron making is such a precise science, Ogita's recipe and instructions aren't terribly original, hardly deviating from the established methods put forth by such pastry sages as David Lebovitz, the folks at Serious Eats, and countless others; ditto for her analysis of what could go wrong (and how you can fix it next time).

What is unique in I Love Macarons, though, is that each step is illustrated with an in-the-moment photograph. This is tremendously helpful as a visual aide to knowing when, say, your eggs are appropriately foamy. But it is not so helpful when you complete step 2 (sift the almonds and powdered sugar) and realize that the two "pointer" steps that immediately follow in the horizontal photo layout are in fact supposed to refer to step 3 (beat egg whites and gradually add granulated sugar), except (I think) in reverse order. Even after a bit of mental reorganization, the instructions remain nearly unparseable: unexplained leaps between steps, unclear references to mysterious "remaining meringue," a way too late in the game note that it's okay to use a stand mixer, and contradictory estimates for drying time. For a book that is essentially built around one recipe, these are unforgivable sins.

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Photograph: Helen Rosner / Eat Me Daily

I'm tempted to blame I Love Macarons's lack of clarity on its translation. The book was originally written in Japanese, and the copyright page credits Japanese editors and Japanese-to-English translators but, notably, no English-language editor. But there are editorial quirks that are certainly not any translator's fault, most frustratingly the page devoted to "Macarons Parisien Style," where the cookies are marbleized with vivid colors but — after being told how this aesthetic is "the latest fad" among the effortlessly chic, there's no set of instructions for achieving it.

But it's just so darn cute

Still, like a darling floppy-eared puppy that eats the piping off the sofa and pees in your closet, but is just so cute that you can't bring yourself to admit that maybe getting a dog was a bad idea, I Love Macarons is a wonderful little book. It's designed to make you love it, from the sweet use of the heart dingbat in the title to the giggly captions that float on the full-bleed photos. The recipe for buttercream is, if a bit involved, quite foolproof. The charts for matching cookie colors and flavors to fillings are so adorable and sweetly laid out that I'm tempted to demand a poster. The photography is perfect. In an inspired touch, the book closes with recipes designed to use up the leftover egg yolks with which all this meringue-making will leave you.

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The near-perfect first-attempt at-home macarons. Photograph: Helen Rosner / Eat Me Daily

Of course, this is all padding. Think of I Love Macarons as a long blog entry or a magazine recipe feature, stretched barely to book length thanks to copious glamour shots of vividly colored cookies in tantalizing close-up and lots of fluffy sidebars and notes. Even allowing for two types of meringue preparations and the full-spread photo-illustrated lists of ingredients and necessary equipment, the recipes take up just sixteen of the book's 80 pages (plus, in my case, post-its noting what I believe to be the meaning behind certain steps that make no sense). But, really who cares — there really isn't much more to say about macarons than what's said here, except maybe how to achieve that marble effect. These cookies are light and fluffy and pretty and tiny and notoriously imperfect — it's perfectly logical that the book devoted to them be exactly the same.

Helen Rosner

Okay, so I Heart Macarons is flawed as a cookbook. But as a document of squee-inducing cute pastry it's in a class of its own. We'd like to give you a copy — leave a comment below (something substantive and at least vaguely on-topic — no "Pick me!" and its ilk) before noon EST tomorrow, November 24, and don't forget to use your real email address. We'll randomly pick a winner.

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58 Comments

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  1. Clutterer

    How's this for something substantive and somewhat topical:

    The first time I ever saw macaroons were in Hong Kong. Macaroons are not something that burns up the crowds in the Canadian prairies. Why? Because we are too busy fussing over Tim Hortons. (The shit really hit the fan when they switched from making their donuts in-store to shipping them out from some place in Ontario. The horror!)

    Being in the now! now! now! of Hong Kong - and extremely young - I couldn't figure out why these little cookies, no bigger than a Canadian toonie, could cost eight times that amount (I believe they were flown in from somewhere mythical). These were the most expensive goddamn little cookies I had ever seen, but figured it was fitting with the rest of the city, which knows luxuries to no end. I was near obsessive about it, couldn't get their bright colours out of my head. What were these things?

    In the end, being on a student budget, I opted for about two and a half meals on the street for approximately the same price.

    I've got no idea how that connects with this book, outside of being Asian and obsessed with macaroons. The shaky connection? I'm still on a budget, and would love a free book.

  2. I have noticed the American obsession with macarons and am trying to get into it. I purchased some from Paulette (LA) last year for a photo shoot and found that I only liked one kind. I am going to Paris at the end of January to try Laduree, which many consider the end all be all of macarons... I wonder if the 'homemade' ones are better?

    Anyone have an opinion on that?

    • Helen Rosner

      There are so many flavors of macaron - both the cookie (which is subtle) and the filling (which provides 99% of the flavor) - that it's perfectly fine to only like a few varieties. The revelation for most people when it comes to macarons, I think, is the texture: the thin, crispy outside, chewy inside, and creamy filling. Laduree's are great, but (in my experience) not too markedly different from those at a top-notch bakery like Bouchon or Fauchon.

  3. Congrats on successfully making macarons! Now that I know how easy they are to make, I'll quit paying $4 a piece for 'em ;-)

  4. Olive

    I absolutely adore macarons though I'm totally confused about the spelling. I generally accept 'macaron' as the proper spelling, but I've been other places call them 'french macaroons.'

    Oh well, spelling doesn't change the fact that they're delicious. And ridiculously cute! My favorite necklace is a Hello Kitty/Pink macaron necklace. I've always wanted to try to make them, but I've been totally terrified. This book looks great.

  5. Kat

    It's about time a book dedicated to macarons comes out! I first tasted them in Paris at Laduree when I was about 8, and have loved them ever since, especially since they haven't been very accessible until recently!! It's too bad the 'cookbook' aspect of it isn't top notch, but I could probably just look at pictures of macarons and the process of making them all day!

  6. John Bailey

    This brings macarons to an approachable level...now one can begin thinking about replicating those behind the counter at Bouchon Bakery. Yes, the book is not perfect, but it fun to flip through and the photos helpful.

  7. robin

    "squee-inducing cute pastry" - what else do you expect from macarons?
    perhaps painting the inside of the pastry bag with food dye would produce the marble effect.

  8. Macarons are the pastry version of a bubble wand filled with love and joy and heart-shaped pieces of glitter. I should hate something so twee and precious and ostensibly fussy with every fiber of my misanthropic little soul, but damned if they're not incredibly tasty.

  9. Christine

    I've always been really intimidated by macarons. My mother always made meringues for the holidays, and they don't seen all that different, so I don't understand why it's so daunting. I think I may give it a shot so I can put something new on my holiday baking list.

  10. In my humble opinion, I think newbie Nadège Patisserie on Queen West makes fantastic macaroons.

    Thanks!

    Mel

  11. amy

    I, too, have read all about macarons - how great they are, how they merit obsession and myriad experiments of variations, and on and on... but I have yet to muster the gumption to try them because of all the attached warnings. It sounds like despite its drawbacks this book may be the key to overcoming the myth of impending failures until one becomes a macaron master. And if not, then it certainly appears to be capable of coffee-table decoration!

  12. l'art et la simplicité des macarons.... kinda :) looks like a beautiful book either way, thank you for the write-up.

  13. Rachael

    I think macarons are like souffles they seem very unnattainable, but in reality you just need to go for it and then you will see that they just aren't that bad! I am in pastry school right now and we have recently done just that. We made grand marnier souffles and herbed goat cheese souffles and they all came out just great. Macarons are up there in their seeming sophistication and I think I am ready to give them a try!
    Thank you for this oppurtunity...
    Rachael

  14. Scott

    Until recently I had spent my entire life under the assumption that a "macaroon" was one of those big, coconut-covered, domes that you can find often at mid-western bakeries.

    Now that I understand that the "American" (for lack of a better term) macaroon is a totally different beast from a "french" macaroon, I have been on the look out for such. Well, they are hard to come by, and those I have found have left me disappointed.

    Maybe I should try a hand at my own?

  15. malgorzata

    I've never made macaroons but they are on my to-do list for a very long time now. I think I'm afraid to try - they seems to be very complicated, well, at least more complicated that Pavlova or some red velvet cake. But waht the heck - maybe I will force myself finally to do them for Xmas this year They seem to be a nice thing to give to your closest

  16. Dee

    Thank you for posting an entry on macarons. My first time I fell in love with macarons was in South Beach almost two years ago at an amazing french bakery called Paul. Their signature treat are macarons and they make them in the regular bite size and a large size, which is around the size of a 3-4" cookie. Amazing.

    This inspires me to take the plunge into macarons and perhaps surprise my friends at christmas. Usually I make more standard holiday treats, but why can't macarons be the next 'in' thing for holiday treats? in strawberry and pistachio and almond, they can look very festive!

  17. Shari

    I have made macarons many times, following the same procedures each time, but every once in a while some mysterious variable causes them to fail. For me, this only adds to their mystique and appeal.

  18. The photos in the book do look absolutely gorgeous. I've yet to make any sort of meringue-based cookie - perhaps I'll start this holiday season!

  19. Honestly, I was thinking macaroons at first.. K have heard of these macarons but have never made them. or eaten them! Would love to try them out with the book. Baking cookies is my favorite!

  20. ila

    i was thinking of picking up the Japanese version since I speak and write. I think I know what food gifts I'm making this year then... Thanks for the review!

  21. I have never unstood the fear that people have when it come to baking macarons/macaroons (or however you want to spell it). Yes, being able to work with beaten egg whites takes a little (and I do mean little) practice but once you have a small degree of ability then you are good to go. I shke my head when I hear all the horror stories about how hard, these simple cookies, are to make.

    • WSJ

      You perhaps are a macaron savant.

      For most mortals the steps involved to get the volume, the skin, the foot, the filling, the proportions to the level of sublimity is challenging. I have done it exactly one time of twenty-five. However, 23 batches tasted awesome!

      Such is the macaron. Very zen like really. The ingredients could not be more simple, but the journey . . . .

  22. Kate

    I've never had the pleasure of eating a macaron (even though I've been to Paris), and I'm terrified of pastry, meringue and separated egg.

    But I'm intrigued, and after your description, would love to try baking these.

  23. Alexandra Vallis

    I wish people would stop spelling them "macaroons."

  24. Lex

    Would love to attempt macarons for a while now. It's the most intimidating undertaking!

  25. Mike

    This is something I would love to bake. However, it does seem hard and almost looks like a mini hamburger.

  26. Crawford

    Macarons are one sweet (among many) that give me the highest degree of pleasure on the few occassions that I allow myself the treat, or can actually find a good one. Yet, they continue to baffle me in the kitchen. Please help!

  27. Gwen

    I've always been afraid to make macarons, though I love them, so I'm encouraged by this post -- if they turned out good even with an iffy recipe, maybe I shouldn't be so intimidated by them.

  28. laurie

    Ah Paris, ah Macarons. Laudree, Pierre Hermes- I made the terrible mistake of introducing my 5 year old daughter to both Paris and Macarons- now she is the cookie monster.

  29. Stephanie

    I love macarons! I have wanted to try making them for a while but I know they're supposed to be hard. I'm a visual learner and this book would help me.

    Also, I second that people should stop spelling it (and SAYING it) as "macaroons." At Bouchon Bakery in Las Vegas I ordered a macaron and the woman behind the counter said she'll have a "macaROON." Ugh.

  30. Kristen

    I was only attracted to macaroons in the beginning due to their candy-brightness and my friend's aversion to anything synthetically coloured. After following Roboppy's blog I started scouring Vancouver for anything delicate enough and have yet to find anything. Stores will either be too stale, too dry, too grainy or simply too bland. The best one's I've ever had were made by my cousin for her brother's wedding. Sadly I haven't been able to steal the recipe... so hopefully this book will help me make do.

  31. trifarina

    I really want to try one now, but I'm afraid I'll be horribly disappointed. They look like brightly colored sugar and air and I require a honking dollop of chocolate on my dainty comestibles. I kind of like the giant sticky and crunchy coconut macaroons!

    • WSJ

      Primarily, don't benchmark french macarons against the US. Expect a softer cookie with filling. They are not airy like some meringues you may be familiar, but never dense thanks to the proportion of egg white and the heavy almond flour.

      The great ones have the "right" proportion of filling to cookie, the right softness, the right crunch etc. The bad ones just taste like pretty good cookies. Kind of like pizza or sex.

      I love the coconut ones also. They too are a balance of texture, flavor and sweet.

  32. Maggie

    I have to admit that I get macaroons and macarons mixed up - though I much prefer eating macarons! I'm terrible at baking, but hopefully with this book and the wonders of the internet, I'd be able to replicate something close to what it's supposed to be!

  33. Art

    I would have to think there'd be translation issues.

    Anyway, I'd love to see a coconut macaron vs. coconut macaroon throwdown. Both are fabulous treats, so a comparison would be interesting.

    Thanks for the constructively critical review. Very helpful!

  34. Tawnie

    I love this honest review. Having enjoyed the process of making macrons as I find it very stress relieving this was a great review to read. I love your site and read religiously even following on twitter. Thank you for such a great site! I will recommend it to anyone I can.

  35. Amy

    I love macarons! My favorite thing about them is the subtle almond flavor and the texture. Crisp on the outside, chewy in the middle and oh so light! When I worked at a French restaurant, I ate so many macarons that I eventually got sick

  36. I feel like there is so little I can say that hasn't already been said. I would love a chance at this book. Honestly one of the first things I would do if I actually won something would be to cover it on my blog, knit maybe a macaroon scarf for my site/store, and then go make myself some real macaroons.

  37. Thank you for providing a wonderfully well-rounded review!

    Everything about the book IS pretty adorable, even if it's function is slightly flawed.

  38. Lindsey

    I've been looking for this book to give to my sister for Christmas. She makes the most fabulous birthday cakes for my family and I, but with a one-year-old, I think she has more time for eye-candy than making real sweets right now.

  39. Nancy

    Macaron cafe is by far the best in nyc...with authentic french surliness to boot!

  40. Pete Borini

    Although this book could be dismissed as much ado about Puffing, I've been looking for a cool new thing to dress up Christmas dinner. My extended family is a collection of passionate food creators; there seems to be a competition every year for the most inventive dish. Macarons have never-EVER been tried. This book is narrow in focus but so deep in detail...it makes macarons look like something even I can tackle.

  41. I have never made macarons at home, so I would love to learn!
    emilyhanhan@gmail.com

  42. Jessie Cacciola

    So it's more of a coffee table book than anything else. Would still love to enjoy the flip-throughs. And find out how it's done.

  43. While I'd gladly take a giveaway copy, I'm holding out for the Pierre Herme Macarons book once its translated to English. From what I've seen of the French edition, it should be the bible of macaroning.

  44. S.

    Funny how we're all about natural and organic and at the same time we're crazy about macarons in circus colors.

    Still would love to have the book, though.

  45. Great review. I have just received my copy as a gift. I am a fanatical macaron maker.
    In the latest version of the Australian 'Gourmet Traveller' they have instructions for candy cane macarons (with instructions for the marbled effect) - Fit the nozzle onto the bag, lay the piping bag on it's side, fill one side with one coloured mixture and the other side with the other coloured mixture. Pipe so you get the marbled effect.

    I believe it is a brilliant book despite the very few criticisms. May we all have many happy days churning out these little darlings.

  46. Jeff

    Does anyone know how this compares to Pierre Herme's tome on Macaroons?

  47. Shy

    The photograph is beautiful, and congratulations on your successful first undertaking! I would love to give it a try myself :)

  48. Peter

    I've become absolutely addicted to the salted caramel macaroons from a local bakery and I'm really jonesing to try my hand at some.

  49. Living in Paris means people think we eat macarons like a bag of Chips Ahoy every day...but they're just as expensive here as anywhere, though I will say the cheap ones you can puck up are pretty darn good! I took a class at Alain Ducasse's cooking school awhile back, and in the course they whipped some up-delish btw-but I was so tired by that point I don't remember a thing (I know, poor me)...so this book might be the shove I need to revisit the tasty topic :o)

  50. Ali

    I was one of the many people who became obsessed with macarons before even trying a real French macaron. I also didn't think they were super hard to make, like most people say. I went to Paris this summer and Laduree was the first stop on my list. Although homemade macarons are delicious, nothing will ever come close to the Laduree macarons. The rest of their pastries were unbelievable too!

  51. Sara Jean

    Hello Helen,
    Thank you for such a great review of this book. I bought it earlier today and just tried to make them ... and now I am on the couch, drinking a beer and weeping a little. Mine turned out to be a complete failure! After I sifted the almond flour/powered sugar mixture, I ended up with quite a bit of graveley stuff in the strainer - was I supposed to reincorporate this? Maybe that's why my batter was so runny. I'm just at a loss. At least the pictures are lovely!

    • Helen Rosner

      Hi there Sara Jean. I'm so sorry to hear about your failure! Depending on the fineness of the almond meal you're using, that "gravely stuff" might have been the pieces of almond that would've meant the difference between a macaron and a meringue. Are you making your own almond meal from blanched almonds or are you buying pre-milled meal?

      Even though it's more expensive than making my own, I've been using Bob's Red Mill almond meal. And let me tell you a horrible secret: after the first two times I made macarons using this recipe, I abandoned the sifting step entirely. I just put the almond flour and the sugar into a Cuisinart mini-prep (the blades are closer to the floor of the chamber than in a full-size food processor) and whip the little suckers around until clouds of poofy almond-sugar come blowing out the top vent holes. Scrape down the sides, repeat a few times - works just fine.

      Keep trying! It'll come to you eventually. And if it doesn't, hey, it's just cookies.

  52. Amelia

    I bought this cookbook at Christmas and I am just about to start my first attempt at macarons! Thank you for pointing out the confusing steps! But I was just wondering what is powdered sugar? Is it a variety of sugar in it's own right or is it what I would call icing or confectioners sugar?

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