Almond Macaroons with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

After the debacle of last week, I've reprogrammed a bit. Which is to say that I've done a lot of organizing, de-cluttering, and otherwise simplifying. And not to sound all woo-woo or anything, but has anyone else out there felt a sort of cosmic shift recently? Maybe it has to do with that August-becoming-September thing and Little C turning three any second now (three!!). Or maybe it has to do with pulling the trigger on officially sending my crazy cookbook off to the printers, after which I experienced a most interesting sensation, not unlike that of impending childbirth, teetering the line between crying and barfing. Come to think of it, finishing my first book just as my first baby is turning three must mean something, right? Let's just say it means that everyone can stop asking me about "baby number twoooo??" in a creepy sing-songy voice, because hey, people, I did just sort of give birth again.

Anyway, all of this to say that I just can get enough of paring down these days as a way to take a breather. It's getting intense, guys. I've been wearing only my bathrobe for quite some time after showering. I am reading an actual book in my downtime. Listening to a lot of Iron and Wine. Lighting pretty candles just for the heck of it. The other day for lunch, I had some white beans mixed with tuna in a lovely antique bowl, dressed simply with a bit of avocado oil and lemon. As I chewed, I thought, This must be how Gwyneth Paltrow feels ALL THE TIME. It's kind of magical, and for the ten more minutes that this phase lasts, I'm really going to enjoy myself.

But I haven't completely gone off the deep end. I definitely have been eating dessert, and a dang good one at that. And it fits fantastically into my less-is-more vacation. Come along, won't you?

The recipe for these heavenly Almond Macaroons comes from Joanne Chang's completely inspiring Flour cookbook. There's little more than almonds, egg whites and sugar in the crispy-chewy cookies, and a basic ganache of bittersweet chocolate and lush cream sandwiched inside. I took this already dead-simple recipe and broke it down even further by using a good-quality almond meal instead of buying whole blanched almonds and processing them. Everything comes together in minutes in the food processor, which is just about my favorite thing in the whole world.

Actually, you know what you're really doing here? You're making a no-frills, Real World version of the ubiquitous macaron, that's what. You get all the chew, crisp edges, deep almond flavor and swoon-worthy filling of the trend, without any of the freakouts and mystery. Exhale. 

Almond Macaroons with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour

Makes 2 dozen sandwich cookies

For the cookies:

4 cups lightly packed almond meal, divided
2 2/3 cups sugar
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the ganache filling:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 60 to 70% cacao), chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Place 1/2 cup of the almond meal in a large bowl and set aside. Place the remaining almond meal in the bowl of a food processor along with the sugar. Process until thoroughly mixed. Add the egg whites, salt, almond extract and vanilla extracts. Process again until the batter is smooth, stopping the processor to scrape down the bowl once or twice if necessary to ensure the batter is well-incorporated. Transfer the batter to the bowl with the almond meal and fold to blend well.

Drop the batter by level tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set and lightly golden on the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets before removing them from the sheets and baking the remaining batter.

While the cookies are baking and cooling, prepare the ganache. Combine the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl. Melt in the microwave with 30-second bursts of high power, stirring well after each interval, until the ganache is smooth. Chill in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, until the ganache is very thick and spreadable, about 30 minutes.

When the cookies and the ganache are cool, turn half the cookies bottom side up on a sheet pan. Drop tablespoonfuls of ganache onto each cookie. Sandwich with the remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

CookiesShauna Sever