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Make macarons for your valentine

Next Friday is Valentine’s Day. Any day we spoil our sweethearts with sweet treats is a great day in my world. One of the most Instagram-worthy, special occasion cookies is the French macaron.

Macarons are delicious little Parisian confections consisting of melt-in-your-mouth meringue cookies sandwiched with buttercream, ganache or jam. These colorful little creations are made with almond flour and are naturally gluten free.

They’re everywhere. Every bakery, coffeehouse and grocery store has them, but they can easily run you $3 a cookie. Gasp! Did you know you can make them yourself for about 20 cents each? I mean, I know they’re special, but please.

One reason they’re pricey is their reputation for being difficult to make. If you can make whipped cream, you have the skills to make meringue. If you can bake cookies, you can bake meringue cookies. Just follow the directions exactly and you can make macarons.

They say, “All you need is love.” But a few macarons now and then never hurt.

FRENCH MACARONS

Yield: 18 sandwich cookies

Time: 90 minutes

What you’ll need:

1 cup almond flour

2 cups powdered sugar

3 egg whites (at room temperature)

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ cup granulated white sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of fine salt

Gel or paste food coloring in red, optional

6 tablespoons raspberry jam

Here’s how:

You’re going to preheat oven to 300 degrees F — but not yet. There’s no sense having your hot oven sitting empty for an hour. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.

Press almond flour and powdered sugar through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. I found this to be the most time-consuming part of this recipe. You need a fine powder mixture to create a smooth top to your cookies, so put on some music, grab a glass of vino and get sifting. Set aside.

Be sure everything that touches the following egg white mixture is completely free from any oil or grease. Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment or hand mixer and mixing bowl, beat room temperature egg whites on medium speed until foamy, then add cream of tartar. Continue to whisk, gradually adding the white sugar, vanilla and salt.

When incorporated, increase speed to high and mix until stiff glossy peaks form. Add the food coloring (I dipped the tines of a fork into the color and dabbed it into the meringue) and mix 10 seconds more. The color fades when baked so go a shade darker than your desired finished color.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the eggs into the almond and sugar mixture, gently folding until the mixture makes smooth ribbons when you lift the spatula. This takes 50-60 strokes or “folds.”

Transfer the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tip, or spoon into a gallon-sized zip-top plastic bag and cut ½ inch off one corner to pipe like a pastry bag. Pipe 1½-inch rounds onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Tap the pan on the counter to release air bubbles.

Now, preheat your oven.

Meanwhile, allow the cookies to sit out on the counter for 20 minutes. This lets the tops dry out and form a “skin” on top. This prevents them from spreading out when baking. Instead they rise upward making the “feet” that indicates a well-made macaron.

Bake the cookies in the lower third of your oven for 20 minutes. Let cool completely on parchment.

Prepare filling by passing raspberry jam through a mesh strainer to remove seeds. Place one scant teaspoon of jam between two cookies. Et voilà. Macarons.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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