Category Archives: Macarons

How to Make Macarons

Given that today’s food writers and epicures have come to revere the macaron with a fervor that was once reserved for the communion wafer, it only seems fitting to open this tutorial with a prayer. As we prepare to undertake this mystery, let us acknowledge our failures and ask the Lord for pardon and strength. Amen.

Now then, to business. What I’m about to demonstrate is the classic French method for making macarons. There’s another method, called the “Italian” method because it employs Italian meringue. The French method, I think, is more straightforward if not as adaptable for incorporating exotic flavors.

Begin by arraying your ingredients. Those of you who are familiar with macarons will note that whereas most macaron recipes call for almond flour, I’m using slivered, blanched almonds. There are two reasons for this. First, because almond flour and/or meal aren’t commonly available in America, even in specialty shops. And second, even when you can find one or the other, you can never be sure how old they are. Nut oil is critical to the success of a macaron, but it can go rancid and/or solidify over time. The best way to ensure freshness is to grind your own in the food processor. As you can see above, the homemade stuff will give you a slightly knobbly texture, so if you’re really serious about macarons, order almond powder or flour or meal fresh from a good online resource. Here I have:

3.8 ounces blanched almonds
7 ounces powdered sugar
3.5 ounces egg whites (aged overnight at room temperature)
1.75 ounces granulated sugar

Start by grinding your almonds and powdered sugar together in a food processor. This is a good idea even if you’re using pre-ground almond meal or flour, since it’ll aerate it, mix it well with the sugar and reduce the particles to the smallest possible size.

This is about the best I can do with my machine:

Next, prepare a pastry bag, fitting it with just the coupler, no tip.

Stand it up in a tall glass for easy loading.

Now to make the batter. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whip. This is a good point to add a few drops of coloring if you want to.

Whip to about the soft peak stage.

With the machine running, add the granulated sugar and whip to stiff peaks: the “bird’s beak” stage, like this:

Next add your almond/sugar mixture…just dump it in.

Now, without regard to consequences, stir the mixture together. Don’t fold at this point — stir. Because remember, this isn’t spongecake. Part of the point is to break some of these bubbles. If the batter’s too light it’ll dry out in the oven and crack. That’ll let the steam out and bye bye feet. So don’t be delicate, stir for maybe 30 seconds. (Be sure to scrape the sides as you go).

When the batter is about to this point, you want to start folding (find instructions on how to fold under the Techniques menu). Fold four or five times, then start testing the batter for readiness.

How to do that? Why, with a spoon of course. You just scoop up a small portion of the batter and plop it onto a plate or sheet pan. What you’re after is a small mass that settles down into a nice disk after a few seconds, but with a subtle peak in the center. About like this:

If your batter mounds up too high, go back and fold a few more times. If you over-fold a little and the batter runs a bit, that won’t be the end of the world. Contrary to what you may have heard, a few extra strokes is unlikely to ruin your macarons. The biggest mistake most people make with macaron batter is that they baby it too much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: pastries can smell fear. Confidence is key.

Once you’ve arrived at the right texture, spoon the batter into your pastry bag, and start piping onto a parchment-lined sheet.

You want small disks — smaller than you may imagine — only about an inch and a half in diameter. Now then, here’s perhaps the most important tip I have to pass on: let your macarons rest. For how long? About half an hour will suffice, though you can leave them up to about 50 minutes if you want. What will this do? It will allow the skins of the macarons to dry out. That will make them inflexible, constraining the rise as the macaron heats. With nowhere else to go, the expanding interior of the macaron will be forced downward, which will push the cap up, and the result will be feet. See?

You’ll want to bake your macarons on a lower-middle rack of a 300 oven (you can get it preheating while the piped macarons sit) for about twelve minutes. Let them cool for a minimum of half an hour, then gently peel the parchment off the backs.

Grasping one meringue, apply the filling of your choice. Nothing exotic here, just raspberry jam. But oh, I do love it so.

Apply the top and your task is complete. Repeat until all your sandwiches are assembled.

And with that, this tutorial is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, make macarons, and brag about it.

Filed under:  Desserts & Cookies, Macarons | 39 Comments

What’s all this about “aged eggs”?

This is something else you hear an awful lot about in regard to macarons. What we call “aged eggs” French pastry chefs simply call “eggs”, since they tend not to refrigerate theirs. They just get them very fresh, use them relatively quickly, and order more. Here we’re a little more uptight about maintaining egg freshness, which I don’t think is all bad. However it does put us at something of a disadvantage when it comes to whipping up egg foams.

Why? Because as eggs age, their whites get runnier. This doesn’t effect they way they taste or cook up, but it does affect the way they whip. Thin liquids can simply be agitated more briskly than thick ones. A whip will cut through a bowl full of water with much more force than it will through a bowl full of honey, if you follow me. That extra force, when applied to egg proteins, means a higher froth.

Being a skeptic by nature, I’m not totally convinced that aged eggs make that big a difference in a macaron batter. After all, part of making a macaron batter is popping a good deal of those bubbles. However aged egg advocates may have a point in that foams made from old eggs probably have a higher proportion of small bubbles in them, and those may make a contribution to the macaron’s subtle rise.

Age your egg whites by putting them in a bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap, and leaving the bowl out on the counter for about 24 hours. At room temperature, eggs age one day per hour compared to how they’d age in a refrigerator. By morning those whites will be good and runny, but will not have spoiled. Oh, and don’t fall for the myth that you can achieve the same effect by microwaving your whites for ten seconds or so. That may warm the whites, but won’t have any effect at all on their viscosity.

Filed under:  Desserts & Cookies, Macarons | 6 Comments

Troubleshooting Macarons

Macarons wouldn’t be macarons if they weren’t fussy things. Though they are at their core very simple little cookies, a variety of things can go wrong during their preparation, preventing them from achieving the Platonic ideal. Me, I don’t see why that’s the end of the world. However I confess that if mine didn’t come out as I expected, I’d want to know why. So here are a few common macaron problems and their solutions.

1. No feet. This is very often the result of not allowing macarons to rest long enough before baking. Note here that macarons made via the Italian method don’t need to be rested. If your Italian macarons don’t have feet, it could be that your oven temperature is too low. Another possibility, of course, is over-mixing. Too many bubbles popped and the macarons didn’t have the lift they needed.

2. Cracks. Very often the result of under-mixing. In other words, too many bubbles — too much air — in the macaron. The meringue gets dried out in the oven and cracks appear. Steam escapes and little if any rise occurs. However cracks can also result if there is too much moisture in the batter. If the air is too humid, say, or the egg whites were a little too big. Try cutting your moisture back a bit, by maybe 15%.

3. Runny batter. A result of over-mixing. This isn’t necessarily a catastrophe. It might simply mean a thin cap with feet underneath. That’s well within the bounds of a successful macaron. Bake, cool, fill and declare victory.

4. Feet that protrude sideways. This occurs when your oven is too hot. The batter at the edges of the macaron heats and expands too quickly, then explodes outward. Put the net batch on a lower rack. Some folks like to prop the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon. The result is more even heat than the typical hot-cold cycling that goes in inside a closed oven.

5. Large spaces under the cap. This happens when bubbles in the foam pop. Try cutting back on your resting time a little. Another tactic might be to add a bit more sugar to your batter to help shore up the bubble walls.

6. Lopsided macarons. There are a couple of possibilities here. First, lopsidedness can occur from too much resting prior to baking. The exterior begins to harden on one, side so the interior pushes out the other as the macaroni expands. Another possibility is under-folding…uneven distribution of the air bubbles. But try solution 1 first.

Those are the biggies. Should you experience any other problems not covered here, send me an email and I’ll do my best to help.

Filed under:  Desserts & Cookies, Macarons | 12 Comments