To be blatantly honest, I have been baking macarons nonstop for the past three weeks.
March macaron madness, if you will. And since there is plenty of the “how to make French macarons” on this sinister communication medium we call the world wide web, here’s what not to do.
Exhibit A: In my defense, my oven was lying to me, apparently.
In all seriousness, my obnoxious obsession developed several years ago when I first laid tongue and tooth on them at the original Ladurée patisserie in Paris.
Macarons are delightful. Macarons are filled with buttercream. Macarons are lightly crisp, chewy and still manage to melt like butter in your mouth.
And I’m here to tell you crafting Parisian macarons is no different than baking American chocolate chip cookies from scratch – you simply need the proper know how. All of the fuss about how scary, temperamental and touchy macarons are is a little silly. I believe the problem is excessive over-thinking. Myself included.
Exhibit B: I once poked at tiny air pockets with a toothpick before baking. Neurotic. Don’t do this.
After the above exhibits (and a slew of others not pictured to save more embarrassment), I respectfully demanded my pastry instructor at the Culinary Institute, chef Rudy Spiess, convey the finer art. He graciously did. And the five steps that follow this post are all you need know. Seriously.
In the spirit of full disclosure, even when you follow all five steps exactly, your macarons might not emerge from the oven as you hoped – like that “too crispy” batch of chocolate chip cookies. There are so many factors that can affect macarons – an undetected air bubble here, a hidden clump of almond flour there, or an oven that just won’t hold a steady temperature. What not to do is to get upset about it, and throw ugly but perfectly edible macarons in the trash (do as I say, not as I do).
So if you decide to try your hand at Parisian macarons, harness patience. Buy an oven thermometer, a cheap digital scale and a half-inch pastry tip. But whatever you do, don’t be discouraged if your first batches don’t bake up with perfectly domed tops and pretty crinkly feet. Because regardless of appearance, they will all taste wonderfully light and deliciously sweet. Seriously.
The Five Macaron Musts
#1: Sift the dry ingredients. Andjust once will do. If you are grinding your own almond flour, grind the almonds with the confectioner’s sugar. A second round in the food processor with what’s left after the first sift is perfectly lovely (just sift what you process in round two). What can not be sifted through is trash, unless you want bumpy cookies.
#2: Whip the meringue like you mean it. Give the egg whites and granulated sugar a piece of your mind on high speed for around 5 minutes. The meringue answers to you, not the other way around. And you don’t need ancient, room temperature egg whites from the turn of the century to whip up a nice, stiff meringue suitable for macarons. Room temperature or cold, old or fresh – don’t discriminate. Once you can play tilt-a-whirl with the bowl and the meringue remains still, beat one more minute for good measure, and call it whipped. Think shaving cream.
#3: Love lava. Fold the dry ingredients into the meringue until it all comes together and flows slowly like molten lava. It should be smooth and shiny, but not even remotely runny. The French call this process macaronage. Properly folded batter will settle itself into flat circles on the sheet pan within 20 seconds of piping.
#4: Pipe concise. Hold the piping bag vertical and slightly above the lined baking sheet. Chef Spiess says “start where you want to finish”, meaning hold the bag at a distance above the pan relative to the size cookies you desire. Squeeze until the batter reaches the tip, then immediately stop squeezing, and whip in a small circular motion to free the bag. This is an art. Plan for the batter to end up all over your sheet tray the first several times. Seriously.
#4.5 Tapping. For the most part, when chef Thomas Keller says do something, I do it (I worked at one of his restaurants for a time). And in the Bouchon Bistro signature cookbook, he says tap the pan lightly after piping. This helps rid the cookies of unevenly distributed air pockets and encourages the crinkly base called pied (feet). For more on tapping, and the controversial resting theory, see the afterthoughts section below.
#5: Monitor the baking. It is crucial to know if your oven is telling you lies. Mine did (see exhibit A). For these delicate cookies, 30 degrees is the difference between success and well, exhibit A. Use an oven thermometer to detect deceit. Bake the macarons between 300° F and 315° F until the tops are set and the bottoms begin to peel away from the parchment, between 16 and 18 minutes (they won’t peel away properly from a baking mat until cool). Consider where the heat source lies within your oven, and then consult Syrup & Tang.
The Temperature Tango
Many macaron-obsessed bakers appear to follow the Martha Stewart mantra of preheat to 375° F, then turn down to 325° F when the cookies hit the heat, then repeat before each batch. Pierre Hermé recommends opening and closing the oven door at key times during baking. Oh my goodness, no to both. Most home ovens would go into shock. Rotate the pan halfway through baking, and the rest of the time let it be. Seriously.
The Resting Requirement
Almost all of the overexposed macaron authorities claim you must rest your piped batter to form a shell prior to baking. This is absolutely not true. Just ask my pastry instructor or the macaron whiz over at Bravetart, and see exhibit C.
Exhibit C: Baked immediately.
That being shown, I have found success on occasion in resting…
Exhibit D: One batch. Half rested, half not. C’est la vie!
So I advise thinking of this step as insurance against anything that could be slightly off – whether your oven is feisty, or your macaronage is a little rough. However, if your meringue is weak and you butcher the folding process, no amount of resting (or tapping for that matter) will save your cookies.
- For Cookies
- 150 g confectioner’s sugar
- 90 g almond flour (or blanched, slivered almonds)
- 2.5 ea egg whites (about 75 g)
- 37 g granulated sugar
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- As needed food coloring
- As needed additional flavorings/extracts, i.e. vanilla, citrus zest, etc.
- For Buttecream (adapted from Thomas Kellers Bouchon Bistro cookbook)
- 2 eggs, large
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 8 oz butter, unsalted, room temperature, cut into small pieces
- Sift confectioner’s sugar and almond flour. If using slivered almonds, grind nuts with confectioner’s sugar in a food processor for at least three minutes, then sift. If using lemon or orange zest, add to dry ingredients while grinding.
- Combine the egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (hand mixer works, too), and whip on high speed with a whisk attachment to a stiff meringue (resembles shaving cream). Add the cream of tartar, and any color or extracts, and whip on high speed 30 seconds more to incorporate.
- Add the dry ingredients, folding the batter until it flows slowly like lava. Transfer to a piping bag (or large plastic bag) fitted with a half-inch tip (I clip the bottom closed with a bobby pin to keep it from leaking out). Pipe onto a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Tap the sheet pan on the counter with moderate force a couple of times, rotating once.
- Optional: Let the piped macarons rest on the counter for 30 to 40 minutes. The shell will turn from shiny and sticky to smooth and dull.
- Bake @ 300° F for about 16 minutes, until tops are hard and do not pull away from bottoms when very gently lifted. Rotate pan halfway through baking, after 8 or 10 minutes. Cool completely before removing from baking mat or parchment. Fill with buttercream and store for 24 hours before serving.
- In a small saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil, and cook until it reaches 234° F on a candy or meat thermometer (on the fly it usually on takes a minute or two of boiling to become hot enough).
- While syrup boils, beat eggs in a medium mixing bowl on medium speed. When syrup reaches temperature, slowly drizzle into eggs, avoiding beater or whisk attachment (if using stand mixer). Beat until room temperature. Add butter in several additions and beat until smooth.
- The buttercream may appear broken (curdled), but keep beating and it will smooth out. Add extract or liqueur to taste. Store refrigerated, and bring to room temperature to use leftovers (it may need another beating to smooth out).
For chocolate macarons, add 3 tablespoons of dutch-process cocoa powder to almond flour mixture. Fill with chocolate ganache. Chocolate macarons must bake longer in order to dry out thoroughly, between 20 to 24 minutes. It is always better for your macarons to be on the dry side, as they will soften up once filled with buttercream or chocolate ganache.
Sadie Mae’s Dogtography
Interested at first, but the madness eventually wore her out!