Here’s part two of the Edible Times troubleshooting series on French macarons. I continue to cut through the lies and myths of how to master perfect macarons. If you haven’t read part one, check it out here. Then come back for specific troubleshooting help, and fun macaron flavor ideas including nostalgic orange creamsicle!
The biggest lies and lore of French macaron mastery
Much of what I see and find on the method for crafting French macarons makes me want to go rant in the pantry. So if you’d like to go down the rabbit hole of macaron myth-busting, read on. Or skip straight to five fun macaron flavors.
First things first: macarons are not cookies
Macarons are pastries. And embracing this truth will help you in your quest to perfect and enjoy the fruits of your labors. Now for a few important dos and don’ts.
DON’T: Expect perfection, the macaronage process is temperamental
That’s the nature of pastry business (you can thank the French). And why macaron shops sell a variety of flavors for upwards of $2.50 a pop.
Outside a professional kitchen with motorized piping machines, convection ovens and experienced intuition, it’s best to temper your initial expectations. Don’t obsess over every tiny step of the process.
DO: Look at the big picture, and harness two techniques
No amount of tapping, resting, aging of egg whites or grinding of dry ingredients will give you beautiful macarons unless you first harness two techniques:
- Stiff Meringue
- Macaronage (the folding and mixing)
Ugly macs are par for the bake. I’ve been baking macarons for ten years now, and I routinely get an ugly mac or three. One ugly mac does not spoil the bunch, or your level of success!
Myth #1: Egg whites must be aged
The practice of aging egg whites, or leaving them at room temperature overnight, is not the magical secret to a great meringue or perfect macs. Either you whip your egg whites to nice, dry peaks, or you don’t.
DON’T: Fret about aging the egg whites
Old, new, cold, room temperature. In culinary school and as a professional, I never left egg whites out overnight (it violates many health department’s food safety rules). It’s best in any baking venture to bring all the ingredients to room temperature, but even that practice is not a deal breaker.
The Trial. In the spirit of research once, I left egg whites out overnight at home. The meringue reached a stiff peak faster, but by no means did this significantly impact the results. This batter actually required more folding and mixing to reach the correct consistency AKA more elbow grease.
The Verdict. Leaving the whites out (of course) allows moisture to evaporate, giving you a slight edge in the meringue step. But I often whip them straight outta the fridge and notice no significant difference. The truth is this: If you don’t have the knowledge to spot a properly-peaked meringue, aging your egg whites doesn’t matter.
Below, I used aged egg whites for the mocha macarons on the left, and cold, fresh whites for the chocolate shells on the right. Myth: Busted.
Please, please, please, don’t microwave your egg whites. Every time this happens a French chef turns over in his or her grave. Best not to disturb the dead with an activity as inconsequential as macarons.
DO: Whip the meringue to moderately stiff peaks
The key to a solid meringue is in the whipping. As I write in my first article on French macaron troubleshooting, show no mercy.
Using a stand mixer, I typically whip the egg whites and sugar on medium-high speed for around seven minutes. With a hand mixer, it may take even longer to reach a nice, glossy stiff peak. Avoid maximum speed on any type of mixer. High speed can take you from perfectly peaked to broken in a hot minute.
Myth #2: The practice of tapping
As a private chef, I routinely whip up a variety of macaron flavors for clients, and as a mom for my kiddos. I rarely tap my pans, and never EVER bang them hard on the counter. Perhaps two or three macaron shells will crack in the oven, but I call dibs on quality control and get on with my life.
In the batch below of mint macaron shells, I did not so much as lightly tap the ones on the left parchment. I substantially tapped the shells on the right. The macarons on the left went in the oven second – so they rested about twenty minutes (more on resting here). Proof that a small amount of resting might be prudent, but tapping is non-essential. Myth: Busted.
DON’T: Bang your poor macaron batter repeatedly
Banging the pan on the counter, or worse dropping it from several feet up, will destroy the meringue. You will literally be forcing any and all air left in the batter, out.
Don’t take my word for it. Bang your pan of piped shells hard on the counter several times, then look closely. You’ll see many of the shells now possess tiny potholes, which can survive the oven.
Pimpled macs? No thanks.
DO: Lightly tap
A VERY light tapping on the counter is all you need. Or a few light pats up with one hand to the underside of the pan can help the batter settle into smooth domes. The goal is to cure any irregularities in your piping technique, not obliterate and crater the shells.
Myth #3: You have to rest macarons
I lack patience. So, no, I don’t rest my macarons. If my piped shells spend time on the counter before baking, it’s because I’m baking multiple batches. Or got carried away with cleaning.
Result? My macarons shells still rise and form pied, the signature frilly bottoms (pied means foot in French). In the entire batch below between two sheet pans of macarons – not rested – two cracked.
Am I God’s gift to French macarons? Absolutely not. I’m telling you this to free you from the watching and waiting and wondering if the tops of your piped shells are dry enough to bake.
If you do rest your piped batter, a sweet spot is right around 20 minutes. Any more resting than 30 minutes can give way to especially large feet that form – then spread – during baking.
So why do so many bakers and chefs advise resting macarons?
It’s quite simple. Resting macarons dries out the tops of the shells slightly, and acts like an insurance policy. Whether you whipped your meringue just short of the goal, or folded your batter a stroke too far, resting can cure minor technique shortcomings.
Especially for cookbook publishers and ad-heavy blogs, your success is theirs. But I’m here to happily tell you that once you refine your technique, this ridiculous waiting game is unnecessary. Whip, fold, pipe and bake. Macarons, coming right up!
Macaron troubleshooting: a visual guide
Here are pictures of the most common macaron fails, and a little insight on how to improve on their shortcomings. If you don’t find the answers you’re looking for, let me know in the comments so I can help!
Macs crack, plain and simple. It never fails, that last bit of batter bursts through the piping tip, or your oven has a hot spot (or five) that forces the air out too fast.
Don’t lose confidence. Enjoy them, hot and fresh out of the oven. Like I’m always saying, quality control. The best way to prevent any cracked macarons ever, is to go to Hogwarts and learn magic.
Why macarons crack
Macarons crack when excess air or moisture is forced out the top during baking. Aim for a slow-flowing batter, and tap the undersides of your pans ever so lightly before baking.
- Under-mixed batter. Be sure your macaronage (folding and mixing) achieves a smooth batter that ribbons slowly off the spatula, but is not runny. Look for ribbons of batter that settle into the batter mass in less than 20 seconds.
- Resting too long. In the spirit of experimentation, I’ve rested macarons a variety of time lengths, up to two hours. And one or two still cracked. My theory is that the shells became so dry and hard, the air inside couldn’t escape through the bottom forming feet. So it created a macsplosion, if you will.
Macarons don’t have feet or pied
Macarons without feet are due to a lack of air, or an excess of moisture in your batter. The feet form in the oven when the air trapped in the piped shells slowly pushes the shell upward. This creates the coveted, frilly look the French call le pied.
Creating a macaron shell batter that develops feet in the oven is dependent on mastering the techniques of meringue and macaronage (the folding of dry ingredients).
Why macarons don’t form feet
- Meringue shortcomings. Under-whipping the meringue, or on the contrary over-whipping the whites, are the main reasons for a lack of feet. Aim for moderately stiff peaks the French refer to as a “bird’s beak”. A proper meringue will resemble shaving cream – smooth and shiny.
- Over-mixed batter. If you get carried away in your macaronage, all the air in the meringue dissipates and then… no feet. Fold the dry ingredients into the meringue until it ribbons off the spatula, flows slowly and settles back into itself in about 20 seconds. Then stop and pipe immediately.
Blotchy, splotchy or sunken macaron shells
Too much moisture in the batter. Splotchy or sunken tops are a sign of residual oil or liquid in the batter.
Excess moisture can come from a variety of sources, including a too loose meringue, flavor extracts and food coloring, or oily almond flour.
Causes of blotchy, splotchy or sunken macarons
- Under-whipped meringue. The stability of the meringue, is again, key to successful macarons. Better to reach a stiff peak, then to under whip. You may end up with a batter you can pipe with a softer peak, but you will not get the signature rise in the oven. Whipping the egg whites traps the liquid in them between protein molecules, essentially drying them out (and creating volume at the same time).
- Avoid water-based food colorings, or even too much gel food coloring. Truthfully, American-made artificial food colorings are best avoided in general. For tinting macarons, I like a plant-based, natural powder like the ones from Nature’s Flavors.
- Oily almond flour: A sneaky foe. Even if you rest the piped shells for hours, an oily almond flour can cause your macarons to sink after baking. Pulsing the almond flour in a food processor can release excess oils, so if you do process it, keep it brief. Drying almond flour in the oven before sifting is an option if you think yours is causing this issue.
How to dry almond flour in the oven
To dry out almond flour you suspect of possessing excess oil:
- Spread a thin layer of fine-ground almond flour on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
- Place the pan in a 300°F oven for 7-9 minutes, pulling the pan out before the almond flour browns.
- Cool flour on the pan, and store in a container that is not completely air tight, like a large zipper storage bag that is not completely closed.
Wrinkled macarons, with or without feet, are a symptom of too much moisture in the batter. And often, not enough air.
I let my preschooler fold the dry ingredients in this batch below, and did not help him once. He obliterated the egg whites in the mixer. The meringue broke into a curdled mess. He folded the batter until it was runny. He also wanted a “blue and green rainbow color.” So proceeded to add prolific amounts of food coloring as he mixed. Cute to watch, not so cute to eat.
Reasons why macarons wrinkle
- Too weak or broken meringue. Whipping traps the water in egg whites between protein molecules. If the whites aren’t whipped to at least moderately stiff peaks, too much moisture prevents drying in the oven. And that signature smooth, shiny top.
On the flip side, beating the egg whites so long the proteins and water separate is bad for business. I find the former is much more common a misstep. If you beat meringue to the point of separation, it will be very, visually obvious.
- Water-based food colors or flavor additives. Gel or powder food coloring is best, as liquid-based colors add additional liquid.
- Oily almond flour. See above. The moisture levels of almond flour can change on a regular basis – even from the same brand. Drying out suspicious almond flour as I detail above can sometimes cure this issue.
Five fun macaron flavors to try
Once you’re whipping up perfect macarons with your eyes closed, the fun begins! Since meringue is delicate and susceptible to added moisture, the secret to intense macaron flavor is in the fillings.
Here are a few ideas on how to safely flavor your shells, and fill them with scrumptious joy. But the sky is the limit! Leave any macaron flavors of your heart’s desire in the comments. I’d love for it to be a inspiring resource for fellow mac makers!
#1: Orange & Cream Macarons
From a time gone by! Bring the irresistible flavors of an orange creamsicle or orange cream soda to your mac stacks. For an orange punch to the macaron shells, a small amount of orange zest can be added during folding.
Err on the side of minimalism, as orange zest is juicier than either lemon or lime. Save most of it for the creamy, indulgent filling: a no-fuss mascarpone or cream cheese buttercream. I shy away from food colorings, but for orange-hued macarons drop a little orange gel food coloring in as you fold.
Scroll down or jump to the recipe with this.
#2: Mint Chocolate Chip Macarons
Classic mint chocolate goodness wrapped up in the beautiful landscape of a French macaron. Use this vanilla macaron and French buttercream recipe here, then modify with the below.
For Mint Macaron Shells
- Beat ¼ teaspoon of any mint extract into the meringue (omit vanilla)
- Drop green gel coloring in right before you begin to mix in the dry ingredients.
For Mint Chocolate Chip Buttercream
- Chop bittersweet or dark chocolate into very small pieces and shavings. Then fold into the French buttercream.
- A box grater and/or a microplane plus a little elbow grease, is the best method for ensuring the chocolate pieces are small enough to sandwich between the shells.
- How much chocolate you add is entirely up to you. A cup of chopped chocolate for this French buttercream recipe is nice starting point. You’ll most likely have extra, use it to top these vanilla cupcakes!
#3: Café Mocha Macarons
Intense with coffee aroma and filled with rich, creamy chocolate ganache! Use my technique and recipe for coffee macarons here, and fill this coffee shop macaron flavor not with the buttercream, but with chocolate ganache.
Chocolate Ganache Macaron Filling
- 4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or chips)
- 7 ounces heavy cream
Method: Bring heavy cream just to a boil in a small sauce pot. Pour immediately over chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Let stand for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. Cool to a spreadable consistency before filling macarons, whisking occasionally. Cooling happens faster in the refrigerator.
#4: Peanut Butter Cup Macarons
Who doesn’t love a chocolate peanut butter cup (or the whole bag)? With chocolate shells and a honey-peanut butter buttercream, these macarons hit the spot without processed oils and high fructose corn syrup.
You can create Reese’s-style macarons using my basic vanilla macaron recipe with the below modifications. A peanut butter filling can be whipped up in a variety of ways. Two of my favorites are below.
Chocolate Macaron Shells
Replace 10 grams of the almond flour with cocoa powder. Sift the cocoa powder with the almond flour and powdered sugar before folding into the meringue.
Silky Peanut Butter Buttercream Macaron Filling
For a light, silky, creamy peanut butter filling, use the recipe here for a classic French buttercream, and beat ½ cup of unsweetened, creamy peanut butter into half of the finished buttercream. Or halve the buttercream recipe if you don’t want leftovers (yeah, right).
Quick + Easy American-Style Peanut Butter Filling
Combine the following ingredients in a medium bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, and beat with a paddle until smooth.
- ⅓ cup creamy, unsweetened peanut butter
- 2 ounces/4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2-3 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt (if your peanut butter is unsalted)
#5: Strawberry Margarita Macarons (21+)
A lovely dessert for any fiesta! Perhaps my favorite of these five macaron flavors. Make this strawberry macaron recipe for the youngsters and reserve half of the French buttercream recipe, adding:
- the zest of one lime
- ¼ cup of the strawberry jam
- a few tablespoons of tequila to the buttercream, blanco recommended
And that, my macaron mavericks, is where we leave it this time. Salud!
Yours in the mac madness,
More Macaron Madness
- Alfajores + learning to ‘bring it’ one Argentinian cookie at a time
- An easy, addictive chocolate shortbread recipe for any occasion, any time of year
- Eat pound cake + fall in love with flambée
- Honey Blueberry Clafoutis + the genius of Julia Child
Taking you back to the good ol’ days! Orange creamsicles or orange ‘n’ cream soda pop, anyone?
If your macaron escapades are just beginning, best to leave out the orange zest until your hone the meringue method. After that, a small pinch of orange zest to the batter packs a delightful tart punch!
Orange Macaron Shells
- 180 grams confectioner’s sugar
- 108 grams fine-ground almond flour (or blanched, slivered almonds)
- 3 egg whites (about 90g)
- 55 grams granulated sugar
- pinch of cream of tartar
- orange gel food coloring, a small amount on the tip of a toothpick or knife
- ¼ teaspoon orange extract, optional
- 4 ounces mascarpone or cream cheese, softened (half a typical package)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
- zest of one navel orange
- 1–2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For macarons shells
- Line two baking pans with parchment or silicone baking mats.
- If working with whole or slivered almonds: Grind almonds or almond flour with confectioner’s sugar in a food processor for a couple minutes. Stop the processor a couple times to redistribute the mixture.
- Combine the egg whites and granulated sugar in a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment.
- Whip on high speed a couple minutes until foamy. With the mixer on, slowly rain in granulated sugar.
- Whip to a stiff meringue on medium-high speed, about five more minutes. Meringue will be shiny, create pointy peaks off the paddle, and stick to the bottom of the bowl if you flip it upside-down.
- Add orange extract and whip a few seconds more.
- Sift the dry ingredients into the stiff meringue.
- Fold until the batter flows slowly and ribbons off the spatula. Mix slightly vigorous at first, then use classic folding strokes; scraping around the sides of the bowl, the up from underneath the mixture and over through the top.
- Transfer to a piping bag (or large plastic bag) fitted with a small round tip.
- Pipe 1 to 2-inch rounds of batter onto a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Hold the piping bag vertical, and about a quarter-inch above the pan.
- To help the tops of piped batter settle, very lightly tap the pan on the counter. Or with one hand tap the underneath of the pan a few times.
- Optional: Let the piped macarons rest on the counter for 15-20 minutes.
- Bake at 300° F for 14-16 minutes, rotating the pan(s) once halfway through baking.
- Cool a few minutes before removing from baking mat or parchment.
- Fill with buttercream and store chilled for 24 hours before serving.
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