the infamous macaron.
i've spent the past few weeks revisiting this tricksy little cookie, and doing cookie-monster amounts of taste testing. ordinarily baking is a bit like riding a bike - once you've got a recipe, you've got it, but it's not so simple with macarons. i've made beautiful batches, then ruined batches, and moving into a new kitchen just presents a whole new host of new challenges. from the mixing bowls used, to the oven temp, everything must be JUST oh so perfect.
tutorials on macarons are numerous, with some bakers swearing by stainless steel bowls, and others by scale-measured ingredients and aged egg whites. i decided to do a little testing to break in our new kitchen, and here's what i've learned about baking these finicky little cookies in our home:
1) the egg whites don't need to be aged.
but they do need to be at room temperature. egg whites that are cold won't whip into a stiff peaked meringue and i seem to have enough trouble getting my meringue to the proper consistency as is. you can warm chilled eggs up quickly by soaking the whole egg in warm water for 5 minutes before cracking them into your bowl.
2) mixing bowls and beaters must be COMPLETELY clean, dry and devoid of any oil residue.
of course, we always use clean, sterile equipment but i inadvertently compromised a batch of meringue by accidentally allowing some water into the bowl of egg whites. to get those room temperature eggs, i had soaked the eggs in warm water, then grabbed them straight out of the bowl of water and cracked them into the mixing bowl. a drop or two of water from the egg shell and/or my hands got into the bowl...teeny mistake = huge problem. so be sure to dry your bowls, beaters, eggs, hands, etc. etc. fully! you can also wipe down your equipment with vinegar to negate any residue from your kitchen towel, dish soap, etc. i use stainless steel or glass mixing bowls.
3) you don't actually need to break out a kitchen scale.
i'm so happy to have stumbled upon this foolproof macaron recipe, and my other new favorite recipe for a slightly smaller batch listed below. both use standard kitchen measurements and the "foolproof" recipe linked above is fairly easy to remember as well, with the 1:2:3 ratio of almond flour, confectioner's sugar, egg whites.
4) but you can't use liquid food coloring.
multiple tutorials discourage the use of liquid food coloring, but for reasons i didn't quite buy into. most of them say the addition of extra liquid throws off the ratios in the recipe, but in one batch i added a fraction of a drop, which was still ruined. yes, macarons are sensitive, but they're not THAT sensitive. instead i'm chalking it up to some ingredient in the liquid food coloring that destabilizes the batter. save yourself the time and ingredients - just use the gel or powder varieties instead. i like to add the food coloring to the egg whites when whipping them for the most even color distribution.
5) they get better with time.
store macarons in a plastic, lidded container in the fridge. a few days is best, where they will soften a bit. you can take them out and bring to room temperature before serving.
6) they do need to rest for at least 30 minutes prior to baking, longer if possible.
as impatient as i can be, this is one of those steps i'm tempted to cut short, if not disregard altogether. and while there are some recipes that insist with proper macaronage technique you can skip the resting - but so far i've found there's no real way to bypass this step. if the tops of the shells aren't left to dry properly i don't seem to get those cute ruffly feet on my macarons.
7) silicone mats are a must!
a lot of people swear by parchment paper, but for me silicone mats work best. i'm not a fan of the ones designed specifically for macarons, but just plain old flat silicone. my macarons bake more evenly, the bottoms are perfectly flat, and they seem to brown less.
8) equipment i can't get by without:
glass or stainless steel mixing bowls (set of 3)
fine mesh sieve
electric metal beater (either a stand mixer or hand variety)
plain round piping tip and piping bags
heavy, metal baking sheets
things there aren't a perfect formula for:
9) proper oven temperature
i discovered this weekend that my new oven runs a little hot. my macarons were overcooked so turning the temp down to 275 proved to be a fix for the foolproof macaron recipe. however for the chocolate macarons pictured above, 300 was perfect. this is just one of those trial-and-error factors you'll have to practice in your kitchen, in varying levels of humidity to get just right.
10) getting the batter consistency correct
this is the hardest part and unfortunately only practice makes perfect. to start, most say that about 50 folds is where your batter consistency should be correct. the mixture should be homogeneous, but still thick and viscous, about the consistency of honey, and slowly run off the spatula in a long ribbon. you can test to see if your batter is thin enough by drawing a figure "8" with the batter as it runs off your spatula. i like this video tutorial!!
this recipe is my new favorite, it makes a slightly smaller batch than the "foolproof" macaron recipe in the event i want to play with different colors/flavors etc.
3/4 cup of almond flour
1 cup powdered sugar
2 egg whites (room temperature)
pinch of cream of tartar (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
optional: gel food coloring (NOT liquid. i like this kit from americolor)
(for chocolate macarons add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder per egg white to the dry ingredients - in this case 2 tablespoons!)
| method |
line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats, and set aside. prepare a piping bag with a 1/2 inch round metal tip, held upright in a tall glass.
in a clean mixing bowl, whisk together the almond flour, powdered sugar (and cocoa powder, if using) until combined. then, sift the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl in 3 batches. discard any pieces that are too large to be sifted after each sifting. set aside.
in your uber clean mixing bowl, whip the egg whites on low speed for a minute or two, until foamy. add in your pinch of cream of tartar, and without turning the mixer off, slowly pour the sugar in a steady stream into the whipping egg whites. continue to whip, turning the mixer up to medium speed after a couple minutes*, then high speed, until you have achieved stiff peaks. *when your mixture has reached soft peaks, is usually when i add in the gel food coloring, then continue to whip until a stiff peaked meringue has formed.
now for one of the most important steps!! add half the almond meal mixture to the bowl of meringue, and gently fold to incorporate. once fully absorbed, dump in the other half of the almond meal, and continue the "macronage" process (see the video linked in #10!!!) until the batter is ready. getting the consistency of the batter perfect is really crucial for properly formed macarons.
transfer the batter to your piping bag, and gently pipe macarons an inch apart, slightly smaller than you would like (the batter will spread a little.) once all of your batter has been piped, pick your baking trays up and gently smack them on the counter to release any air bubbles. this will also cause the batter to spread ever so slightly, and smooth over any peaks that may be left in your batter. if it is the correct consistency the tops will become perfectly smooth. i bang the trays on the counter about four times, turning the tray each time so as to get each side evenly.
now in order to form the signature macaron feet, the batter needs to rest at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes. (on a particularly humid day this can take longer - almost an hour.)
while the macarons are resting, i preheat the oven. this is where things can also get a little tricksy - most recipes suggest you bake at 300-325 for approximately 15-18 minutes. i've found through trial and error my oven works best at 275 degrees, with the rack in the bottom 1/3 of the oven, for about 18-20 minutes.
once the shells have formed their skin, and are no longer tacky to the touch, i pop them in one tray at a time to bake. the macarons are done when you gently press the top and they do not wiggle, and easily come away from the silicone mat. some people say this is where parchment paper works best, they are easier to remove. for silicone you may need to wait a few minutes for them to cool in order to remove them successfully. allow the macarons to cool for a few minutes, before setting aside to cool completely.
pair your macarons up by size and fill with desired filling! sandwich together and enjoy! macarons should be stored in the fridge (for up to one week) and brought to room temperature prior to eating.
for cookies and cream macarons - dust very, very fine cookie crumbs over the macarons before you let them sit for the skin to form. (you don't want the pieces to be big enough to weigh the tops down or interfere with the batter too much - just a garnish.)
fill with buttercream laced with crumbs and the filling from 8 cookies and cream cookies.