French macarons have been on my to-bake-list for a while now. I’ve even tried making them once about 3.5 years ago with a total failure. Having read a lot about how tricky it is to make them has kept me away all this time.
But then, macarons are just almond COOKIES sandwiched together with all kinds of ganaches, buttercreams or even jams or curds. Just cookies, ok? So with a few tips and the right technique, they are completely achievable for the home baker.
I thought I’d be posting these way later than now, but I think in the past one month I’ve learnt a little bit about these tricky cookies to share my experience already. I use Italian meringue method.
Blog-checking lines: For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares: macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.
Before I start with the recipe, I thought I’d share my observations and problems I came across while making macarons. By the way, it took me 4 tries before I got them right, so I’ve learnt my lessons hard way, by experiencing some of the mistakes.
- Weighing scale is a “must”. The recipe for the shells is in grams. There is specific ratios of almonds to powdered sugar to meringue, so it is essential using weight rather than volume measurements, which are much less accurate.
- For Italian meringue method you also will need a candy thermometer in order to be able to boil the sugar syrup to a certain temperature.
- For the almond flour – I make my own (see directions below), but store-bought should work just fine. Just make sure to sift it and blitz in a food processor with a little of icing sugar used in the recipe (this way the nut flours don’t release as much oil, otherwise you may end up having something looking like paste rathen than flour!).
- Many sources recommend aging your egg whites when making macarons, but I haven’t found it necessary. The only stipulation is that the egg whites should be at room temperature (this helps them whip to maximum volume).
- Only use gel or powder food colourings and avoid liquid food colouring, as it can add too much unwanted moisture to the mix. I prefer gel ones, as I found powdered colours not to dissolve completely and leave streaks of darker colour during piping.
- Fold the batter. Don’t be afraid of knocking the air out. There’s no need to babysit it and be afraid to even breath at it, we are making cookies, remember?) The ready batter must have a flowing consistency, when you lift the spatula and the batter goes down in ribbons that disappear after a while – you got it right.
- Over- or underfolding both are not good for the final looks of the shells. Understanding the right consistency comes with practise though. But underfolded macaron shells most likely to burst during the baking (too much of air left in the batter) and the body of the sells will generally look rough and kinda rustic; overfolded ones will be too flat and thin and most likely won’t have any feet.
- Tap the tray slightly once you’re done piping macarons to flatten them just slightly and get rid of the air bubbles. If some bubbles surfaced but didn’t pop, help them to with a toothpick.
- If you folded your batter to the right consistency, there’s no need to leave the unbaked shells to rest for a long time to form some skin. My (logic) observation: if the batter is slightly undermixed, leave the shells to dry to form a strong skin to prevent the tops from cracking during baking.
- As to the oven temperatures, I can hardly advise anything here, as currently I have a gas oven with no temperature reading. So for me it’s a double achievement then!)) I can’t wait to try to bake them in my normal electric oven to see how much easier it’s going to be. I guess my oven temperature this time was somewhere around 320ºF/ 160ºC.
- Almond flour can be substituted for other nuts or even seeds, however their oil content can change the way the batter behaves, so it’s probably best to use almonds on your first try, and then play around once you’re confident in your macaron skills.
- Rest macarons in the fridge at least overnight for the textures to mature. Take our from the fridge 20-30 min. before serving to come to room temperature.
- Macarons can also be freezed for up to 3 months. Store them in an air tight container and remove from the freezer about 1 hour before serving.
Now, first things first: almond flour/ almond meal/ ground almonds. Here’s how I make my own. I make relatively large amounts in one go so that it lasts me longer.
Put whole almonds in a large bowl and fill it with boiling water to cover the nuts. Leave for 10 min. This time is enough for the skins to soak and soften. It’s really easy to remove the skins then. Chop the slievered nuts and place them in a large frying pan. Lightly toast them to get rid of all that moisture from soaking.
Now, since I use almond flour only for macarons, I weigh them and ground with icing sugar (the recipe calls for the same amounts of ground almonds and icing sugar). Weigh the almonds and prepare 3/4 of this weight in icing sugar. I do this because icing sugar is very fine and it all will go through the finest sieve, unlike ground almonds. Later, after sieving, I add more icing sugar to the mixture accordingly.
In a small chopper or food processor, put a few tablespoons (3 – 4) of each chopped almonds and icing sugar. Pulse a few times, then open the cover, clean the sides of the container and pulse the mixture again.
Push the mixture through a fine sieve placed over a big bowl and return bigger pieces that didn’t go through, to the processor again (I usually have about 1 tablespoon after each grounding) and top with more chopped almonds and icing sugar.
I normally end up having about 3 – 5 grams of almond pieces that cannot go through the sieve. Now, since I added less icing sugar in the beginning, it is the time to add the balance, according to the weight of almonds that didn’t go in. A little bit of Math required here. If I had, say, 200 g of chopped almonds in the beginning, and I added 150 g of icing sugar, and the whole of the sugar went through (all 150 g), and only 195 g of the almonds went in (200 – 5 g). Since there should be equal amounts of the ground almonds and sugar as per the recipe, I have to add 45 g more of the icing sugar to the mixture (195 – 150 g) and stir in order to distribute it.
I store the mixture in an airtight container and use as needed. Since I’ve done the sieving already, I don’t do it again when mixing the batter. If I used store-bought almond flour, I would though.
Basic Macaron Shells:
Recipe by Pierre Herme
Makes 20 – 25 filled macarons (40 – 50 shells)
- 100 g almond flour
- 100 g icing sugar
- gel or powdered food colouring, optional
- 73 g egg whites, divided into 36 and 37 grams
- 25 g water
- 100 g caster sugar
Prepare couple of trays and line them with silpat or baking paper.
Combine almond flour, icing sugar and colouring (if using) together in a bowl big enough to hold the meringue later on.
Place the 37 g of the egg white in the bowl of a standing mixer and the other 36 g together with the dry ingredients. Using a spatula, briefly combine it together to form a thick paste.
In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar together and heat to 244ºF/ 118ºC. In the meantime, start whisking the egg whites on medium. Once the syrup reaches 244ºF/ 118ºC, take it off the heat and pour it in the egg whites slowly and in a steady stream, directing it down from the side of the bowl and away from the whisk. Let it whisk on high untill it cools to about 104ºF/ 40ºC, until it holds stiff peaks.
Working in three additions of the meringue, add the 1/3 of it into the almond paste and mix vigorously with a rubber spatula until well combined and the mixture loosens up. Add in the second third and start folding the mixture. Slide gently the spatula from bottom to top and from top to bottom, making circular movements. Repeat this until the mixture is evenly blended. Add in the remaining meringue and fold until shiny and glossy and the mixture is lava-like. It should flow down nicely and continuously when you lift the spatula from a height.
Attach a plain 10 mm nozzle to a piping bag and fill it with the macaron mixture by scooping carefully with a spatula. Tighten the piping bag on top after filling it. It is very handy to use a bench scraper to help moving the batter towards the nozzle.
Pipe rounds of 3cm (not too much as they will spread) and space them at least 2 – 2.5 cm apart. It is very helpful to use a template placed under the silpat or baking paper to achieve an even sized cookies. Once the entire tray is done, tap it lightly on the surface to remove any big air bubbles in it and flatten them slightly. Set it aside for 30 minutes and continue piping the rest of the trays.
15 minutes before the resting time of the first tray is up, preheat the oven to 320ºF/ 160ºC.
Bake for about 12-15 min. until the shells are firm on top and the feet don’t wriggle too much.
Remove the silpat/baking paper from the hot tray and place it directly on a cool surface.
Repeat for the rest of the trays. Once they’re cool, you can start removing them from the silpats and match their sizes.
Now to the fun part! The filling options are countless, you can fill your macarons with almost any flavour you like. I’ll share the fillings I’ve tried so far.
Triple lemon macarons:
- 1 quantity macaron shells (I added zest of 1 lemon to the almond paste in the beginning and yellow gel food colouring)
- 1 egg white
- 40 g sugar
- zest of ½ lemon
- 60 g unsalted butter, cubed, softened
- 75 g lemon curd
These macarons were filled with Swiss lemon buttercream and lemon curd.
To make the Swiss lemon buttercream, fill a small saucepan 1/3 its height with water, bring to a gentle simmer.
Place the egg white and sugar in a heatproof bowl, set it over the hot water bath and whisk continuously until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites reach 140ºF/ 60ºC on the candy thermometer.
Remove from the water bath and beat the egg whites in the mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gradually add in the butter and lemon zest and continue beating until thick.
Fill a piping bag with a plain tip with the Swiss lemon buttercream. Pipe dollops of the buttercream onto one half of the macaron shell, top with ½ teaspoon of the lemon curd and sandwich with the other half. Repeat with the remaining shells.
Leave to chill in the fridge overnight.
Cherry chocolate macarons:
- 1 quantity macaron shells coloured cherry pink
- 65 g heavy cream
- 90 g dark chocolate, chopped
- 25 g unsalted butter
- 20 cherries from cherry jam
Bring the cream almost to the boil and pour it over chocolate. Leave it for 1 min., then stir to fully incorporate until smooth. Stir in the butter. Place in the fridge, taking it out to stir every 15 min. or so, until the ganache thickens.
Fill a piping bag with a plain tip with the ganache, pipe dollops of it onto one half of the macaron shell, top with a cherry and sandwich with the other half. Repeat with the remaining shells.
Leave to chill in the fridge overnight.
Adapted from Pierre Herme
- 1 quantity macaron shells coloured green
- 3 g fresh mint leaves
- 70 g heavy cream
- 90 g white chocolate, chopped
- 5 g/ 1 t Crème de menthe
- 30 g almond flour
- 15 g sugar
- pinch salt
- 80 g green peas, fresh or frozen
Bring the cream almost to the boil, remove fom the heat and add the mint leaves in. Leave for 10 min. to infuse. Process the contents in a blender and reheat again. Pour over the white chocolate, leave it for 1 min., then stir to fully incorporate until smooth. Stir in the Crème de menthe and almond flour. Place in the fridge, taking it out to stir every 15 min. or so, until the ganache thickens.
Meanwhile, In a small saucepan, boil 170 g water, add the sugar, salt and peas and cook for 4 min. Drain and let cool in ice water, pat them dry with paper towels.
Fill a piping bag with a plain tip with the ganache, pipe dollops of it onto one half of the macaron shell, top with 3 peas and sandwich with the other half. Repeat with the remaining shells.
Leave to chill in the fridge overnight.