At first glance, macarons seem so frou-frou. A rainbow of colors, indulgent fillings, fancy flavors and embellishments… These are not what attracted me to macarons. What’s got me obsessed is the science behind it. It’s truly daunting! Temperature, time, humidity, viscosity… sounds like a science project, right? It is.
The creative, artsy component to macaron making is the easiest part. First, you have to perfect the base recipe. That’s the holy grail.
After having taken a specific class on macaron making, and researched books and blog sites online, I thought that I could find a fool-proof recipe. I wish I could say that I found one to share but no. What I learned from all my research is that so-called fool-proof recipe, techniques, tips and tricks out there can’t all work in my kitchen. What I need to figure out is a combination of these tips and tricks will actually work for me given the conditions in my kitchen. It’s very subjective.
- The climate where I live is very humid. In fact, some might say that I shouldn’t even insist on baking macarons because humidity is its enemy.
- My equipment is unique to my kitchen. The oven is the single most critical equipment! The oven we used in class was a convection oven. You just program the correct temperature you want and it will auto adjust to keep that temperature even. Perfect! Not my oven. I have a conventional oven. It tends to be hot. Baking with my oven means that I can’t leave the kitchen and come back just when the timer goes off. I have to watch the oven thermometer and adjust the temperature as needed.
- Ingredients I use depends on what’s accessible. Some recipes list down specific brands or the kind of food dye to use, etc.
Therefore, the fool-proof recipe that will work in my kitchen is one that I will have to figure out by myself by experimenting until I find the perfect combination. This post is about my first attempt at baking macarons – the first of a hopefully not-so-long quest for the perfect base recipe.
Macarons have to be planned ahead. For most other pastries, I can get away with being impulsive. Recently, I craved for eclairs, baked some and had one for dessert on the same day. Macarons, on the other hand, needs planning.
- Ariston 90cm Conventional (Gas) Oven
- Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, Artisan Series
- Bravetti Food Processor
- Terraillon Poem Kitchen Scale
- 2 pcs Norpro Flat Baking Sheets
- Metal Fine Mesh Sieve
- Unbleached, Silicon-coated Parchment Paper (Baking Divas)
- SILPAT baking mat
- Silicon Spatulas
- Stainless Steel Bowls for dry ingredients
- Pyrex 2 cup capacity Measuring Cup (used as piping bag stand)
- Wilton 2A Piping Tips
- Reusable Heavy 14″ Piping Bags
- 2 metal cooling racks
Weather conditions at baking day: 33 deg C / 91 deg F, 80-90% humidity. I am including this information because it matters! Even if you use exactly the same equipment and ingredients as mine, your weather conditions will definitely be different from mine. It’s impossible to recreate all conditions exactly. This means that you will have to experiment a few times to get to your perfect combination!
Day 1 to 3 (up to 5) is for aging egg whites.
Honestly, I was apprehensive about aging egg whites. For any other purpose, we want the freshest, right? Macarons and maybe even souffles, benefit from aged egg whites. This process is necessary to remove a little moisture while keeping the protein bonds intact.
I planned for 2 days but it rained and the weather became so humid (over 90%) … and the day after that. So, I ended up with 5 days old egg whites. I just made sure I smelled them before doing anything.
Some say that aging is a myth or that 10 seconds in the microwave oven can hasten the aging process. I don’t have a microwave oven but I will try fresh egg whites soon. But for my first attempt, I’ve chosen to try aged egg whites!
Egg whites of 3 eggs, weighing more than 100 gm : lightly whisked, aged 3 to 5 days in the fridge, covered with a paper towel, with tiny punctured holes.
Day 5 (or as early as Day 3!):
Bring egg whites to room temperature, as well as almond meal (if stored in the fridge). All ingredients must be at room temperature.
Thoroughly wash mixer bowl, spatulas, mixer whisk. They need to be free of even the smallest trace of grease or water. Grease will affect the quality of the meringue. Leave to air dry while eggs are acclimatizing.
Prepare a parchment sheet to be used as the macaron template. I prefer smaller macarons – fewer calories in every serving and more to share! My template makes a minimum of 24 pieces of 3cm macaron shells. I used the wide end of a piping tip and a drawing pencil. Outlines are dark and bold to show thru the Silpat mat.
Bring out all equipment at arms reach.
Re-measure egg whites (100 gm) and weigh almond meal and powdered sugar, with a digital kitchen scale.
- 125 gm almond meal
- 200 gm powdered sugar
- pinch of fine sea salt
- powdered food dye, if using (I used gel so you will see it later during macaronnage.)
In a food processor, pulse 4 to 6 times at 3 second durations. Between pulses, scrape sides of bowl with a spatula. Don’t forget the pinch of salt! Some bakers add the salt to the egg whites instead. I forgot where I read it but salt can affect the stability of the egg whites. I will try adding the salt to egg whites in my next experiment though, just to find out if it really makes a difference.
You can pulse a few more times but let the motor rest in between pulses and don’t be tempted to keep the motor running to get a fine powder! Pulsing for longer durations will heat up the dry ingredients that might cause the almonds to release oil. It will turn to paste and your day will be ruined!
On a big sheet of parchment paper, sift the almond meal-powdered sugar-salt mixture thru a fine mesh sieve. TWICE. Discard the larger particles that didn’t pass thru the sieve or save them for cookies and crusts!
Weigh and combine caster sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.
50 gm caster sugar
15 gm cornstarch
Put egg whites in the mixer bowl. Dump the caster sugar and cornstarch all at once.
Yes, all at once. I know that some prefer whisk the egg whites to foamy texture before starting to add the sugar and cornstarch gradually. If it works for you, go ahead! But this worked for me and it’s less fussy.
Take the whisk attachment from your stand mixer or just use a hand mixer without powering on, and hand-whisk briefly until just incorporated. No need to baby this. Just whisk away. The electric mixer will do the rest later. Of course you can use a hand whisk but that’s just another thing to wash later. Pretty sure your sink is full by now.
Attach the bowl and whisk to the stand mixer and whisk at medium-fast speed (Kitchen Aid 6-8) until the meringue gets glossy white and stiff peaks form. Better to overbeat the meringue than stop when it’s still soft!
And now we’re at the dreaded part: MACARONNAGE!
There’s a lot of tutorials online on how to do this properly. So much that it can get overwhelming! I actually just shut down and remembered how our chef/instructor did it in class. It has a fancy name, yes. But really, it just means to fold and press the dry ingredients into the meringue using a spatula. Google it or watch a YouTube tutorial. There is no easier way to learn than seeing it being done. Some books will say it takes 15 folds, some 18, some 50. There’s no magic number. I reached 15 and thought I was done. Not.
Make a well in the center of the meringue and pour the dry ingredients in. With one hand holding the bowl, and the other one holding the spatula, start folding until the dry ingredients look uniformly distributed, turning the bowl as you go. I believe this is called the “J stroke” because the motion is like drawing a letter J. Add the gel color at the point when you still have quite a few strokes to go until you’re done. Since I used Wilton Gel color that came in pots, I used toothpicks to scoop out a few dots of red to get pink. The wet color you will see in the mixture will get lighter when baked.
Remember to scoop the bottom of the mixture, lifting and pressing to the side of the bowl. This is necessary to make sure there are no clumps of dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl. When you’re almost done, the surface of the mixture will look smoother and shinier. To test if you’re done, run the tip of a knife on the surface of the mixture and observe how the mixture settles back. If the line disappears in less than 10 seconds, you’re done. Another test is to lift the spatula and let the mixture fall back into the bowl. When it flows slowly in the form of a thick ribbon, STOP!
Assemble your piping bag and piping tip, making sure to “lock” the bag to prevent leakage.
Scoop into the prepared piping bag and prop it in a heavy glass measuring cup or a similar, heavy -bottomed container. Twist the top to prevent air from getting in.
If there’s any leftover mixture in the mixer bowl, place a sheet of shrink-wrap directly on the surface to prevent drying until you will need to refill the piping bag. This recipe fits perfectly in a 14 inch bag.
At this point, if you’ve decided to embellish the macaron shells, now is the time to prepare minced dried fruit, nuts, or dusting powder. Since I am making Strawberry macarons, I prepared some dried strawberries to be set on top of freshly piped macarons. They have to be done quickly while the shells are wet.
Get 2 baking sheets and put one on top of the other. Yes, I baked in a double layer of baking sheets to protect the bottoms of the macaron shells from browning. If you have an insulated sheet, one will probably suffice. Convection ovens will probably not require a double layer. In class, we used a single perforated baking sheet with parchment paper in a convection oven.
Place the template on top of the baking sheet, then place the Silpat mat on top of the template. The template will be visible under the Silpat mat.
Position the piping bag at 90 degrees, with the tip centered on the template, 1/4″ from the Silpat mat surface. Apply pressure evenly and stop when the template is almost filled. Pull counterclockwise, parallel to the mat to release. Work from right to left if you are right to left if you are right-handed, and opposite if left-handed. This will prevent brushing the wet macarons with your wrist or sleeve.
When done piping, gently slip off your template paper to reuse for your next batch. At this point, the macaron shells will have peaks like chocolate kisses. Not to worry, what comes next is fun! Hold the sides of the baking sheet and bang the whole sheet a few times on your countertop or a wooden table. Rotate and bang again. Yes, it will be noisy!
This is the time to channel your aggression at the fussy little things that has taken so much of your time and stressed you out since you decided you wanted to try making them! Stop when the rounds are more even, surfaces flat. You will see visible bubbles that have risen to the surface. Gently pop bubbles with a toothpick.
At this point, the surface of the macaron shells are still sticky. Quickly embellish, pressing gently with a toothpick.
Leave to dry for a minimum of 30 minutes. During a more humid day or when it’s raining outside, let dry for up to 1 hour. This drying time will create a thin hard outer shell. Since it was around 85% humidity in my kitchen, I let mine rest for an hour. Preheat the oven to 300F with 30 minutes drying time to go. Do not over-dry. Over-drying will harden them too much and prevent the formation of the “feet”!
I actually baked a batch at 350 F and 320 F and got slight browning at the bottoms of my macaron shells. My baker friend and culinary classmate suggested that I lower the temp to 300 F next time.
Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the sheet at 5 minutes.
At precisely 3 minutes in the oven, magic happened! Feet!
My macaron shells started rising, showing their beautiful feet! They will continue to rise and develop the feet up to a little over 4 minutes. Yes, I was watching the oven window like a hawk!
At 5 minutes, I rotated the tray and noticed the temperature rising. So I wedged a wooden spoon on the door until the temperature fell a bit. I found this tip in numerous blogs.
10 minutes done! Out of the oven, and resting on a cooling rack!
The macaron shells need to cool down before gently removing from the mat. Best to have 2 Silpat mats to alternate. I only have one so I tried the next batch using only parchment paper. The bottoms came out a little browned but not burnt. I will try baking at 300 F next time to find out if that will solve the browning problem. If using parchment, quickly pour 2-3 tablespoons of water under the parchment paper immediately after bringing out of the oven. The water will create steam under the parchment and this will make it easier to lift the macaron shells once they have cooled a bit.
Now for the filling. As this is my first attempt, I only tried the most basic filling – buttercream frosting with strawberry extract. It’s the easiest to make. Just whip 1/2 cup butter in a mixer until creamy, then add 1/4 cup of cream or milk, 2 cups of powdered sugar (I did 3 cups and I cringed – too sweet!), and 2 teaspoons of strawberry extract (start with 1 teaspoon and add until the desired level of color and flavor is reached). Mix until fluffy. Transfer to a piping bag with a 1 cm piping tip (same size as the one used for macaron shells).
You can mix in some pureed fruit too, if you wish. Next time, I think I’ll try fruit jam or marmalade instead of extract.
Transfer macaron shells from parchment / Silpat mat to a cooling rack. Arrange the shells in pairs of the same diameter. Flip half of the pairs to prepare for frosting.
Pipe the frosting into the flipped shells, aiming for a 2:1 ratio.
I saw a pot of dark pink pearl dust in a shop a few days before so I decided I’d try it on my first macaron experiment!
When the shells are dry, put a teaspoon of vodka in a container and a little of the pearl dust in another container. Dip a dry brush in vodka and smear with the pearl dust. Practice brush strokes in the used parchment paper (the one used for sifting) and then lightly brush the macaron surface from one end to another.
Next, gently cover the filled macaron shells, turning the top shell while squeezing the filling. The filling should just reach the edge of the shells.
And there you have it! Macarons!
And the last step… Yes, we’re not done yet! Gently arrange in a container, separating each layer with parchment. Cover the container.
Refrigerate overnight. This is a crucial step so don’t be tempted to start devouring them! The macaron shells at this point, will be too crunchy and taking a bite will mean that the filling will ooze out just as you sink your teeth into the macaron. That is not the experience we are aiming for. This is not an oreo cookie!
Letting them rest in the fridge overnight will give the macaron shells time to absorb some moisture from the filling. We are aiming for a thin crunchy outer skin, and a softer layer underneath. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!
The next day, bring the macarons to room temperature before serving. Best served with tea.
I’m excited to try more exotic flavors and colors! Got some powdered green tea, black sesame seeds, dried blueberries, raspberry marmalade, and hazelnuts in my pantry… Yes. A new addiction just started!
I’m sharing these very helpful links, in case you’d like to try making macarons! Enjoy!