The first time I made macarons, I had never eaten one before. This is an admittedly stupid, stupid way to approach baking and most other things in life too. How can you possibly know if you've successfully produced something if you have no idea what a good example of it looks/tastes like? In my case at that time, I was relying solely on the pictures in the recipes and articles I read and on Justin's discerning, French-loving taste buds to judge my first set of macarons. I've since made macarons numerous times, each time with more enjoyment, and also had them from professional bakeries numerous times, each time with about the same ecstatic consumption.
Since my macaron-baking, I've made some observations that I hope will help you in the process of baking macarons yourself. They do get easier each time you make them because you become more familiar with the macaronage technique. There will still be times when it seems you've done everything right and the macarons develop weird, lopsided feet or no feet at all, but even then they will taste yummy. I hope these tips and sources I've compiled hope you get the results you want more times than not.
French Style Macarons: Tips, Tricks, and Sources
- Macarons are not the same as macaroons. Macarons are delicate cookies made from egg whites, almond flour, and sugar while macaroons are made from shredded coconut.
- There are two different methods of baking macarons - the French method and the Italian method. I've heard many reports that the Italian method is easier and more reliable, but I've never tried it and it does require a candy thermometer.
- The most important elements of macaron baking are sifting the almond flour and powdered sugar (many, many times), aging egg whites, whipping egg whites into stiff peaks, and using the proper macaronage technique to fold in the almond flour.
- There are a variety of theories and on aging egg whites, including that it isn't necessary at all. Aging occurs when the egg white is separated from the yolk and stored in loosely covered container in a cool, dry place. I've found it's helpful for producing consistent results. I have found, though, that leaving egg whites at room temperature for 2 hours is plenty of time for the process. Other bloggers and bakers believe that egg whites should be aged anywhere from 24 - 48 hours in advance.
- The white strands you find in some egg whites is called the chalazae. Finding them in your eggs is a good thing - it means your eggs are fresh! When I'm making macarons, I leave my egg whites at room temperature for 2 hours, then remove this white strand. I don't have any proof that this helps with my stiff peaks, but I wholeheartedly believe it does.
- Always, always measure your egg whites. Don't trust that 2 large eggs weigh the same and will give you the right results. Macarons are finicky and precise and measuring EVERYTHING is an essential step in obtaining good results.
- Before beating your egg whites, run the inside and outside of your mixing bowl under hot water. This helps warm the eggs up more and warm eggs are easier to whip up into a nice, voluminous meringue. This also helps to ensure there is no residual fat from a previous use left in your bowl.
- Always use an impeccably clean bowl for whipping up the meringue. I have ruined batches of would-be macarons by making my macarons in a bowl that had even the tiniest bit of butter on the side or even a smidgen of yolk. Be careful of this.
- The egg whites should be beaten all the way until stiff peaks. At this stage, the whites will appear smooth, shiny, and thick. When you flick your mixers out of the egg whites, they should hold stiff, tall peaks that don't curl at their tips. This will take several minutes and there's a great guide to the different meringue stages at The Kitchn.
- Sift your almond flour and powdered sugar four to five times before adding it into the meringue. The almond flour and sugar are, of course, very important additions, but if large chunks of sugar or flour are added to the delicate meringue, they will prevent the macarons from developing feet. I sift the almond flour in a large bowl, sift the powdered sugar into that bowl, then whisk to combine the two. I then sift the combined sugar and almond flour mix again, measuring the amount that is left over in my fine mesh strainer. I sift in the amount that was left over during the second sifting, then sift it all AGAIN. Finally, when I add the mixture to the meringue, I sift it in. I don't regret all this sifting in the least.
- After sifting the almond flour and powdered sugar into the egg whites, you will fold the mixture with a rubber spatula. To properly do this, slide a rubber spatula beneath the egg whites and fold up and around, folding the egg whites back onto themselves. At first, it wil seem as if the flour won't combine with the meringue, but it will begin to after about ten folds. Some bloggers recommend a specific number of times to fold, but this tactic hasn't ever worked for me. It's more important to pay attention to the consistency of the batter itself.
- Fold your ingredients until the batter is able to run off the spatula at the rate and consistency of honey or maple syrup. This is often referred to as the molten lava stage too. Whichever imagery works for you.
- Another great tip to know when to stop folding is to attempt to draw a figure eight with the batter as it pours off the tip of the spatula. If the figure eight is visible in the batter, stop folding.
- It is better to under-fold than to over-fold. After you have finished, your batter will go into a piping bag so an over-folded batter will be worked a bit more while in the piping bag. An over-folded batter will go into the piping bag and even more of the air in the egg whites will be squeezed out. Sad, deflated, no-feet macarons.
- Your ingredients should be addressed in this order: egg whites beaten to foam, cream of tartar added, egg whites and cream of tartar beaten until visible trials, castor sugar added 1/3 at a time and beaten after each addition, gel food coloring added before stiff peaks, beat until stiff peaks, sift in 1/3 of almond and powdered sugar mixture, fold until incorporated, sift in remaining almond flour and sugar, fold until batter passes the figure 8 test.
- Always pipe the macarons using a piping bag.
- Always pipe macarons onto a silipat mat or onto parchment paper.
- After piping, rap your baking against the counter several times. This helps the macarons achieve a more perfect shape and also will rid the cookies of any air bubbles. If you have any tails on the macarons from piping, rapping the trays will help this go down as well.
- After rapping, let the macarons rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Not all bakers do this, and it isn't always necessary. You do need to wait until the macarons have developed a "skin" or look dull and matte.
- Bake at the appropriate temperature. Many recipes recommend around 320 degrees and this has always worked for me.
- After about 12 minutes in the oven, check the macarons. If they pull away from the silipat, they are ready to come out.
Macaron Sources and Videos: