The Joy...and (Sometimes) Dismay...of Macarons (not macaroons)
Updated: Jun 6, 2018
Macarons eh...delicious crisp 'n' chewy almond meringue shells filled with ganache, curds, ice cream or some other dairy-based filling. They have a reputation for being notoriously difficult to make and admittedly I was put off from making them for a number of years before I decided to face my fears....what a brave boy eh!
There are two main methods to making a macaron, based on the French or Italian style of making meringues, combining the whisked egg white/sugar mixture with an icing sugar/ground almond combo. As some of you may know, the latter method of making meringues involves pouring a hot sugar syrup (at approximately 120c) in to the whisked egg whites, whereas in the French method caster sugar is mixed in to the whisked egg whites. I've tried both methods but think the French method is less finicky and have had much more success this way.
The two key elements of the process are making sure you keep just the right amount of bubbles in the mixture as you mix the egg whites and almond/icing sugar mixture together, and allowing the piped out meringues to dry for long enough before putting them in to the oven. Getting these two aspects right will ensure you get the characteristic frilly feet, just the right amount of rise and a smooth top!
For a tray of approximately 20 shells at a diameter of 4cm I use the following mix of ingredients:
100g icing sugar
60g of ground almonds
70g of egg whites (this just under the weight of two large eggs)
40g caster sugar
Blitz the icing sugar and ground almonds in a food processor for 7 bursts to ensure that both elements are properly combined. Don't overdo it as this could cause the almonds to release their oil which could break down the air bubbles in the whisked egg whites.
Pass this mixture through a sieve. I find that there are normally a few coarser bits of almond left which I discard (or keep if you're baking something with almonds). Put the bowl aside.
Whisk your egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl, Pyrex or metal is best (you can rub your equipment with lemon juice if you want to make sure you get rid of any impurities). Start slow and finish quick until your egg whites are firm and look almost dry.
Mix in the caster sugar in three lots, making sure that each batch is fully combined before pouring in the next (any undissolved grains can give the macaron a grainy texture and melt in to a caramel causing the macaron to weep). If you want to check that all of the sugar is mixed in just rub some of the egg white mixture between your fingers and see if it feels smooth.
Take the bowl containing the almond/icing sugar mixture and add approximately 1/2th of the egg whites along with any food colouring you want to use (use concentrated gel so that the amount of added liquid is minimised (I've always had good results with Wilton)).
Mix thoroughly and add more food colouring if you need to (the egg whites will dilute the colour a little). Don't worry if you're a little vigorous at this point - it's more about making sure that the almond/egg whites are thoroughly mixed and loose enough to allow the rest of the egg whites to be added more gently.
Don't go too crazy with mixing in the rest of the egg whites - fold them in - but make sure that all of the whites are mixed in (macarons are not like meringues, and do need a bit of the air bashed out of them otherwise the mixture will rise too much). Some say the resulting consistency should be that of lava - I don't know about you though, but I have never been near a volcanic lava flow, so haven't had any first hand experience on what lava looks like, but feel free to watch some YouTube videos. As long as you've mixed in the egg whites completely, while not over-working the mixture, you should be pretty close to what's required.
Line a thin baking tray with a sheet of baking parchment (secured at each corner with a small dab of mixture. Take a piping bag, cut a 1cm hole off the end and fill it. If you need to, mark out circular shapes on the paper, and pipe out the mixture to 2/3rds of the final size you want.
Once everything is piped, drop the tray from a foot height on to your work surface or floor. This step is important as it helps to release any trapped air bubbles, evens out the appearance and gets rid of the little piping 'nipple' on top (the mixture will also splay out, hence why it wasn't piped out full size).
At this stage you can decorate your macarons will sprinkles, edible glitter etc.
Now reeeeeessssttt....The macarons need to be left for a while so that the top dries out. The time this takes depends on how humid and warm it is where you are. In winter, I normally stick the tray under a radiator for a couple of hours, but in summer this normally isn't necessary. This step can take up to two hours after which time the surface of the macaron should feel completely dry to the touch. Turn your oven on, 140c for fan-assisted, 155c for non-fan.
Cooking the macarons may require a little bit of experimentation as all ovens are different and will probably have hot-spots in certain parts (unless you've got an expensive fancy pants one).
140c is normally good for 4-5cm ones. Bake for 7 mins, quickly open the oven and bake for another 5 mins, checking that the surface of the macaron isn't discolouring (if it is, turn the oven down 5-10c (the macaron should have risen as much as it's going to, so will just need drying out). For smaller macarons, the oven can be turned up to 150c and baking time reduced by a couple of minutes.
Take the macarons out and leave to cool on the baking tray. If you find they're not dry enough on the bottom or have discoloured try experimenting with the temperature and cooking times a little to see what works best for your oven.
Decorating and Storage
Once the macarons have cooled you can decorate them further, such as painting them or dripping melted chocolate over them. They can then be stored either unfilled or filled in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days (ganache, buttercream or curd will be fine for this time too) before after baking, or the freezer (unfilled) for up to 4 months.
Have a think about what some of your favourite cake fillings are and try incorporating these in to the fillings:
dark, milk or white chocolate ganache
fruit curds or conserves
Free your mind and your ass will follow, as Funkadelic said.