Making perfect macarons
After testing a few methods, I have a few pieces of good advice on making macarons. There are many good recipes out there, but that is not going to be my main concern here. These are just a few things you can do to ensure you come out with good batches.
- Be sure to prepare all your materials beforehand as you do not want to be pressed for time after the batter has been mixed. This means, if using piping tips and bags, have everything assembled and ready. Have your parchment paper cut and placed on your baking sheets.
- Double or multi-layer your baking sheets. I have some really heavy high-quality baking sheets. I only need to double them. For regular home-use baking sheets I recommend stacking at least 3 or 4 baking sheets. You want the right amount of heat and air circulating.
- Most important: Know your oven! Invest in an oven thermometer and figure out if your oven temperature matches what is indicated on your gauges. Typically, your oven will be cooler towards the door and hotter towards the center and back. With my own oven, I find that 320 degrees F, will work well for macarons for about 10-11 minutes. Some recipes call for turning up the temp to 350 and then lowering it after a few minutes. The best advice I have, is to make sure your oven is well pre-heated. When you hear the beep that your preheating is done, wait another 20 minutes before you pop them in the oven. This is always a tough one, because I believe that macarons bake differently in everyone’s ovens. You may have to try a few different tricks before you find the one that works solidly.
- Don’t go by: “Fold whites into almond mixture until batter resembles magma.” This is poor advice as even over-beaten batter appears magma-like. Your batter should be just well-incorporated. Of course, be sure you use a light touch when folding in the meringue. See if peaks in your batter remain. This is a good sign. However, you don’t want the peaks to appear too stiff or dry either. This may indicate that you have rather dry meringue or too little liquid. On the other hand, you don’t want the peaks to disappear within the first second or so, which can indicated overmixing.
- Follow the whole recipe. Don’t take short cuts. Do process the almond flour and powdered sugar. Do sift it afterwards.
- No matter which method you use, you just need to have the right proportions of ingredients and the right consistency of batter to come out with perfect macarons.
- I, personally, did not see any difference in aging or not aging the egg whites.
- I don’t believe the italian meringue method is more reliable. It just has a little more leeway in that you don’t have to keep close track of the meringue (although I hear this is the preferred method for Pierre Herme and some other greats). Personally, I do not prefer the italian meringue method. If you are using the classic french method, make sure you get the meringue to hold soft peaks. Do NOT beat until you have a very stiff meringue. The meringue should be wet in appearance and very soft. It should fall up itself softly, but should also hold on the whisk. It should NOT have the consistency of an italian meringue. The italian meringue is stiffer, whiter, and has a more uniform and solid appearance. The italian method offsets the stiffness with an equal amount of unbeaten egg whites. When not using italian meringue, watch your whites carefully and stop every minute or so when whipped up to make sure you are not overbeating. If you prefer, just before reaching stiffness, remove from the stand-mixer and beat by hand. I recommend using a french whip as it is heavier. I actually use the swiss method, but with the same proportions as the french method. This seems to work fine. I don’t believe there is a “smoking gun” with macaron recipes. You can still very much botch up macarons using the italian meringue.
- I don’t feel that leaving the piped meringues to dry for 20-30 minutes impacts the finished products dramatically or positively. As far as I can tell, popping them in the oven straightaway is totally fine.
- Do rap and tap the sheets on your counter after piping to settle the shape and any air pockets in the batter.
- As mentioned before macarons call for powdered sugar (sans cornstarch), which is hard to find in the states. However, regular confectioners’ shouldn’t prevent you from making good macarons. You can have normal and lovely macarons even with the presence of cornstarch.
- Be very careful that you handle the finished shells on their sides, as the tops are very delicate.
- After your macarons develop their feet (which they do well passed halfway done), watch carefully so they do not start browning. You should be able to cleanly take off macarons off the baking sheet even straight from the oven. If not, you either did something wrong or you should stick them in for a minute or two more. Some people like to slip a bit of water under the parchment paper to loosen them. This has over a 90% success rate. But it is tricky not getting any water on the macarons or on top of the sheet. My favorite method is putting them in the freezer after cooling. They will come right off.
- The finished product should be a very delicate shell… somewhat chewy at the base, and a delicate layer of crunch on top. When cut in half, the shell should crumble a bit. It shouldn’t snap like a wafer. When biting into a macaron, one should be able to realize the sugar syrup that has “settled” at the bottom, and light airiness of the meringue on top.
After all of this… I’d like to close by saying, you’ll it after messing up a few batches. There is no “magic” recipe that one can follow. Once you have made a few batches, you’ll finally start seeing what consistency you want your batter to be, and baking them at the right temperature for your oven. There is some leeway when it comes to the consistency and the recipe, but not much. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.
* Too find out even more helpful info, go to my other post “More on Macarons”.