More on French Macaroons (macarons)!
Here are a few new and not so new things I have learned on my macaroon experience. The French macaroon recipe, as everyone knows, appears to be very unforgiving. However, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to come out with perfect macaroon shells nearly every time. The key seems to be again, most important I always emphasize–oven temperature and the baking sheets.
I did an experiment of macaroons baked on professional-grade sheets compared to the home baking sheets. I discovered that macaroons do NOT like the home baking sheets. You need to get everything just right to come out with immaculate shells on the garbage grade of home baking sheets. If you are serious about making macaroons and getting them perfect, invest in a couple of professional-grade ones. They are made of heavier aluminum that circulates the heat in a way that 4 or 5 home baking sheets couldn’t even dream of. You can see the difference when you let the sheets cool. The home baking sheets will lose heat within 2-3 minutes even when stacked together, whereas the professional grade ones will need 10-15 minutes to get cooler. They are certainly the grade that all your favorite macaroon makers are using.
This is a tricky issue when it comes to using home baking sheets since you want the oven to be hot when you first pop them in. Using home-quality sheets would benefit from starting with a higher temperature and then lowering the temperature after the first few minutes.
Of course, again, every oven is different. Now that you have bought some professional-grade sheets, if your oven is very strong and hot, start at 300 degrees F. For average ovens, start at 325 F. You don’t want the temperature to be too low, otherwise they won’t develop their feet. You can always try again with the temperature turned up 5 degrees each time to achieve the perfect temp in your oven. Remember to always preheat your oven very well.
You should be able to get the macaroon shells off your sheet after you have taken them out of the oven (although leave them to cool on the sheet). If not, it might still be early to take them out of the oven. Leave them in and check them every minute or two until they do. However, do not let them brown. Very slight browning on the bottom is okay.
Naturally, mixing the batter is an issue. I wouldn’t even say the consistency of the meringue has that much of an effect unless it is super loose or very stiff and dry. Undermixing, which can still be problematic, is not as big of a deal as overmixing. Undermixing can lead the batter to have a very stiff appearance and you might get small bumps where the batter was piped, not to mention an air pocket after baking. Piping is a major concern when it comes to undermixed batter. Essentially, you will need to tap the baking sheets quite a bit more. If you have little bumps from the piping, what might help is moistening you finger just a little on a wet paper towel and coaxing the domes down with your finger. This doesn’t always work as they will sometimes rerise during baking. All in all, the undermixed batter is not nearly as unsalvageable and you might still get a few good shells from the batch (especially when using the professional grade sheets).
Overmixing is very difficult to overcome. It will usually lead to hideousness. The best method is to never let this happen. To prevent this, I recommend lightly folding the meringue and almond mixture together until mixed but you still see white streaks and almond flour streaks. At this point, watch very carefully one fold at a time until you don’t see any streaks anymore. Sometimes, when I feel I haven’t measured the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture too carefully, I will fold about half of it directly into the meringue (instead of the usual opposite) and slowly add more almond mixture until I get the right batter consistency.
*Here’s a little trick that I use. Some people like to draw the circles onto the parchment to bake the shells. Martha Stewart (clever woman) likes to dip her circle cutter into flour and mark her circles that way on the parchment. I also use a cutter, but I place a vinyl grip sheet (available at any 99 cent store) underneath the parchment and I make indentations with my cutter onto the parchment. When I am done I place the parchment onto my baking sheet. (Very bright lighting in your kitchen may make the circles a bit hard to see. Use a yellower light for this.)
*Refrigerate your shells in a closed container for two days to achieve ripeness.