Wednesday, October 03, 2012


I swore off ever writing about macarons, but I've had so many customers come to discuss the making of them, that I thought I'd share my experience and advice.  I, myself, have struggled with them on and off, and just when I think I've worked out all the kinks, disaster unfolds!  They have definitely been the most puzzling and often irritating products I've ever made.  We had another humid summer here this here, which wreaks havoc with anything meringue - there was a point when I even questioned whether I knew how to make them at all, after nearly two years of producing them for sale. So why do I keep making the little devils?  Well, I still smile at the sheer beauty of the finished beauties, and of course, to the delight of my ever-appreciative customers. 

It all began with looking over the class offerings at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for an upcoming trip - this was in 2010.  One of the classes that fit in with my schedule was Sweet & Savoury Macarons.  I'd seen them, of course, who hadn't, by that point?  They were already en vogue in major cities across North America, reported to be 'the new cupcake'.  I had never had one, yet I instinctly knew this would be a great new product for my booth at the Saskatoon Farmer's Market.  They were not really yet being done in Saskatoon and they just seemed like a great fit.  So, take the class I did.

In the class, everything was premeasured out for us, but I found out a little about the ingredients.  The almonds are from Spain, whereas ours are from California, and California almonds are known to be more oily.  I put this in my memory bank for later when I would be experimenting with macarons at home.  The egg whites, as it turns out, are aged for several days at room temperature (!).  I immediately knew I wouldn't be following this step - I could see public health being all over that one. 

My first batch turned out great - I see now that one of the insurances we were given was making very tiny macarons.  One of the first secrets - the smaller the macaron, the greater your chances at success.  It's just physics, with the strength of the batter vs. the diameter of the shell the legs have to support.  Legs are the ruffly part of the macaron on the bottom - an essential characteristic of a good macaron.  When I came home, I tried making them bigger, and soon found out that I was going to have to play with the recipe/technique.  I ended up settling on a recipe that seems to work well for my climate and the materials available to me (ie. California almonds).   The recipe, which should yield approximately 40 complete macarons, is: (and yes, you do really need to go by weight)

~215 grams of egg whites (the whites from 6 large/extra large eggs should yield this)
250 grams of almond flakes (flakes are 'drier' than whole almonds, so best to use them)
400 grams of icing sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (this is to help stabilize the egg whites)
30 grams white sugar
*Note - I have made chocolate here - decrease the icing sugar amount by 30 grams and replace it with cocoa.  I have also used brown colouring.

As far as aging, I have altered my technique several times.  Currently, I place the egg whites in an uncovered container and set in the freezer.  I've been letting them sit there for a day or so, then thawing out at room temperature.  With my routine, I then place them in the refrigerator and take them out a couple hours before using.  This seems to age them enough.  The freezing helps remove moisture from the egg whites, which is essentially what you want to do in the aging process.

To make my almond flour, I use a food processor.  If you don't have one, you can buy almond meal already prepared, but it will cost you a bit more.  I place the almonds with approx. half of the icing sugar, then process until it starts to stick on the bottom (the flour).  I take a large serving spoon and scrape the mixture up from the bottom, then repeat.  I do this approx. 7 times.    Add the remaining icing sugar, then pass through a sieve.  There should be very few almond pieces that are too big to pass through.  If you find you do have a lot, then reprocess the remainder and re-sieve.  Toss what doesn't go through the sieve.

Now, the eggs.  They should be at room temperature - if not, place in a microwave on defrost for 15 seconds and test with your finger.  Repeat, if needed.  Place in the mixture bowl and start on about medium.  You want to do a gradual increasing of speed to allow for maximum volume.  When the whites are frothy, add the cream of tartar. 

Once the whites are, well, 'white', and showing the beginning of shallow peaks, add the sugar in three increments.  Increase the speed to med/high.  Once you have soft peaks (the 'beak' of the whites will droop, these are very soft whites shown here), increase the speed to high.  Beat until the whites are a strong-looking white colour and the sides almost start to 'slide' on the bowl.  Test by stopping the beater and checking that the beak of the whites stay completely upright when the beater is held upside down.  The whites should also stay in the bowl if the bowl is inverted. 
This is the point where you add colouring - there is such a thing as powdered colour, which I have never seen around, so I use gel paste.  You want to add the least liquid to the whites as possible.  I add anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon, depending on the intensity you want.  Beat until the colour is mostly incorportaed  - you will finish mixing it in in the next step.  You are now ready for the crucial step of mixing the almond flour with the whites!

Transfer the whites to a very large bowl.  Sprinkle over about 1/2 of the almond flour.  With a large spatula, gently fold the mixture.  When it looks like the almond flour has been pretty much incorporated, add the rest of the flour.  Continue to fold; once the flour is incorporated, use a spoon and scrape off the spatula.  Using the back of the spatula (you are simulating a large bowl scraper), continue folding, working your way along the sides of the bowl.  Once the mixture looks cohesive and not streaky with egg white, do a 'flow' test.  The mixture should flow like lava, as it is traditionally described.  It should also begin to fall off the spatula in ribbons.  This is the point where you can overbeat the batter by even a couple of strokes and have your macarons not turn out.  If they are flowing off the spatula in a quickly falling ribbon, you've gone too far.  If this has happened, take my advice and make very tiny macarons.  It's your best chance at success.

Scrape the mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a 1 cm tip.  I use silpat baking liners because I get a near perfectly round macaron.  I have yet to get roundness when using parchment - I think the parchment I have access to is very thin.  The parchment we used in Paris was quite thick and very waxy.  Pipe out small circles (about and inch to an inch and a half), allowing enough room between for spreading.  I get rows of five across.

You now need to let them sit and develop a bit of a skin.  I use the aid of a fan to speed this up because I make several batches at once, which only takes about 20 min per batch for the skin to form.  Without a fan, it will take roughly 45 minutes.  You should be able to lightly touch the surface of a macaron and not be sticky.

Oven temperature - this depends on your oven entirely.  I use a commercial convection oven at 250F, which translates to 300F for regular ovens.  I bake 9 minutes, then turn the pans (you may not need to do this in a regular oven) about bake another 9 minutes.  At the end of the 18 minutes, I gently try to move the top of one of the macarons.  If it gives, I bake another minute, then test again.  If it is giving, they are not cooked all the way through and you will struggle to get them off the liners/parchment.  Plus, the texture will be too wet for the final macaron.

When cool, remove them from the parchment/silpat, peeling from underneath if necessary (you place your index finger under the siplat/parchment and push along the surface of the macaron - the cookie should pop off.  They are ready to ice now, or you can store them in the freezer until you're ready for that step.  I fill them from frozen, they are less fragile and easier to deal with.

Honey Buttercream:
Now you can fill them with whatever you like, but I use a honey butter cream.  The beauty is I get to use up the 6 egg yolks from a batch of macarons!
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup honey, divided
1 pound butter, softened

Beat the egg yolks in a mixer until light and thickened.  Add 1/3 cup boiling honey, pouring slowly down the side on medium speed.  Beat until the bowl has cooled completely.  Add the butter in 1/8th of a pound increments.  When combined, add the remaining 1/3 cup honey (room temperature).  Beat until combined.  Flavour as desired.

Place the macaron shells in pairs of similar size/shapes.  Fill with the buttercream and gently sandwich together.  Store in the refrigerator overnight to achieve the best flavour/texture, allowing to come to room temperature before eating.  You can also store in the freezer (let the icing set up in the freezer first before stacking them sideways).  From frozen, allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight, allowing to come to room temperature before eating.  The proper texture of a good macaron is a crisp outer shell and a soft, velvety interior.......overall, a little bit cloud-like.

There are many steps when, if not done quite correctly, can greatly affect the outcome of the macarons.  It could be a combination of mis-steps, or just one.  I am finally to the point where I have success almost all of the time, but there are still batches where half will come out funny (cracked, or the tops are 'tilted' with no foot on one side).  Sometimes it's just one or two in a single row that don't turn out - pure mystery.  They are the quintessential diva of the pastry world.  Even the instructor in Paris said as much, which I found amazing.  So Bonne Chance, if you attempt to take on the marvelous Macaron!  Please feel free to comment on your experiments :)

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