Welcome to the wonderful world of the macaron!
This little Parisian sandwich cookie has been gaining traction in the United States recently. The reasons for its appeal are obvious. They come in a bazillion different colors (pretty!) and flavors (rose or foie gras anyone?), not to mention the fact that they are amazingly delicious.
If you've never had a macaron before, you have to try one. A smooth, creamy filling is sandwiched between two almond cookies which have crisp outer shells and moist interiors. Perfect macarons have very smooth shells, no air pockets inside the cookie, and straight, tall, feet (the frilly section under the shell).
My father's business trips to Switzerland when I was younger always yielded a cute (but expensive!) box of these. There was a macaron drought at my house for several years until I decided to make them. David Lebovitz (a much better pastry chef than me) calls these buggers "one of the most vexing tasks bakers come accross." Uh-oh. However, once you master these treats, you'll be so happy that you did! If you pay attention, they're really not difficult at all.
In this guide, I'll try to teach you all the tips that I've learned from spending hours perusing blog posts and many batches (several failed) of macarons. Since they are more difficult, the majority of this instructable will be devoted to the shell. In order to make these macaron "au chocolat," we'll be filling these with dark chocolate ganache. See Step 8 for the recipe.
Enough of my introduction. Let's go!
Step 1: Software
Macaron shells consist of four ingredients. Yes, four. That's it. What makes these tricky is the process, not the ingredients.
For best results, you should really get a kitchen scale. These things are magnificent and I promise that you'll be able to use them for many things other than these macarons (my mother uses ours to weigh her postal packages).
When measuring ingredients, weigh your egg white (since you can't control exactly how much the chicken put in each egg) and scale this formula appropriately. In case you don't have a scale, I have included volumetric approximations below.
Almonds (whole, slivered, or ground): 1.2 X weight of egg whites
Powdered sugar (aka icing sugar or confectioner's sugar): 2.25 X weight of egg whites
Castor sugar (aka superfine sugar): 0.25 X weight of egg whites
One large egg white (30 g)
Almonds (slivered): 1/4 cup
Powdered sugar: 1/2 cup
Castor sugar: 1/2 tablespoon
Step 2: Hardware
This is what I'll be using, but you can use whatever works for you. I've included some alternative suggestions.
(Alternatives: ground almonds, see Step 3)
(Alternatives: hand mixer or whisk)
Piping bag and round tip
(Alternatives: disposable plastic bag with hole cut in the corner or parchment paper cone)
(Alternatives: cookie sheet)
Silicon baking mat
(Alternatives: parchment paper)
Step 3: Tant Pour Tant
What does "tant pour tant" mean? I can't translate it exactly, but roughly, it means "equal amounts," referring to the almond meal and powdered sugar. In layman's terms, it's the dry ingredients.
Place the almonds and powdered sugar in the food processor. Pulse until the almonds are finely ground and the ingredients are completely combined.
Tips for Success:
Almonds : If you don't want to use a food processor, simply buy pre-ground almonds and sift those together with the powdered sugar.
Powdered sugar : Powdered sugar contains corn starch. A little corn starch is helpful to the texture of the macaron, however, cheap brands bulk up on corn starch, too much of which will be bad for the macaron.
Step 4: Meringue
This recipe uses a French meringue, which means that uncooked egg whites are simply beaten with a little sugar.
Place the egg white in the bowl of your stand mixer. Start to whisk the egg whites. Once the whites have soft peaks, gradually add the sugar. Once the sugar is incorporated, increase the speed and whip the whites until they have almost firm peaks and the meringue is glossy and smooth. If the whites look watery and lumpy, you've gone too far.
Tips for Success:
Egg whites : To attain the most stable meringue possible you need aged egg whites. Leave the whites out at room temperature overnight (what? ew...). Egg whites have natural antimicrobial properties and baking these cookies will kill any bactera. Some recipes actually recommend a multi-day aging. Mine usually lasts about 8-12 hours. The purpose is to cause some water to evaporate, leaving a higher concentration of egg proteins. Alternately, keep the separated whites in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or add a pinch of dried egg whites to them.
Whipping process : Make sure your bowl is clean! Any traces of fat will cause massive problems. Do not use plastic bowls. If you'd like, add 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar (not tartar sauce!), a drop of lemon juice, or a pinch of salt to the egg whites before whipping them. Also, copper bowls have been shown to produce better meingues due to chemistry I don't understand. If you have one, great. If you don't, I wouldn't suggest buying one ($$$).
Superfine sugar: The sugar going into the meringue should be as fine as possible so that it can dissolve quickly and completely. All supermarkets carry superfine sugar, but if you don't have any, simply put granulated sugar in a food processor.
Coloring : If you want to create other colors, make sure not to use liquid coloring because they will loosen the meringue. Use either powders or gels and add them at the very end of the meringue-beating process.
Step 5: Macaronage
Unlike "tant pour tant," I can translate "macaronage": the act of creating macaron batter. Yes, the zany French have created a word specifically for this dessert. This is the most integral step of the whole process and the easiest one to mess up. The purpose of macaronage is two-fold. It combines the wet and dry ingredients and deflates the meringue just so. This is what transforms this recipe from an almond meringue to a macaron.
Begin by adding 1/2 of the tant pour tant into the meringue. Fold until the powder is completely incorporated and add the other half. Once the second addition is fully incorporated, check the consistency of the batter by dabbing a bit on a plate. It should settle and leave no beak. If it isn't ready, continue folding and check the batter every couple of folds. Alternately, there should be a point at which the batter ceases to be completely solid. The batter is the right consistency if it sloshes slightly when you tilt the bowl. As soon as the batter appears ready, stop. It is better to undermix than overmix.
If you are using a stand mixer to do your macaronage, switch to the paddle attachment. Dump all the almond and sugar mixture into the mixing bowl and turn the mixer to its lowest speed. Mix until the powder is completely incorporated then check for consistency. You shouldn't need to mix for more than 10 seconds. A stand mixer can be faster, but make sure you know what consistency you're looking for. I wouldn't use one the first time through.
Tips for Success:
Macaronage : Recipes on the internet are littered with descriptions of how much to fold. Some say that the batter should "flow like magma," but I've never been to a volcano. Others try to count folds, but the amount of batter and the differences in folding technique vary greatly. Really, a visual is necessary. Here is a helpful video (oui, c'est en francais) which shows the proper consistency:
Step 6: Piping
Once your macaron batter has been formed, the most difficult steps are over. Now, you just have to pipe the circular cookies. First, line your baking tray with either parchment or a silicon mat. Fit your piping bag with a relatively large round tip.
If this is the first time you're making these (or you have a bad case of OCD) you can trace circles on the underside of parchment paper to guide the size of your macaron. I usually go for 1.5 inches in diameter, though you could easily make larger ones. Pipe as evenly as possible to prevent uneven cooking.
Once you've filled your tray, rap it a few times on the counter to settle the batter and get rid of big air bubbles.
Tips for Success:
Techniqueâ: When piping, make sure that the piping bag is perfectly vertical and perpendicular to the baking sheet. Hold it about a centimeter above the sheet. To ensure evenness, I always squeeze with the same hand pressure and count out how long it takes to pipe each round (usually around 2 seconds).
Parchment paper: Some people claim that using parchment paper will yield straighter feet, though I have yet to prove this. Parchment paper sold in flat sheets is preferable, because the rolled kind wants to, you know, roll up. If you only have the rolls, pipe a dab of macaron batter in each corner of the sheet to glue it to the tray.
Silicon baking mat: I have observed several advantages. They're reusable, prevent sticking extremely well, provide extra insulation to prevent the bottoms from burning, and are guaranteed to be level, so you won't end up with leaning cookies.
Resting: After you pipe the macaron shells, let them rest for a few minutes before you put them in the oven. That way, they have a chance to start developing shells before you even bake them. My rule is to only preheat my oven after the shells have been piped. When my oven is ready, so are the macarons.
Step 7: Baking
There is much debate as to the best way to bake macarons. Professional suggest starting at a high temperature to dry the shells, then gently cooking the insides. However, this is too complicated for me (and my poor oven). I chose the low and slow method, with a decidedly middle-of-the-road temperature. There is no perfect temperature, rather a range with varying baking times, of course.
Preheat your oven to 300 F (150 C). If your macarons are 1.5 inches in diameter, bake them for 12-13 minutes on the center rack of your oven. If they are 3 inches, you may need to go up to 15 minutes. They should rise vertically on straight feet and should not brown on top. Baking time depends on your oven. Your first time making them, I would check on the macarons (use the oven light and don't open the door!) after 10 minutes. They should be fully formed, but don't let them brown on top. When they are done, let the macarons cool on the tray. Then, pair them up by size.
Tips for Success:
Baking Trays: If you find that your oven burns the bottom of your cookies, stack two baking trays on top of each other to emulate professional-quality equipment.
Browned tops: If your oven makes the tops of your macarons brown before the insides are cooked, place another baking tray or some aluminium foil on the top rack of the oven to protect the macarons.
Step 8: Filling
Strangely enough, the original macaron filling was nothing. they were just welded together and presented as a double-sided cookie. Many speculate that the first filling for macarons was fruit jam, which makes sense. There are a great variety of jams, and all of them blend nicely with plain macaron shells.
However, we're here to talk about chocolate. For the chocoholic, there can and will only ever be one filling: chocolate ganache. Obviously, there is no way to get the amount of ganache perfect for the number of macaron shells. It really depends on how much you put in each cookie. I generally plan on 1 oz. of chocolate per egg white. Of course, if there's any left over, it's the chef's to eat!
2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup milk, half-and-half, or cream
1/2 tbsp butter
Scale this recipe as needed. Heat the milk or cream in the microwave or on the stove until nearly boiling. Pour over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, then add the butter and incorporate.
To fill the macarons, simply take a butter knife and slather it on one macaron of each pair. If you want to be neater about it, you may certainly pipe the ganache. Lid them and your macarons are assembled!
Tips for Success:
Fillings : This isn't so much a tip as a suggestion. You can spice up your chocolate ganache with a number of different things. You could add a small pinch of salt for depth of flavor, some instant espresso powder for a mocha twist, a dash of vanilla extract for a nice undertone, or even some chili powder (!) for a Mexican-style kick. The fillings are where you get to experiment!
Step 9: Aging
Once they are assembled, DO NOT eat the macarons right away! You will be very disappointed. Instead, let them sit in the refrigerator for at least several hours to mature, preferably overnight. This fixes all the potential macawrongs . Overly stiff shells loosen up, cracks become less apparent, and most importantly, the flavors meld. When you're ready to serve, let them sit at room temperature for a few minutes to take the chill off and enjoy!
Step 10: Helpful Links
The macaron-making community is quite a strong one. Those who know about macarons are usually obsessed, so there is a wealth of information to be had on the internet. Here are some of the websites that have given me the most help.
If you understand French, this is a very helpful video demonstration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsxzeehcI60
Ms. Humble has an incredibly detailed tutorial on her blog: http://notsohumblepie.blogspot.com/2010/04/macarons-101-french-meringue.html
Tartelette is an amazingly creative macaron baker and considered by many the "queen of macarons": http://www.tarteletteblog.com/2010/02/recipe-raspberry-mascarpone-macarons.html
Annie has created a very straightforward post for chocolate macarons: http://annies-eats.net/2010/06/04/chocolate-macarohns/
Veronica at Kitchen Musings has a whole series of macaron articles: http://kitchenmusings.com/macaron-chronicles
Duncan at Syrup & Tang has collected a wealth of macaron tips: http://www.syrupandtang.com/200712/la-macaronicite-1-an-introduction-to-the-macaron/
David Lebovitz (who I mentioned earlier) includes authentic Parisian tips: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2005/10/french-chocolat
I hope this has been helpful! Don't be discouraged if your macarons fail the first time around. They may not be pretty, but they'll still taste good. It wasn't until my third batch that I finally got some decent ones. These make a unique and gourmet gift and you can experiment endlessly with flavor and color combinations. Bon appetit!