I have been putting off this post since forever because I knew it’d be intense to write. I don’t like using bad words (that’s a lie), but I sometimes look at macarons and go, “Why the fuck are you guys so goddamn ridiculous?”
I struggle and struggle with macarons and have been for years. I think they’re very pretty and the idea of playing out mad scientist fantasies through these pretty little versatile cookies really appeals to me (ketchup and mustard macarons? Okay!). The problem is that my results aren’t always consistent, and it’s heartbreaking to spend a lot of time and care on something only to have it fail and come out cracked and feetless. I have issues with my oven (it just sucks and heats stuff like a 1980s non-ionized hair dryer.). But my real problem is my general personality. I have a really hard time following directions (recipes) to a T because I find the process to be inconvenient and boring. I also think I’m not an incredibly intuitive maker-of-food. I don’t just tap into the food Matrix and wake up going, “I know kung fu.” Dude, some people are actually that. We tend to call them geniuses.
I’m analytical and obsessive, so I generally do things well after a lot of mental anguish, deliberation, and repetition. This personality trait is why I tend to write very long, overly detailed recipes.
With these macarons, I wanted to go back to basics, eliminate all the variables that may have caused me to fail in the past. I didn’t bother adding coloring, for instance. I just kept it simple and flavored the buttercream with almond, which is actually really great!
You can see that by the time I got around to making the buttercream, I was all tired and was like, “UGH, screw this!” and just threw a few ingredients together inelegantly. American buttercream, yo, (butter + powdered sugar +
human tears flavoring), it’s the buttercream even my dog can’t mess up.
Scroll down for the recipe. Scroll further down for a random list of tricks, tips, and observations.
- 140 grams almonds (or almond flour); almonds can be blanched and slivered, unblanched and sliced; don't use whole because it still has too much moisture in it.
- 200 grams powdered/confectioner's sugar (Don't make your own because it won't work unless your processor is POWERFUL. The kind with cornstarch in it is okay.)
- 40 grams granulated sugar
- 100 grams egg white (close to 3 eggs, but you will have some leftover--weigh it!)
- 5 tbsp butter, at room temperature
- 80 grams powdered sugar (a fat ½ cup)
- 1 tbsp almond extract
- Process your almonds to make almond flour. (If you bought almond flour, still process it. I've found that the grind is still a bit too coarse.) Pulse it on high speed for a few seconds, pausing for a second, then repeat, repeat, repeat. If you see your almond flour start to clump up, add a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar to break it up.
- (Important! ;D) Run the flour to through a sieve, into a mixing bowl, letting the fine particulates leave the mass. Take the craggly mass and dump it back into the processor. And pulse and pulse and pulse. Run it through the sieve again. Rinse and repeat until you have no more particulates left, or until there's less than tablespoon of it.
- Ideally, let your egg whites sit in an uncovered small bowl or glass in the fridge for a few days.
- (Important!) Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until frothy, about 10 seconds. Dump in the 40 grams of granulated sugar and turn your mixer up to high and then beat the crud out of it. Beat it until you truly get stiff peaks, but not to the point where it breaks. It'll be glossy and thick-looking, like shaving cream. When you hold the beater upside down, the point of the egg whites should stick straight up. It should not wilt or curve over at all. You want a very strong protein structure so that it'll hold up when you incorporate the dry ingredients later.
- Sift the almond flour with the powdered sugar two times, to make sure that there are no lumps and also to make sure they are well mixed with one another.
- (Important!) Work fast but carefully. The goal is to get the almond mixture incorporated super well into the meringue--and to not deflate the meringue when doing so. Sift in all of the dry ingredients over the meringue. For the first few turns, cut your spatula down the middle and gently flip the mass over on top of itself. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Turn the bow 90 degrees and repeat. It won't look like it's coming together very easily, but keep at it.
- Once it comes together, but there are still streaks of almond, switch to an under-over method of folding Swoop the spatula under the whole mass and swoop on over itself. Turn. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
- (Important!) People say proper macronage flows like magma. I have no idea what this means; I have never actually watched magma in action. Basically, when stuff looks well-incorporated, put down the spatula. Wait ten seconds. What happened? Did it move and sink into itself, and do the edges and ridges soften and become smooth and flattened? Or does it maintain its curves, ridges, and valleys? If it maintained its valleys, give it a few folds and wait again. Do this until it JUST starts seeping and melting back into itself over the course of 3 seconds.
- Scoop about a third of the batter into your prepared pastry back with a ½-inch round tip. (Seriously, ½-inch. You can prob get away with a ¼, but go no smaller.)
- Hold the piping bag upright, perpendicular to the Silpat or parchment paper, which is already on the sheet pan you'll be using. You want to come at this downward, straight—not at an angle—to keep your circles perfectly circular and flat. Pop the bag down close the the surface of the Silpat, squeeze, letting the circle of meringue increase in size until its about 1 inch, and lightly flick up to remove the stream. Pipe as much as you can on the sheet, they can be spaced about an inch apart. They will flow a bit and increase in size, but they won't get beyond 1.5 inches in diameter (after baking, too) if they were mixed right.
- Repeat with the rest of the batter, working quickly. Once a sheet pan is done, lightly bang it once or twice on the counter to squish big air pockets. Repeat with the rest of the batter. You should come out with about 60-70 shells (30-35 macarons).
- Let the macarons dry for at least half an hour. You can go up to an hour, if you want to be totally sure. (Though, honestly, they would probably make it if you popped them in the oven right away).
- (Important!) Depending on how reliable your oven is, how even the heat is,you might not want to bake the macarons at the same time.
- To bake the first batch, set a rack on the top ⅓ of the oven. Preheat to 300 degrees F.
- Once preheated, pop the macarons in for a total time of about 12-18 minutes. Keep the door shut except at the halfway point, where you flip the tray 180 degrees for even cooking.
- Take out the batch and let it cool completely before touching the macarons and removing them from the Silpat. Repeat with the other tray of macarons.
- Add powdered sugar to the soft, room temperate butter. Beat the two together until fluffy. Add in the extract. Beat a little more. DONE!
- If you want to be really precise, you can pipe the filling and sandwich well-matched macaron shells, but I honestly lose steam by this point and just spoon about a teaspoon on, just shy of the edges, and press the macaron shells together until the filling is pushed to the edges. ;)
- Macarons can be eaten right away, but they also benefit from some "ripening" in the fridge. Put them carefully in storageware and pop them in the fridge overnight. The next day, pull them out twenty minutes before serving and let them come to temperature. They'll be softer, with the meringue layer touching the buttercream, meld with it a bit so when you bite into it, it's crunchy-crunch, then soooooft.
- YAY! DONE!
I totally don’t recommend processing in a processor that small or puny because it makes you INSANE. I just don’t have a legit food processor, guys.
Definitely do this with your piping bag, to get the batter in. It helps you from making a huge mess and you don’t have to do any awkward maneuvering with one hand holding the bag and the other trying to cram in batter.
I like the macaron shell in the corner there, just BARELY hanging on.
Due to all my past failures, when I see the feet, I basically fall to the floor in an elated, sobbing mess.
But that totally happens in the TV version of my life.
OKAY! Tips and tricks!
These are not comprehensive, of course. But are what I learned/relearned while making this batch.
Moisture is your number one enemy. The likeliest reason macaron shells crack is due to an excess amount of moisture in the meringue. The heat causes it to expand, and it expands too rapidly and just destroys everything as a result.
1. If I really, really wanted to go balls to the wall and really eliminate all potential pitfalls (which I don’t), I’d also dry my almonds. I tried to mitigate some issues in the recipe by pointing out that if you grind your own almonds, you should get slivered or sliced almonds. That’s because the larger surface area on the pieces makes them dryer. I’ve read that some people further dry the almond flour in the oven or on the counter for a few days.
2. Age the egg whites. I’ve read that we let the egg whites age to loosen their protein structure, which I’m not sure makes sense to me? I let the egg whites age so that some of the moisture in them evaporates. I imagine you can add dry egg white powder to the meringue, but I haven’t done that before so I can’t speak much on it.
3. Back in the day, I used to ignore every recipe that told me not to use liquid food color. Guys, don’t be me. Totally avoid liquid food coloring. I’ve read that gel and powder food coloring works best, but I honestly haven’t used either so I can’t speak on that. At this point, if I were to color the macarons, I might just color them after they are baked by brushing on liquid food color over the white cookies.
Speed/don’t mess with the meringue
4. You don’t have to go fast to the point where you’re stressed and all out of sorts, but I think speed is a factor that is overlooked. Recipes will tell you to pipe out the macaron shells and then bang the tray on the counter. This is good . . . if you piped them out quickly. But if you really deliberated and took a long time piping out a tray, then your first set of macarons had a lot of time to sit and dry. So that when you bang the tray on the counter, you are potentially banging fissures into the thin skin forming over the top, which may lead to cracking in the oven. Also, the longer you take to pipe, the longer the meringue sits and deflates. A deflated meringue runs the risk of cracking. If you know you are just a person who takes a little longer than what is ideal, perhaps it’s good to make a conscious effort to undermix the batter.
5. On Good Eats, Alton Brown taught me that if you had two cookie sheets and six batches worth of batter, you can scoop out cookies on parchment paper on the countertop, all in a row, and just slide them onto the cleared, hot cookie sheets coming out of the oven. This works GREAT for chocolate chip cookies but works horribly for macarons. The result is much like what I mentioned with the banging. You create cracks. For macarons, it’s best to pipe them on Silpat on a sheet and not mess with them or touch them until it’s time to move them to the oven.
6. Lastly, it’s a total pain to weigh ingredients. But you have to for macarons. You just have to.
Here’s a great resource: Macarons: Tips, Tricks and How to Macaronnage