Funny, I actually tasted my first macaron over 10 years ago in Switzerland instead of France. I was living in Heidelberg Germany at that time and my fellow ex-pat friend and I gallivanted throughout central Europe every weekend and holiday. We skipped over to Zurich one weekend and I was immediately stopped by the beautiful and colorful displays at CONFISERIE SPRÜNGLI right off the train on BAHNHOFSTRASSE when we arrived. Rows and rows of pastries and chocolates glistened in the window while I drooled. The beautiful bright-colored pillows immediately drew my attention and curiosity. I bit into a chocolate LUXEMBURGERLI (the Swiss version of the French macaron) and fell in love. It was forever determined that the macaron/luxemburgerli was my favorite cookie EVER.
Patti in Zurich circa 2005
Flash forward to a few years ago when these little sandwich cookies started popping up in the US in every major city, which caused me to reminisce my European bliss. Coincidentally, my friend Claire at The Cottage Revolution successfully made a batch at home around that same time! She made it sound so simple and delightful that I decided to tackle the recipe too. I was less fortunate in my first attempt and continued to be until literally a few months ago. You can read about my first attempt HERE, a blog post back in 2011. I shelved my failure to the back of my mind and in my mouth as quick as I could and moved on to other carbi-adventures.
Botched Green Tea Macarons
It wasn’t until a year ago when I started Carbivore that I started working on my macaron skills. I want to make and offer sweets that I love to eat, and I was determined that I could master this cookie. I now know why not many people/patisseries/bakeries make macarons. They are super finicky and can drive you mad. If the multi-day process doesn’t scare you away, the inconsistent results will (who can afford to toss 1/2 of a batch away (or into your mouth, as failures are still yummy!)). I think I’ve encountered every problem ever recorded, i.e. no feet or frills at the bottom, lop-sided or baseball cap cookies, concave cookies, cookies that won’t come off the parchment, amoeba-shaped cookies, Hershey Kiss – shaped cookies, oily/blotchy tops, shriveled tops, hard-as-a-rock cookies, soggy cookies, burnt cookies, volcanic explosion cookies, and of course my kryptonite, the dreaded HOLLOW cookie.
Shriveled Chocolate Macarons
My lack of confidence was the main issue. It wasn’t until I attended a class at the French Pastry School for my birthday (courtesy of my husband, BEST PRESENT EVER) that my problems were resolved. Yes, I learned a lot in class, but I didn’t learn a magic recipe or kitchen secret. It was comments like “every problem you have with macarons is due to steam” and “there’s really no need to obsess over the perfect shape” that turned my macarons from OK to Great!
There are many recipes out there, but they are relatively the same, ingredients wise: almond flour, confectioners sugar, meringue (egg whites and sugar) and a filling of choice. A few other variations exist also for people with nut allergies or like to use other kinds of nuts instead of almonds, but the typical and traditional macaron cookie is made with those 4 ingredients and filling. This topic has been researched and blogged to death, including THIS paper on the correct ratio of sugar to maximize macaron taste and structure. It is a curse and a blessing to see so much help on the internet, but in the end I feel like practice and documentation was what helped me the most. The secrets to making macarons are practicing and tweaking until you find the technique that works for you. Here’s what works for me:
– Age/dry egg whites for 2 days (to evaporate the water content so that the albumen becomes concentrated and the protein structure of your meringue is stable). I do this by separating my egg whites (will need more than what the recipe calls for because it will shrink) and putting it in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap poked with holes.
– Dry your dry ingredients for 2 days. I measure and shift my almond flour and powdered sugar and leave in a bowl covered with cheese cloth on the counter.
– I use the Italian Meringue method to beat my egg whites and sugar into a meringue (this method is where you add heated sugar to whipped egg whites and whip until stiff peaks). I was using the French Meringue method (no heated sugar, and just whipping sugar and egg whites until stiff peaks), but it produced varied results each batch.
(these 3 steps mentioned above eliminate moisture in your batter, reducing “steam”)
– I fold my meringue into my dry mix in 3 batches (1/3 of meringue at a time) until just incorporated (add gel/powdered food coloring here, but sometimes I add the color to the meringue)
– My version of “Macaronage”, the act of creating macaron batter, is to stir the heck out of the batter, checking often, until a line in the mixture incorporates back to the batter in 15 seconds.
– Fill pastry bag with round tip, and pipe on to parchment or Slipat. You can use a template to help with uniformity. I drew circles 1.5 inches in diameter and spaced them about 1 inch apart on paper. Stagger each row to allow for better air flow when baking.
– Let the piped macaron shells sit for 30 minutes until the tops are not sticky and formed a skin (this is what helps form the feet as the steam in the batter escapes, the skin keeps it from coming out the top and instead rises from the bottom). The time will also depend on the humidity that day, so check the resting macarons by gently touching the surface of one. If it sticks, it’s not ready.
– I bake my macarons at 320 degrees F for 12 minutes (15 if on Slipat) in a convection oven. This is where you’ll need to experiment. Every oven is different so be patient when finding your correct temperature. Sugar and Tang has a great post on helping you figure out what your oven is like HERE. Always use a trusty oven thermometer too and give it enough time to preheat (20+ minutes).
I found that my hollow problem was really due to baking temperature. I’ve experimented with baking as low as 300 degrees F to as high as 350. 300 was too low and produced hollow shells (where the batter sits at the bottom and there is a big air pocket in between), while at 350 they were exploding from the top like a volcano. I went up 5 degrees from 300 until I got a fluffy full cookie.
– Match up the cookies to same sizes for each side, and pipe on ganache or other filling.
– MACARONS ARE NOT READY TO EAT YET! Let them “mature” in an air tight container in the refrigerator at least for 2 days (longer if using fillings with less moisture like buttercreams, shorter for jams). The cookie is a meringue so it can be dry, the filling is what gives it moisture and creates that chewy texture.
And voila! 🙂
Chocolate Mint Macarons
Ok, so this is a lot of information and sounds like quite a hassle (and that is why they sell for a hefty price), but I assure you it’s totally worth it! Here are some other great sources and full recipes if you haven’t had enough macaron making yet!
Sugar and Tang (similar recipe and technique to what I do)
Brave Tart (lots of info, including macaron mythbusters, all about hollows, etc.)
Eat Live Travel Write (decorating macarons & other great tutorials and recipes)
David Lebovitz (great chocolate macaron that’s easy)
If you’re more about eating them than making them, you can find me at a farmers’ market in the Chicagoland region throughout the year. Follow CARBIVOREEATS on Facebook for updates on locations and dates!