The Fear of Making Macarons
Do you know dogs and bees smell fear? I am pretty sure that pastries can smell it from a mile away as well. About a year ago macarons were popping up everywhere, except in Arizona of course. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but then I became intrigued. I started reading about making macarons. It is at this point that I became incredibly frightened by these little devilish desserts. I am pretty sure most bakers are frugal. The thought of wasting $5 in eggs, $10 in almond flour, $5 in butter and two hours of my time for a finicky dessert that may or may not turn out seemed like a little too much to risk.
Fast forward a year. This summer we went on vacation to the Napa Valley, the home of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. I was finally going to try one of these temperamental desserts. Hello, amazing. I am pretty sure macarons are the best gluten-free dessert on the planet. I decided it was high time I move past my fear of making macarons and get the job done, even if ingredients had to be wasted.
It was at this point my interest went from intrigued to obsessed. I had to learn how to make them. As soon as I got home I grabbed my Bouchon Bakery cookbook and got to reading. I am pretty sure I read the directions 50 times. I swore the first time I made macarons that I would write a blog post for all those who are scared of making them. I was going to write and take pictures regardless of how they came out. If I had cracked shells, so be it. If they completely failed, so be it. But they didn’t. Were they perfect? Nope. Were they delicious? Yes. After I tried Thomas Keller’s recipe, I decided to try some others. What did I learn? Not all recipes are created equal. I would love to share Thomas Keller’s recipe with you, but the copyright in the book does not allow it. I want to share my experiences making macarons and what did and did not work in the my kitchen. It doesn’t mean recipes are bad, they just didn’t work for me.
Thomas Keller’s book is a great investment. Did you know they tested the recipes in home kitchens to make sure they would work? There are so many amazing recipes in this book; if you have never had Oh Ohs! or TKO’s you must give them a try.
A Good Macaron starts with the Meringue
I totally believe that difference between a good macaron and a great macaron is the meringue. There are a couple of different methods you can employ when making macarons. There is the Italian method, Swiss method or beating the egg whites until they are stiff. In Thomas Keller’s book you use the Italian meringue method. Prior to making macarons I had only used the Swiss method of making meringue.
- The Italian meringue method is where you heat water and sugar to 248 degrees, then added to whipped egg whites. The meringue forms stiff peaks and is extremely shiny. Italian meringue can take about 15-20 minutes to make.
- Swiss meringue is essentially the same but you create the meringue by cooking the egg whites and sugar over a double broiler until the mixtures reaches 150 degrees. Then you whip it on high speed until the meringue is formed. Swiss meringue takes about 9 minutes to make.
- The last method is whipping the egg whites until the form soft peaks.
When I am making macarons I either use the Swiss or Italian method. I swear by it. I believe it is this type of method that gives the meringue the most wonderful chewy texture after they are done baking. I also believe when you use this type of meringue the cookie shells are less temperamental.
I tried a recipe were you don’t cook the egg whites but you whip them. These failed miserably. The comments and reviews I had read by so many people happened to me. Cracked shells. They didn’t have that amazing chewy texture that I love. Nothing is more depressing than spending two hours of your life awaiting the completion of these amazing little goodies only to get depressed and cracked cookies.
I personally love the Swiss Meringue method. You will get the same results as the Italian method but in less time. When you make Italian meringue it can take up to 10 minutes for the sugar syrup to go from 200 degrees to 248. It’s almost like it stalls. The same exact thing happens when you are making marshmallows.
Egg Whites: To Age or Not to Age
I do not think you need to age your egg whites if you are making a cooked meringue. The egg whites do need to be at room temperature. There are two types of recipes when making macarons. Some recipes have you divide the egg whites and mix some with the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture. Others have you whip all the egg whites and combine with the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture.
Failure: whipping all the egg whites without cooking, combining all the whipped egg whites with the entire mixture of almond flour/powdered sugar, these are looser when piped
Success: Both Italian and Swiss Meringue. Combining a portion of the egg whites with the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture and then folding in the meringue.
The recipe I used said to measure out your almond flour and then place it in a food processor. Once you place it the processor you want to be careful because you don’t want to transform it into almond butter. Oh nuts. These are the kind of directions that freak me out. How long does it take to turn into almond butter? Two pulses? Four? In the process of reading some other blogs I came across one that suggests that you place the powdered sugar and the almond flour together into the food processor. Brilliant! It is much harder to create almond butter by mixing them both. Place the almond flour and powdered sugar in the food processor together and pulse until combined. Then sift the mixture. You will find some larger almond pieces. You can either throw them out or reprocess them.
- Even if you buy premade almond flour don’t skip sifting
- Allows process almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor together
- Did I say don’t skip the sifting?
- If your almond flour is too oily this can make the macarons crack. Probably due to the extra fat and moisture.
In the bowl above you see a picture of a gooey mess. That is a portion of the egg white (not whipped) combined with the almond flour/powdered sugar. It forms a pasty substance. At this point I decided I wanted to add lemon zest to the batter. The other recipe I tried out did not employ this method. You whipped all your egg whites and then folded them into the mixture. When I did it this way the mixture was much looser and ended up cracking when I baked them.
When I piped the shells above I was terrified. Every where you read, it will tell you that macarons are finicky. When the directions said hit the pan against the counter, I lightly tapped it. I was so afraid I would “hurt” them. I was thankful when Esther, from the Frosted Cake Boutique , messaged me and said, “do you want to know how to get rid of the peak?” Of course! Those little pointy tops will go away if you hit the pan hard enough. Don’t be afraid to whack it. Or lightly take your fingers and press them down. Yes, your macarons will still come out just fine.
Should I let my macarons sit on the counter before baking?
The first time I made the macarons once I had them piped on the parchment, I put them right into the oven. They still came out perfect. The second time I made the recipe I decided to let them sit out for 20 minutes. They came out exactly the same as they did before. Again, I think this has to do with using the Swiss Meringue method.
When the timer went off, I was scared to look in the oven. The looming question. Will there be feet? I was so excited. Oh yes, I danced around my kitchen singing, I got feet, baby! I am not ashamed or embarrassed but then there is that moment where you think, I waited a year to make these. What was I so afraid of? It’s hilarious, now my husband asks, “will you make me footie cookies?” My answer, “you want me to make cookies that look like feet?” He retorts, “No, I want footie cookies. It’s all about the feet right, thus footie cookies.”
This time I was not afraid to whack my pan against the counter. No crazy peaks, just nice smooth tops. The other thing that tapping the pan against the counter does is release trapped air.
They may have had peaks but they were absolutely delicious. Chewy lemon goodness.
You might be thinking how do I store macarons. Macarons are wonderful at room temperature for about 2 days. If you are not going to plow through 20 cookies in two days I would suggest freezing them. They freeze wonderfully. I place about 6 in a sealed container on the counter, then I place the rest of them in a freezer bag lying flat. They keep wonderfully for over a month.
Making Macaron Resources:
- Bouchon Bakery
- Macarons by Pierre Herme
- BraveTart: Macaron Mythbusters
- Les Petits Macarons
- Les Petits Macaron Sizing Guide
- Food Nouveau: Troubleshooting Guide
What issues have you run into making macarons?