Macarons De-mystified (Part 1)

First, you might notice the “typo” in the title.  It’s not a typo.  It’s the correct way how to spell macarons.   A macaron is completely different from a macaroon.  Usually, when people say “macaroons,” they are probably thinking of the light and delicate almond meringue cookie that’s sold at a ridiculously high price at high end bakeries and patisseries.  A macaroon is still a meringue based cookie, but however it has much more flour and is composed of coconut piped to a cute peak and dipped into a chocolate ganache.  If you go to Paris, and if you pronounce “macaron” like “macaroon,” you’re going to have some explaining to do to the French who will be confused out of their minds with what you are talking about.  I’ve never made macaroons before but I’ve made macarons. 

Now, I’d have to say this, life is  a little like macarons.  Because, life is just so notoriously difficult and demanding and stressful, and there’s so many complications.  But in the end, you get something that’s wonderful, like a little cookie.  (I know I said this with cake but I had to apply this rule to almost all baking)

Macarons have been in France for as early as Catherine de Medici and her pastry chefs, around 1533.  Back then, people didn’t know what macarons where because they were only eaten by the queen and her loyal subjects.  Macarons were not peasant food.  But, in the late 1700’s, macarons gained fame when 2 Camelite nuns seeking asylum in the French Revolution decided to bake them to support themselves!  They became known as the “macaron sisters.”  But, they didn’t include any filling, just plain cookie.  It wasn’t until the 1900s that Pierre Desfontaines of the famed Parisian pastry shop  Laduree, where macarons are sold for a humble 2 euros a cookie, decided to take two cookies and fill them with a ganache. No longer just a simple almond cookie, the macaron turned into a versatilely flavored treat with a thin, light, crust shell that crumbles to a layer of moist almond meringue following by a center of silky smooth filling.

I’ve made macarons sucessfully twice.  Using 2 different recipes.  I’m no macaron expert, but I’ve read enough about it to know what I did wrong in my failed batches.  This macaron recipe is using the french method, which is whipping egg white with granulated sugar.

1.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a flat cookie sheet with parchment paper.  An optional tip is to trace 1 inch circles onto your parchment to aid in piping your macaron batter later on.  Set aside.

2.  Sift sift sift!  Sift your almond meal and powdered sugar into a separate bowl.

I’m going to emphasize this because sifting is probably the most important step. You DO NOT want lumps in those perfect little cookies of yours.  And a macaron is all about maintaining that consistency and smoothness.  Has a bumpy macaron ever been attractive? Probably not, so that’s why you want to sift!  Here, I’ve ground some almonds with powdered sugar.  (The almonds are so oily, they become an almond butter in the food processor)  I didn’t have any almond meal, so that’s why I made my own.  Personally, using store bought almond meal is way easier,  But however, you get the real almond taste from the almond flour you make yourself.  After, I sift the powdered sugar on top of the almond meal.  Then, I removed the mixture, and sift it together back into the bowl.  In total, I sifted it 3 times.  Once each, of the different ingredients separately, and once all together.  Set this bowl aside.

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3.  Beat those egg whites!

After setting your dry ingredients aside, start beating the heck out of your egg whites.  (A tip for making the stiffest peaks, wipe down your mixer bowl with lemon)  I beat the egg whites for about 2 minutes on medium before I began drizzling in my sugar.  After, I put it on a high speed and let it go for about 5 more minutes.  You want your egg whites to be clumped to the whisk attachement of your stand mixer or hand mixer.  I don’t reccomend doing macarons by hand at all because of how stiff you want your egg whites to be.

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4.   Add your food coloring!

People say that liquid food coloring effects the way the macarons bake in the oven.  I have yet to test this theory out.  You would never want to add your food coloring when you have folded your ingredients together, like you would when you would make red velvet cupcakes.  Add your food coloring to your egg whites.  You might overbeat your macarons if you fold the food coloring in with your dry ingredients.  I recommend adding more food coloring than usual because food coloring fades while baking.

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5.  Macaronage!  (Yes, this is a word)

I completely got distracted and I didn’t take any pictures of the macaronage, which is a french word for the folding of your egg whites to the dry ingredients when making macarons. This is the step where people mess up the most.  They either overbeat, or underbeat.  My standard is 50 folds.  No more, no less.  Fold half of your dry ingredients with your egg whites first, 10 times.  Next, add the rest in, and fold 40 more times.  At the end of this, you should see your macaron batter fall off your spatula like lava.  And, the mixture should settle back into your batter after falling off the spatula between 10-20 seconds.

6.  Piping

This is probably my favorite step when it comes to making macarons.  Maybe it’s my love of cake decorating that makes me enjoy it so much!  I just filled a 10 inch Wilton Pastry bag fitted with a small round tip.  (I forgot the number, I’m sorry!)  Carefully filling your piping bag 3/4 of the way, twist to secure your bag to begin piping.  Apply even pressure and pipe 1 inch circles onto your parchment paper.  It’s ok if they’re uneven when you first start piping them.  They should not be flat, they should ressemble little half spheres on your parchment paper.

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7.  Waiting

After you have piped on all your circles, bang your pan on the ground to smooth the circles out.  Also, this helps release any unnecessary air bubbles inside the macaron that will make it hallow and bumpy.  I usually bang my pan 2 times one way, rotating it, and 2 times the other way.  After, leave your pan to rest for at least 30 minutes.  I cannot stress this step enough.  In order to have the little attracted feet on the macaron this is crucial.  What this does, is that it dries out the macaron, leaving it to rise from the bottom to the top.  The macaron will be ready when it is no longer tacky, and when touched, no batter sticks to your finger.

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8.  Baking

After waiting for what seems like an eternity, your macarons are ready to be put in the oven!  Bake them for 11-12 minutes at 325 in the middle rack for the most even baking of your macarons.  Some people say to rotate your pan halfway, or leave a wooden sppon in the door, I didn’t think it was necessary.

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6.  Finished!

When you remove your macarons from the oven, wait until they are cool.  I repeat, WAIT, until they are cool.  Some people mistake an “undercooked” macaron for a perfect macaron and place them back in the oven.  Honey, you just ruined your supreme baking goddess cookie by doing this.  Just like any other cookie, a macaron firms while cooling.  Also, the chewy texture is meant to be there!  Removing it early will separate the shell from the baked merigune on the inside.  But, when it is cool, you are free to fill it with over you like!  My favorites are nutella or a sweet chantilly creme.  Obviously, the flavors and combinations are endless.  I’ve had a lychee macaron before and it was delicious!  You can even fill your macarons with ice cream!

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Recipe:

Makes apprx. 16 macaron shells (Enough for 8 cookies)

For the cookies

  • 1 cup of ground almonds
  • 1 cup of almond sugar (plus a little more)
  • 1/4 cup of white granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 3 tsps of desired Food coloring

For the filling

  • Nutella
  • Chantilly creme
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