Macarons are my culinary “white whale.” I have well-documented my many, many, many attempts at making these delicate cookies. I even tried the supposedly more stable Italian method, which seemed like a lot more steps than the French method. So, when Julie invited me to a macaron class with her, I was eager at another chance to get it right, this time with some supervision.
Unfortunately, I was busy the day of the macaron class. Not surprising since it was during the school year. So once summer hit, Julie and I spent an afternoon baking. Well, first we made arancini – girl’s gotta eat, you know! We weighed, ground the almonds, sifted, ground some more, whipped egg whites, and folded. We were in a bit of a hurry towards the end of the baking process, but our macarons miraculously had feet! It was the easiest time I’ve ever had with these darn cookies. So, I set about seeing if I could duplicate the success at home.
Every time I make macarons, I learn something else about how to be more successful. This time around, I learned the importance of mixing in all the ingredients. First attempt: I forgot to add the additional powdered sugar to the batter. They subsequent cookies were overly eggy, foamy, and flat yet grainy. Second attempt: I only stirred in half the almond/sugar mixture into the batter. Again, these cookies ended up grainy and cracked on top. UGH! I also realized that I tend to not fold the batter enough.
Tip #1: The final macaron batter should be thick and a little syrupy. Achieving this consistency is known as “macaronage,” as explained eloquently by Stella of Brave Tart. It should be thick enough that it doesn’t spread once you pipe it out, but thin enough that the peak that forms when you pipe the cookies will flatten back into the rest of the batter (see below picture). If there’s still a little lump, just smooth it out with a barely damp finger.
Which brings me to Tip #2: if you live in a humid climate (like me), or if it is raining when you make macarons (like it was every time I recently mad them), then you may want to dry out the macs before baking them. This is not a necessary step, but I was more successful when I did this. I simply set my hairdryer on low, and went over the piped circles for a few minutes. The tops of them started to loose their sheen, and that was enough. The macs that I dried also seemed to result in fewer hollow shells, which may or may not have helped. If you have always wanted to try making these beautiful cookies, or have tried and have yet to be successful, give this method a try. It is much less finicky than other recipes I’ve used, and I (so far) have had good success with it. Good luck!
recipe adapted from Truffles & Trifles
Before starting: Make sure that the mixer, whisk attachment, and any utensil that will come into contact with the egg whites have been washed in the dishwasher (or washed with boiling water, which is what I do sometimes). Seriously, any bit of oil on anything that touches the egg whites may keep the whites from beating to the requisite fluffiness. Similarly, if any bit of yolk gets in your egg whites, you need to scrap them and start over.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. If you want to make sure your macs are all the same size, trace 2-inch circles onto the parchment paper with a pencil, keeping a good amount of space between the circles. Place the paper pencil-side down on the baking sheet.
- Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment set. Let the egg whites come to room temperature while you carry out the next step.
- Place almond meal and ½ c of the powdered sugar in a food processor. Place the remaining 1 c of powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set aside. Pulse the food processor so that the almond meal and powdered sugar combine, and form very fine grains. (If you are grinding whole almonds, this will take a good 5-10 minutes of pulsing.) Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl with the powdered sugar. There may be a few tablespoons of almonds that don’t make it through the strainer, and that’s okay. You can toss them or save them for another use. Stir the contents of the bowl together.
- Beat the egg whites on medium until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and salt and continue beating until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla bean seeds and continue beating until almost-stiff peaks form. They should be somewhere between soft and stiff peaks - when you lift the whisk out of the bowl, the egg whites should stand up and maybe just start to curl over. (See photo in blog post) Knock the whisk on the edge of the bowl to remove the egg whites from the whisk.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold in half the almond/powdered sugar mixture into the egg whites. Fold in the remaining almond mixture until evenly combined. The batter should have the consistency of lava, although I’ve never seen lava first-hand, but I can imagine. When you lift the spatula out of the bowl, the batter should drop in a thick ribbon, and should melt back into the main batter after a few seconds. This is the trickiest part of the process, and you get the feel for it the more times you make them.
- Fill a pastry bag (I like disposable ones) with half the batter. Twist the top of the pastry bag closed. Cut a hole in the tip of the pastry bag, and pipe circles onto the prepared baking sheets. If you drew circles onto the parchment, fill until the batter just reaches the edges. Make a little swirly movement when you’re done piping each circle to keep a peak from forming on top of the cookie. Don’t pipe too close to the edge because they spread a tad.
- Tap the baking sheet on the counter a few times to bring any air bubbles to the surface. If drying, use a hairdryer set on low and gently wave it over the macs until the surface of the circles starts to dull.
- Bake macs one tray at a time at 300°F for 7 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 7-8 minutes longer. Let the macarons cool on the pan, then gently peel from the parchment. They should come off easily. Sandwich two cookies together, feet side facing in, with jam, buttercream, or whatever filling floats your fancy!
And, here’s a recipe for an easy buttercream to fill the macs with:
4 Tbs butter, softened
2/3 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I use vanilla bean paste)
1 tsp milk
Beat ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer until fluffy. This is the perfect amount to fill the macaron shells.