Baking

How I Mastered the French Macaron

I’m a good home baker because I follow recipes as they were written and have the proper tools needed to complete those recipes. My best tool is my kitchenaid stand mixer. However, that is not the only tool that is necessary to create the French Macaron. Although I would like to say everyone is able to make a macaron if they follow the instructions, that’s not true. You have to own more than the basics. So, if you aren’t a home baker that already has all these tools or are ready to invest in a few more gadgets, continue to admire the Macaron from afar. There’s a reason they are $2-4 a pop.

At this point, I think you’ve all seen enough of my skills to know that I can bake. If I run into problems, I have enough experience to know how to troubleshoot them. That being said, I tried FIVE TIMES before my macarons turned out. There are a ton of recipes online and they’re all very similar. You’ll see the following ingredients stay about the same: the amount of almond flour, powdered sugar, and granulated sugar. Where they differ is in salt, cream of tartar, and the amount of egg whites or how you should treat the egg whites. In addition, most follow the French meringue method, while some instruct you to use the Italian meringue method. Lastly, resting times and oven temperature vary.

The first recipe I tried contained salt. Upon whipping your egg whites prior to adding the granulated sugar, it told me to add salt. I was a little surprised it wasn’t cream of tartar, but this website was a good website and supposedly this was a fail proof macaron recipe. I was able to whip up a French meringue in this fashion and I properly combined all of my ingredients only to have my macarons turn out looking like these freaks of nature:

Macaron Fail #1
Macaron Fail #1

They had feet, but they were exploded and very chewy. In addition, the tops were warped and fragile. They broke when you touched them and the insides were hollow. Eating one was like chewing on caramelized sugar and they tasted salty.

Upon googling online, it appeared the reason the feet explode out is because the temperature of the oven was too high. So, I adjusted the oven by 25 degrees and made my second batch. As far as feet exploding go, these were worse; however the tops looked better, so I trimmed the feet to make them presentable and as we ran out of time in the day, we filled them and moved on.

Macaron Fail #2
Macaron Fail #2

As you can see from the crack on the one on the right, the tops were also hollow and fragile. On my third batch, I lowered the temperature even more and baked them longer. Needless to say, after repeatedly checking the oven, I eventually crisped them up so much, they were crunchy all the way through. Basically overbaked. I don’t have a picture of these ones.

My fourth attempt was almost a success. For this macaron, I chose to use cream of tartar instead of salt. I also kept the oven at a very low temperature because I could see immediately that the feet were exploding out. I also used white food coloring thinking I could make them white. The result of this, my friends, was something that had more of a macaron texture when you bit into it, but they were extremely tiny because I didn’t let them spread out at all and the low heat didn’t really get them to rise either. The color faded, as it does, and they basically resemble spray foam you use to fill in cracks or insulate plumbing.

Macaron Fail #4
Macaron Fail #4

They were pop in your mouth size. They were also really sweet. Probably too sweet. After this attempt, I thought I was done. I had eaten a few of each and gave away a lot. Despite the time put into them and the expense of the ingredients, I threw the remaining macarons away.

Approximately a month later, I was browsing YouTube videos because it still bothered me that I couldn’t make macarons. I was being a bit of a purest and wanted to only use French merengue. Then I saw this video by Chowhound where a French baker used Italian meringue, explained why you shouldn’t use salt, and mixed his almond/sugar with the meringue aggressively. Also worth noting is how he added egg whites to the almond/sugar to make a paste. I did not once see another method like this. Please watch and pay attention to his technique:

I didn’t try again with the macarons right away as I’m trying to stop eating sugar, but one day I decided I’d use up the last of my ingredients giving it one more go. I went to Walmart and bought a cheap food scale and a candy thermometer. All of the other recipes I tried had cup measurements and I was using 3 egg whites exactly. I found a recipe online that was very similar to the one the French chef in the Chowhound video used. I even aged my egg whites in the fridge. However, after measuring by weight, I had to crack a few more eggs to equal the amount needed for the recipe. Therefore, only half of my egg whites were aged. There was no salt or cream of tartar in this recipe. Only egg whites, almond flour, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and water. I piped two test cookies on a baking sheet and without resting baked two beautiful macaron shells.

Macaron Successimg_20200120_140148

I excitedly danced and cheered around the kitchen and then proceeded to pipe and bake the rest of the macarons. I would start at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and then immediately lower to 325 degrees Fahrenheit as instructed; however, as my cookies baked I noticed some were becoming hollow. I lowered the temperature to 325 degrees for my last tray and baked them a few minutes longer. They were less hollow, but the color was lighter. I think the reason the recipe has you start at 350 degrees is to get the feet to develop, but then baked at a lower temperature so that don’t become hollow, but that may have still been too high. I’m not sure if the resting of the remaining trays had anything to do with it either, but the first tray baked the best and they did not rest at all. They were delicious basic macarons and were thoroughly enjoyed by my family and coworkers. It was too hard for me not to eat them all so I had to give them away. People actually told me they were the best they’d ever had. I am very proud.

Here you can see the finished product:

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The equipment I absolutely had to have in order to make these cookies was:

  • A stand mixer
  • A food processor
  • A fine mesh strainer (for sifting)
  • A food scale
  • A candy thermometer
  • Plastic pastry bags

The recipe I used was this: https://letthebakingbegin.com/basic-macarons-italian-meringue-method/

Notes on this recipe:

  1. The oven might be too high at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Chowhound video, the chef uses an oven set at 300 degrees Fahrenheit instead.
  2. She forgets to mention you need to reserve the 2 tablespoons of sugar to mix in the egg whites as they are frothing up. I had already poured all my sugar into the water for the simple syrup. I’m not sure if it made any difference.
  3. The meringue should be mixed until the bowl is cool to the touch, however, paying attention to the French chef, this is more of a medium/stiff peak. It leans over slightly into what he calls a bird beak. All of my French meringues I had beaten the meringue to a truly stiff peak which stood straight up. This might have been too much for the macaron and why they failed.
  4. You can mix the first 2/3 of meringue into the almond/sugar paste more aggressively per the Chowhound chef, saving the macronage method for the last third.
  5. Use a lot of gel food coloring. Make it bright because it’s going to bake down to half the color.
  6. Resting was not necessary!
  7. Being a French meringue purist is not necessary. Do what works best for you, but keep in mind that the Italian method is more stable and is cooked so it is safe to lick the beater when you’re done.

This really isn’t for everybody and I truly understand why the cookies are so expensive. Now that I’ve mastered the macaron, I might take a class on how to flavor them, but because of my low-sugar diet, there’s a high likelihood I may never make this temperamental cookie again! Who am I kidding? I’m sure I might do it as a gift or something, it is just such a tedious process that it’s almost not worth it. As almond flour is an expensive ingredient, you’re only saving money by not paying yourself the labor.

I hope my tips help you to save some time and frustration if you decide you want to attempt making these cookies. I wish you the best of luck!

P.S. My filling was a basic buttercream frosting flavored with raspberry and blueberry jams. I added the jams at two tablespoons and then adjusted for taste. The jam colored the frosting perfectly as well. The blueberry didn’t have a strong flavor so I preferred the raspberry and in the end mixed the two together, side by side in my pastry bag for the interesting color variation you see above.

 

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