I love Macarons. Seriously, what's not to love. I fell in love first with the look. Just Google it and you'll find tons of beautiful pictures of gorgeous pastel macarons. Lined up in rows in shop windows, boxed up with tissue and ribbons. I guess it's the graphic designer in me but I'm a sucker for presentation. Then I tasted them and oh la la. The crispy crunch of the outer shell that gives way to a chewy, almondy center. Pair that with a light smear of buttercream, ganache or jam and it's sheer bliss.
What adds to their mystique is the complicated preparation. Not that the ingredients are so rare, they're pretty simple. It's more the precise steps it takes to combine them in just the right way. Fail at any one step and they won't turn out. So, needless to say, I've been intimidated. Heck, down right scared to try and make them. I've been working up the courage for over a year, reading hundreds of recipes and techniques, tips and tricks to try and de-mystify this culinary conundrum. Then, through the miracle of Pinterest, I stumbled upon this blog: Not So Humble Pie. Here the author totally breaks down the process with pictures and in depth explanations. The trouble shooting guide at the end is priceless. After reading through the entire post I finally found the courage to give Macarons a try, and I did. . .
Start with the basics: powdered egg whites (NOT meringue powder), granulated sugar, powdered sugar, almond meal and aged* egg whites. Also some gel color if you want. (Do not used oil based colors as it will cause the meringue to deflate. See the Royal Icing post for an explanation.)
*“Aged” means they have sat out and dried out. For this recipe I used 4 egg whites and let them set out on the kitchen counter, in a shallow dish, covered with plastic wrap, overnight. They will loose moisture (and weight) as they age so weigh the egg whites after they are aged.
Before you get started, line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. I went with parchment. Also, make sure that all the bowls and utensils are grease free by washing in very hot soapy water and drying thoroughly.
Stir together the granulated sugar and powdered egg whites.
Next sift the almond meal and powdered sugar. My sieve was pretty tight and it was hard to get the almond meal through so I just dumped it in a bowl and used a whisk to get it mixed together and break up any lumps of almond meal or sugar.
Weigh the egg whites (after they've aged.)
And beat on low speed until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly sprinkle in the powdered egg white and sugar mixture. Then increase the speed to medium and beat until you have a firm, NOT stiff, meringue.
This is the texture. The peak on the end of the mixer should flop over a bit when held sideways but not drop off. It should look somewhat glossy. Again, NOT stiff peaks so go easy.
Stir in the gel color if using. I wanted a grapefruit color so I used a dab of pink and a dab of yellow for the pale peachy orange color.
Add 1/3 of the almond/sugar mixture and fold gently until combined. Then add another 1/3, folding gently and then the last 1/3. Go slow and use a gentle folding motion. At first it will seem thick and pasty but as you fold it will loosen up.
This is what you'll end up with. Doesn't seem like enough for 50 macaron but a little goes a long way.
Add the batter to a piping (or zipper) bag fitted with a round tip. One that has about 1/4 inch opening. Then pipe rounds of batter on the parchment lined cookie sheet. They will spread just a bit so pipe a slightly smaller circle then you want. Give the cookie sheet a light rap on the counter to bring up any bubbles and smooth out any peaks from piping. Bubbles that don't break on their own can be popped with a toothpick. Now just let them sit for 30-60 minutes. After 30 minutes check them. Touch the top lightly with your finger. If your finger sticks, they aren't ready. If you can lightly touch the top and it feels smooth and dry then they are ready to bake. Now's a good time to preheat the oven.
Bake them in a slow (290°F-300°f) oven for 15-20 minutes. They should not brown at all but be crispy. If you're not sure, gently try to lift one off the pan. It should release easily and be crispy on the outside with no wet spots on the inside. It's best to err on the side of overdone rather than underdone. Initially the cookies will seem a bit too crispy and won't have the chewy interior that you're aiming for, but, once you fill them and let them "age" (there's that word again) a day or two they will absorb moisture from the filling and be a perfect texture.
You can fill them with whatever you like. There are a number of options. Jam, ganache, buttercream, any kind of citrus curd. I had a grand idea to make some Grapefruit Curd and fill them with that. Hence, the grapefruity color. But, well, my grapefruit curd didn't turn out, it was a disaster and went down the old drain. I considered using some strawberry jam that I had but it wouldn't match with the peachy color. Then I remembered I had some homemade apricot jam thanks to my friend Jon. So I used that and it was great. Nice a tangy, a great contrast to the sweet almond flavor of the macaron.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate the success of this first try at macaron about an 8. On some, not all, the top broke away from the "foot", which is probably due to my oven being too hot. My oven is also hotter at the back than the front so next time I'll probably rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time and reduce my oven by about 5°F. The taste and texture were perfect. Crispy top and chewy center. I am totes going to make these again. Go try for yourself. If I can do it, you totes can!
Here again is a link to the recipe I used. I highly (that means do it) recommend you read the entire post before beginning. I helped me and I know it will help you. Happy Macaronning!
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