I have purchased macarons ranging from $1.95 to $3.50 each, and would say some were definitely worth the price, while others were quite underwhelming. The price alone inspired me to try my hand at making macarons.
After my first 3 attempts, I began to think the same two thoughts, “Never again, I’ll just buy them!” or, “These came out well, and were worth the mess my poor “sous chef” has to help me clean up!”
Here are the challenges I encountered and some excellent tips I learned along the way to making macarons:
What’s the weather like today?
I read many articles on how humidity can affect the baking process. Apparently, too much moisture in the air will cause chaos in your shells. But, I’ve also read that bakers don’t really wait for a perfect day. Just make sure the macaron shells have formed a hard skin before baking them.
Aged egg whites
The egg whites should be aged anywhere from 2-5 days in the refrigerator, then brought to room temperature before whipping to the correct texture. I find a pinch of cream of tartar is also helpful. Superfine sugar, also known as caster sugar, should be added slowly. If you overbeat the egg whites, it’s a disaster. If you underbeat the egg whites, it’s still going to be disastrous. I have tried testing the egg whites by placing the bowl upside down. If the mixture doesn’t slide, you’re good to go. If it does, you need to whip them a bit more. Another helpful tip that I just learned recently from experimenting is that I don’t use my KitchenAid mixer, I use a hand mixer. It’s easier to stop and check the texture of the egg whites, and I rarely overbeat them this way. You’re looking for stiff peaks and a glossy meringue.
I would not attempt to make macarons without a kitchen scale. The amounts have to be exact, in grams. This goes for the egg whites, almond flour, icing sugar and superfine sugar.
Superfine almond flour
Most almond flour is too coarse, even after passing through a sieve several times. I tried buying blanched almond slivers in bulk and making my own almond flour, but it was extremely time-consuming and messy. The finer the almond flour, the smoother your shells will be. Sift the almond flour and icing sugar at least 3 times, you want a super, super fine mixture.
This is where I get stressed out and start to hold my breath. Folding the tant pour tant into the whipped meringue is where most bakers go wrong. I have watched countless videos and read every article and trouble-shooting guide I could get my hands on.
You want to add the almond flour mixture and start to fold (not mix, but fold) with a bit of speed, but then slow down. I’ve read 50 strokes is good, but I’ve had horrible results. 60-70 strokes, forget about it. You’ll just end up with puddles. Then again, I have to say, when I’ve under-folded, the macarons looked hideous. Many times, I over-folded and despite the fact that I could not pipe the shells because the mixture was too loose, the shells came out beautifully. I read that the mixture should flow like lava. What the heck is that?
This is the stage where you can start to pull your hair out, or, leave the mess you just made in your kitchen, hop in your car and head to the nearest bakery that sells beautiful macarons.
Alternately, try watching this video to obtain the right consistency.
Unless you have a steady hand or you’re experienced in making macarons, I would suggest using a template. You can find many on the Internet. I laminated mine and placed them under the parchment paper on my baking sheets.
Now, finally, the piping marathon begins! If the finished mixture is the “right” consistency, you should be able to pipe and see the circles start to spread slightly and flatten on their own. Too thick and you can see circle patterns where you’ve piped? You under-folded and now what can we do when the mixture is already in the piping bag!!!! This happened many times because I was so afraid of over-folding.
When completed, hold a baking sheet with both hands, and with a firm grip on the parchment paper as well, whack the sheets on your counter a few times. If you still have some peaks, the mixture wasn’t quite ready. You can try to dip your finger tip into a very small amount of water, then on a paper towel and gently, very gently press down on any shells that still have peaks. If you see air bubbles, break them with a toothpick.
The macarons need a nap and so will you by the time you get to this stage!
There is much debate over letting the piped macaron shells rest at room temperature to allow a skin to develop, or not. Apparently, this helps with achieving perfect feet – the beautiful ruffles around the bottom of the shells. I’ve read numerous reviews where bakers omitted this step. My tip, wait 30 minutes. Just don’t let them sit too long, such as 45 – 60 minutes. I did that once and the feet came out lopsided. I read that they napped too long and became attached to the parchment paper!
Also, if you used a template, remove it now before baking.
Naps over … what’s next?
I can’t say this enough; you must purchase an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is at the right temperature. The first few times, I didn’t bother and when I did buy one, my oven was off by 25 degrees! Even with my new oven, the temperature was off by 40 degrees and when it was replaced, that oven was off by 15 degrees!
Oven temperature and rack positioning
Here we go, finally, the moment of truth! 300°F is quite standard, but I’ve had tops that browned. 290°F and they didn’t rise. Center of the rack, bottom third of the rack, top of the rack. Hair pulling starts ….
After numerous tests, 295°F worked for me (oven temperatures will vary), and I placed them in the middle of my oven.
Close the door, turn on the oven light, crouch to watch them rise (please, please) and pray!!
What worked for me:
If your macarons are spreading too much and you’re not getting perfect feet, your oven temperature might be too hot. Here’s a trick I learned that has resulted in nice feet!
Preheat your oven to 325°F. Place one tray of macarons in the oven. Watch for them to rise (from the glass window). This could take anywhere from 4-6 minutes. The minute you see them forming perfect feet, open the door gently but quickly and slide a wooden spoon in the doorway and close. Turn the heat down to 295°F and let them bake until they’re done.
To test, nudge a macaron with your finger, if it moves, they need more baking time. If they don’t budge at all, they’re done. This can take up to 10 more minutes of bake time, depending on your oven.
If your macarons are getting brown, your oven temperature is too hot.
Now that the macarons are out of the oven, let them cool completely on cooling racks.
Gently peel them away from the parchment paper. If they stick, they were undercooked. Another lesson learned.
To avoid this, do the test above to make sure the macarons are baked enough.
Where’s my twin?
Pair up the macarons as best you can. Some will look oval, others not so pretty, but they will still taste great.
Filling your macarons
Pipe your desired filling onto one macaron and place the twin on top. Gently press down while holding the edges of the macaron. I find a gentle twist helps as well.
Do not, and I repeat, do not eat macarons just yet!
24 hour time out
Trust me on this one, you will be tempted after all that hard work to pop a macaron in your mouth, and you can, but they will not taste like a macaron should. You might even start to think you weren’t successful!
Macarons truly need some time out in the fridge for 24 hours. Place them carefully in a tight-fitting container and let the flavours meld together overnight. When ready to eat, take the macarons out and let them sit for 15 minutes. Cold macarons don’t taste good, especially if they’ve been filled with chocolate ganache or Swiss/Italian meringue buttercream.
Now, take that first bite. The result should be a crispy shell, followed by a chewy texture and delicious filling. Note that if you used a wet filling such as lemon curd or another type of fruit, the shells will be softer.
Storing those finicky macrons
Store macarons in a tight-fitting container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Macarons also freeze very well.
Despite all these challenges, I’m craving macarons right now, how about you?