Making the Macaron – the good, the bad, and the (sometimes very) ugly.


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Since the beginning of December, I’ve developed an unhealthy, maddening, emotional obsession with learning to make the ever popular macaron.

How did it start?  Well my friend Kathy went to Paris for her honeymoon where she took a macaron class and came back with notes and the recipes.  She and I attempted the macaron once years ago, and we totally bombed, vowing we’d never try again.  However, with the popularity of it coming back and seeing those pretty little cookie sandwiches everywhere, we were tempted to give it another go.  And more recently, me and another friend Lindi attempted Pistachio macarons at her place, and the results came out way better than my first attempt.

So, with my enthusiasm re-ignited, Kathy as my fellow macaron making sidekick, and with a small flicker of hope that these macarons could be done, I decided I would continue on my long paused quest of mastering kind of figuring out how to make a consistent, quality macaron.

I know that there’s already a ton of blog entries about making macarons, but I found that everyone has slightly different experiences, and as such offer up different tips and tricks.  As such, I will join the squad and add my own experiences to this with the hopes that you might find something helpful out of what I’ve learned.

My post today will focus on my experience using the italian method, which I found provided me with more consistent and successful results, along with the recipe I use, and tips and tricks I found useful when making the macaron, italian style.

THE METHODS:

It seems that most recipes found in lifestyle magazines showcase the french method (I didn’t even know about this Italian method until Kathy told me.)  The french method compared to the italian method appears to be easier: it has less steps involved, the steps are a bit more straight forward, yadda yadda yadda.   However the criticism with the french method is that you run the risk of getting more inconsistent baking results, there’s less margin for error compared to the italian.  

In short, the french method consists of whipping up your egg whites into a meringue, and then folding it into your ground almond/icing sugar mixture.  The italian method requires for you to make a simple sugar syrup which you slowly incorporate into your egg whites for a different type of meringue, which you then fold into your ground almond/icing sugar mixture, which is suppose to provide you with a smoother, chewier cookie (whereas it’s been said that the french method gives a crispier cookie.)  Italian is also suppose to be more forgiving and less finicky.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY ON THE FRENCH:

Before I ventured into the italian method, I was actually trying to get a hang of the french because there were less steps involved so I thought it’d be easier.  However I found that my numerous attempts were more miss than hits, and the inconsistency really bugged me.  Here’s a quick rundown of my french attempts, for your amusement:

Attempt #1: When Lindi and I got together to make the pistachio macarons, we used the french method recipe found here.  We followed the recipe exactly at face value, and we were very happy with them considering this was both our first time (I’m not going to count the attempt I did years ago, cuz it just sucked that bad.)  We had no complaints being the rookies we were!

The macaron shells puffed up alright, and they developed some decent feet (aka little ruffly ridges at the base of the macaron).

Lessons learned: we probably should’ve let the air out of them a bit more (tapping the pans) to prevent some of the air pockets at the surface and the mild cracks, and perhaps watch the heat a little bit as it was starting to brown.

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Attempt #2:  So excited with our results, Kathy and I attempted to make some more macarons the following week.  Not only that, we were ambitious and decided to make different colored shells and fillings for them.  We used the french method recipe from her macaron class in Paris:

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SO…this is the great thing with macarons: just because you got it the attempt before, don’t guarantee you’re gonna get it again!  These turned out worse than #1, they were deflated and there were air pockets all over the place under the top surface.  We weren’t sure where we went wrong exactly, but we had some guesses.

Lessons learned: we suspected we overmixed the batter and it got too runny.  We also forgot to tap the pans to bring the air bubbles to the surface, which is probably why we got all those air pockets underneath.  By the time we realized we forgot to tap the pans, the top had already developed it’s smooth skin, so it was hard for the air bubbles to escape.

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Attempt #3:  This would be my first time making the macarons on my own.  I tried the recipe I used in #1 again.  The results spoke for themselves.  they came out super crunchy and dense, meringue like.  Gross.

Lessons learned:  After being burned from overmixing in attempt #2, I went the other extreme and totally under mixed the batter and now there was wayyy too much air in the macaron shells that it caused them to stay all airy and crunchy, and you can see a bunch of them also had cracked tops.  Not cool.

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Attempt #4:  Seriously.  Okay.  So I was starting to feel a bit pissed off at this point, so decided to do a bit more research on making the french method macaron.  I found a great video that provided great visual aid on how the consistency of the batter should look before you pipe it in your bag.  Following along with the video I was finally able to produce what I thought was a decent step towards the ideal macaron.  I used the recipe from attempt #1 again.

Lessons learned:  Following that video, I was able to ensure I didn’t over mix or undermix my batter (aka the art of macronage)  I was pretty happy with how these turned out.  The tops were pretty smooth and round, I didn’t get many air bubbles or cracked shells, and I was able to get those little feet.  This was probably the closest success I had with the french method, even though the feet were super tiny.

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Attempt #5: What the.  K forget it.  I’m so over this.

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AND NOW….ITALIAN:

As I mentioned before, the italian method is suppose to be a lot more forgiving and that’s probably the reason why I fared better with it.  This was the recipe I used (thanks again Kathy for bringing this back from Paris!):

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Attempt #1: I wasn’t too hard on myself because it was my first time ever making them using this technique.  I really had no idea what I was doing, other than just trying to follow the recipe exactly. What I did notice was that the tops were smooth, noticeably smoother than what I could achieve with the french method.  However they were wonky as heck.

Lessons learned:  Who knows. LOL.  I think I didn’t tap the pans properly, I have no idea how this happened.  Whatever.

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Attempt #2: This was much more successful.  I didn’t really remember changing much, if anything.  I think what I did was make sure the consistency of the combined ingredients were well mixed and that the consistency of the batter was what it should have been.

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Attempt #3:  Again, a decently successful outcome.

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Attempt #4:  Another happy outcome.IMG_7879

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Happy with the consistent results of attempts #3 and #4, I decided to have a bit more fun with the fillings.

Cocoa Dusted macaron: dark chocolate ganache (of course, I love my dark chocolate.)

White macaron: lychee swiss buttercream

Brown macaron: peanut butter!

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Pink macaron: I mixed swiss buttercream with some strawberry/raspberry jam and piped an outline, so that it served as a barrier for the dollop of jam in the middle.  Sorry it kinda looks like a bloody gross eye, hey?

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And the finished sandwiches:

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I totally love how macarons have the ability to be made in so many different colors and flavors.

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TIPS AND TRICKS:

So with all that being said, here’s a breakdown of tips and tricks Kathy and I found useful, listed in chronological macaron making order:

-Firstly, DO invest in a digital scale if you can.  It really helps to make sure you get precise measurements, and weighing ingredients is more accurate than measuring cups.  I recently purchased this Starfrit scale for only $10, so it’s not really an investment that will break the bank.

-DO sift your ground almonds and icing sugar together.  You want nice smooth tops?  You gotta work for it.  It also mixes the ground almonds and icing sugar together.

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-DO let your egg whites sit out to room temperature and DO use real egg whites, not the carton stuff!  You may be able to get away with liquid egg whites using the french method, but it totally bombs with the italian, it can’t stand up to the hot sugar syrup that gets poured into it, and it ends up collapsing and liquifying as a result.  I tried it three times, all unsuccessful, to really make sure it wasn’t just a fluke.  On the fourth try I did what I always did but used real egg whites, and it was completely fine.  It was also then that I noticed that the real egg whites whip up a lot more stable and as such can hold their whipped state a lot better when you pour in that sugar syrup.

-DO pour in the sugar syrup gradually.  Even when you use real egg whites  to make your meringue, it’s still a delicate ingredient.  I make sure to pour the sugar syrup into the meringue in a thin and steady stream.  I also have the whisk on high speed so it incorporates the sugar syrup into the meringue as soon as possible.

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-DO stop your mixer once the bowl is warm.  I stop whisking the combined egg white/sugar syrup once the outside of the bowl is no longer hot to the touch.  My consistency looked like this:

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-DO incorporate the ingredients gradually.  When folding the ground almond/icing mixture into the whisked egg whites, do it in thirds.  The first third is just to get the ground almond/sugar/egg white pasty mixture into a softer consistency.   When adding the meringues the second and third time, take care to fold the batter together, to not deflate the air from the meringue too fast. 

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-DO watch the consistency when you macronage (aka the act of folding the whisked egg white meringue with the ground almond/icing mixture).  It should be viscous, and lavalike, and should ribbon off your spoon.  Once it does that, you know you are ready to fill your bag and pipe the circles.

This is the consistency I stop mixing at, as you can see it looks quite liquid and smooth.  It should be liquid enough that the surface smooths itself off pretty quick when you pipe out the shells, or drip the batter off your spoon into the bowl.  That also ensures your tops of your piped macarons will be smooth when you bake them.

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-DO use a baking mat instead of parchment paper if you can.  I’ve used both and found that the baking mat better maintains the perfect round circle shape when you tap the pan.  When I tap the pans using parchment, I find that sometimes the impact of the pan tapping makes my initially perfect circles start going oval or wonky on me a bit.  One of my baking mats was purchased from Duchess, and my other baking mat was a gift from Kathy straight from Paris so I’m not sure where you can get that one, but both of them work great.

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-DO tap your pans!   Make sure you release as many air bubbles as you can by hitting the bottom of the pan against a sturdy counter surface (put a dish towel on your counter if you wish to muffle the slamming noise a bit).  Tapping your pans will reduce the chance of the surfaces cracking, and having too many hollows inside your cookie.  Make sure you also tap your pans while the batter is still wet and air bubbles can still escape, before it has a chance to develop the surface skin (described next).

-DO let your cookies rest before putting them in the oven.  By letting your pan sit for 20-30 minutes before you pop them in the oven, it allows that “skin” on the surface to form, which will give you the smooth macaron top that they are famous for.  It’s also what enables the macarons to rise and develop the feet that macarons are also known to have, because the skin then forces the air to expand and come out of the bottom rather than from off the top.

-DO watch your temperature.  Recipes for french macarons suggest you bake for 12-14 minutes at 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit.  I find that at 300, my oven doesn’t bake them long enough, and they need to go in for longer.   For me, my oven does best at 320 degrees Fahrenheit for 14 minutes.

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-DO NOT underbake.  Again for the reasons stated above.  The general rule is that it’s better to slightly err on the side of slightly over baking rather than under baking. The reason is because once you fill your macaron, the moisture from the filling will soften the cookie over 24-48 hours, and bring back some of that chewiness that you want.

The best way to test whether or not they’re done?  When you think they’re done, open the oven and with your finger, lightly press on one of the tops of the macarons, if the top shell of the macaron cap slides around, that means it’s not done. If it doesn’t slide anymore, you’re good.

-DO NOT put it on convection heat.  The fan has a chance to blow the tops of the macarons into being crooked and you’ll have invented the leaning tower of macarons.  If you are concerned about even oven temperature, I learned a trick of putting an empty baking pan on the bottom oven rack. Not sure how this helps, but it seems to work.  Must be some science thing.

-DO put your macarons in the middle rack of the oven, and don’t put in more than a pan at a time.  You don’t want it too close to either of the heating elements otherwise you risk burning.

-DO let them cool completely before you remove them from the baking mat.  I was often impatient and would break them while they were still warm and softer.  Wait a bit and you’ll see how easily they come off the mat.

-DO age your macarons.  By age, it means to fill your cookies with the filling 24-48 hours before you want them consumed.  Again as mentioned above, it allows your cookie to soften and get some of the chewiness back to the cookie.  Once I fill my macarons, I store them in the fridge in an airtight container.  My macarons get chewier and tastier the longer they sit in my fridge.  Love it.

If you’ve made it to the end of my post, congrats!  I know it was a long one, but I just wanted to give as much info as possible in my own experience, as I found other blog posts super helpful during my journey in learning these feisty cookies.

Have you attempted these cookies?  I’d love to see your concoctions and any tips you’d have!  I don’t claim to be an expert and I’m far from being one, but hopefully together we can make the world a bit sweeter, one little macaron at a time!

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6 thoughts on “Making the Macaron – the good, the bad, and the (sometimes very) ugly.

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  3. This made me laugh so much, I love macarons and making them is so frustrating and time consuming. I have so much respect for all of the time you put into this entry. They looked absolutely delicious!

  4. Wow! I’ve attempted once and just find it simpler to BUY them. After reading your post I’m going to your Italian method. They look beautiful. I tried reading super fast so I might have missed how you measure to get the perfect size circle every time.

    • Hi Erica! If you Google “maracon template” there’s lots of free printables you can just print off your computer and place under your baking mat/parchment paper so that it guides you to pipe the same sized circles, all equally spaced. Just don’t forget to remove the paper once you’re done before popping them in the oven. :)

      Good luck, and let me know how they turn out!

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