I’m a Francophile. Ok, I’m also an Italophile. I always thought I was an Italophile, but our time in Morocco, a former French protectorate, has tipped the scale in favor of France. After our recent trip to Paris where I was steeped in café au lait, pain au chocolat, duck confit, and crème caramel, the French have my heart and stomach, at least for now. Plus, my recent results on the Buzzfeed quiz “What City Should You Actually Live In?” put me squarely in Paris.
Topping the list on my list of French favorites: macarons. For my fellow Americans, let me be clear that these are not the chewy, coconut, chocolate dipped cookies that Americans refer to as macaroooooons. The French macaron, is light, airy, sweet, and well, fancy. I love a little fancy in my day.
I’ve tried to make macarons at least 3 times (maybe more, but really, who is counting?) without success. There is nothing easy about macaron making because there are a lot of places where one can go wrong. But when it’s right, the little ladies are beautiful to look at and delicious to devour. The macaron requires technical knowhow and finesse. With no formal training, my attempts at these little beauties fell flat, literally. No feet, too many air bubbles, cracked, domed-shaped, discolored, I’ve experienced all the macaron failures in the book. Living in Rabat doesn’t help, because our favorite boulangerie et patisserie sells the sophisticated sandwiches for less than $.50 each.
But, love for the kitchen is also about love for kitchen challenges, and when I found out that a dear co-worker of mine was a trained and talented pastry chef, I enticed her with Champagne and gluten-free snacks for an afternoon lesson in macaron making. The result was 60 pieces of perfection. We sifted, whipped, folded, piped, racked, baked, and filled for five hours. Yes, five hours. This is not an endeavor for the light-hearted. It is a labor of love. And, with St. Valentine peeking down at us, it may be the perfect time to devote a long afternoon to some bubbly and give these a try.
What tips or questions do you have when it comes to macaron making?
MACARONS (makes about 60 macarons)
Special equipment (yes, you need these- don’t even try this without a food scale): Food scale, food processor, sifter or sieve, mixer, pastry bags with a small round tip, silicone baking mats
The ingredient list for the shells are given in grams because this is one of the keys to successful macarons. Get a food scale and weigh your ingredients. Using measuring cups is a recipe for disaster. Trust me on this one.
For the shells:
247.5 g Almond Flour
247.5 g Confectioner’s (powdered sugar)
1 large pinch of sea salt
225 g granulated sugar
4 g cream of tartar
172.5 g egg whites
gel food coloring of your choice
For the filling:
This is really up to you. Nutella works well and requires no additional prep. A chocolate ganache also works well. Add jams to a buttercream base and you’ve got a world of options.
1 stick (113g) softened butter
1 cup (125 g) confectioners’ sugar
jams or preserves of your choice
2-3 days BEFORE you want to make the macarons, separate 6 egg whites into a bowl and leave the egg whites uncovered in your refrigerator. Aging your egg whites will allow some of the water to evaporate and will help you achieve a more even macaron.
Once your egg whites are aged, prepare your ingredients. Measure the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar. Pulse the measured almond flour and confectioner’s sugar three to five times in the food processor. Don’t over process. The ingredients won’t look different, you just want to create a finer texture and lightly mix the ingredients.
Sift the almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, and sea salt together, then set aside.
Measure the granulated sugar and cream of tartar and set aside. Now, prepare your piping bags and line your baking pans with silicone making mats. Pre-heat the oven to 200 F. Do all of this before you begin whipping the egg whites because you will want to work quickly once the egg whites are whipped.
In a large CLEAN, DRY bowl (wipe it down again with a dry paper towel just in case!) place the measured egg whites into the bowl. Begin whipping the egg whites on medium-high with the wire whisks. After whipping for 3-5 seconds, add the cream of tartar. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together until soft peaks begin to form. Then, slowly add the granulated sugar, in 3-4 additions, making sure that the sugar is fully incorporated between each addition.
Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. The egg whites will be shiny (I’m told this is because of the cream of tartar) and the whites will look like marshmallow fluff.
Now, here’s the hard part. In the same large bowl, add the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula, using the J-fold technique. Basically this means running around the edge of the bowl with your rubber spatula. Resist the temptation to cut into the middle of the mixture. It will all get incorporated if you keep running your spatula around the edges. Patience.
After approximately 30 strokes, the mixture will look really grainy and the almond flour will not look incorporated, but stop mixing. It looks like really grainy frozen yogurt or like raw biscuit dough.
If you would like to add color, now is your time. If you want to make multiple colors, you’ll have to separate the mixture into separate bowls. Cover the batter with plastic wrap and GENTLY press the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the batter (just like you would when you are making guacamole or a custard to prevent a film). Set all but one of the bowls aside, each covered with plastic wrap.
Drop in your gel color of choice. We used 6-8 drops of gel coloring, this was really like a squirt of coloring (see picture below).
Incorporate the color using the J-fold technique, again just running your rubber spatula around the outside of the bowl. As soon as you get a smooth ribbon when you lift the spatula, stop. It should look like a thick, grainy, milkshake. Really, grainy is ok here. I was really surprised at how grainy the batter looks. Working quickly, pour the batter into one of your prepared piping bags. (You are going to bake this batch before moving on to mix up the next color. )
Pipe the batter into small discs about one inch (2 cm) in diameter and about ½ inch apart. Piping is hard. Hold the tip at a 90 degree angle from the pan about ¼ inch away from the pan. Squeeze the bag, do not move the tip. I make the mistake of dipping the tip down into the batter or overcompensating for this error by lifting the tip, creating a Hershey Kiss effect. Just keep the tip in one place, press out the batter, and use a quick swirl of your wrist to clean off the tip. Practice. Practice. Practice. Accept failure. Practice more.
Once the batter is piped, rack (i.e., gently slam) the pan against the counter hard, several times to help the air bubbles rise to the top of the batter. We did this 3-4 times against the counter along the long edge of the pan. Do this with both of the long edges of the sheet pan.
Now let the piped macarons rest for 3-5 minutes, then place into the 200F oven for 15 minutes with the oven door cracked open. This is just to dry out the batter—not to bake them.
After 15 minutes, turn up the oven to 325F. Bake the macarons for 8 minutes at 325F, DON’T OPEN THE OVEN! If you have to peek, use your oven light. Don’t open the oven door. You should see the little beauties start to rise and the little feet should appear. Some of ours were a little lopsided, it’s ok. Keep them in there!
Once you see the feet on the macarons, open the oven and LIGHTLY press the top of one macaron with your fingertip. If you feel a little resistance, they are done. Remove them from the oven and cool.
Make the filling. Whip the butter and confectioners sugar together with a mixer. When the mixture is light and fluffy stop and add your jams and preserves. We separated our buttercream into 3 small bowls. We added about 1-2 tablespoons of strawberry rhubarb jam to one bowl, 1-2 tablespoons of blueberry jam to another, and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract to the last bowl. Mix the fillings together with a spoon and add additional flavorings to taste.
Once the macarons are cool, match the shells up according to comparable size. Spread a filling of your choice on the bottom of one shell and use another to create the delicate sandwich, et viola!
Note: These macarons store well in the freezer. To store line up the macarons side by side and wrap in plastic wrap.
What can go wrong? Honestly, a lot. These take practice. Even under the expert tutelage of my friend and colleague, I’m not entirely confident I can get successful results on my own. But you know what they say, practice makes perfect…and a little luck doesn’t hurt either!