French macarons that I've made recently, compare this with the coconut macaroons below
Picture taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macaroon
Hopefully by now you have noticed the difference in appearance between a macaron and a macaroon. I believe that it's only respectful to call something the way it's meant to be by the people who invented it. Not trying to pedantic here but this is importance especially in places like America where a macaroon would be perceived as the one shown in the second picture and not the first.
French macarons are dear to me when it comes to my baking journey. They were the first things that I ever baked seriously. Yes it was during the time when I was super stressed during the write-up period of my dissertation. In fact, I had no idea why I chose such a notoriously difficult confectionery to make at a stressful time like that. It would have backfired but God was gracious. My first batch turned out good and it gave me the confidence boost that I needed and definitely helped in taking the stress away. Since then I have baked french macarons for about 10 times and I must admit I have failed in about half of those attempts. But macaron making is such a technical thing it really does take experience to ensure consistent success. It's all about learning from mistakes after all. Figuring out why the last batch cracked, was it the temperature, was it the humidity, was it the macaronage..
Here are some photos of my macarons from my very first time up till my last attempt:
I live in a student accommodation and the fact that my oven has a heating element at the top ONLY really doesn't help with macaron making or baking in general because they burn before they are fully baked! Seriously, I've never seen an oven that only has a heat source at the top and not the bottom!! Anyway, desperate times call for desperate measures. I decided to invest in an oven/pizza stone that could serve as an alternative heat source. In addition I also covered the top shelf with double layers of aluminium foil to avoid browning of my macarons. And it worked! For those of you who have a proper oven with heating element at the bottom, lucky you! All you need to do is to make sure you use double or tripe stack your baking sheets/trays to allow even heat distribution.
Without further adieu here is the recipe:
French Macarons: Makes approx. 14 macarons
65g ground almond, sifted
100g icing sugar, sifted
For the meringue:
50g aged egg white, i.e; egg whites that have been left on the counter for a few days, ideally.
30g caster sugar
Egg white powder: Use 4g if your egg whites aren't aged, or 1g for well aged egg whites
1. Preheat oven to 190C. Sift the ground almond and icing sugar together, making sure the big lumps of ground almond do not get through the sieve or else you won't get the smooth top of the macarons.
2. Whisk egg whites with caster sugar, egg white powder and a pinch of cream of tartar if you like until stiff peaks.
3. Add in food coloring, DO NOT use liquid coloring as moisture is the worst enemy for macarons!
4. Incorporate meringue with sifted icing sugar and ground almond. This is the most important step called Macaronage. During this process you're trying to BEAT OUT the air from the meringue. This is very different to most conventional baking recipes which require you to fold the meringue and avoid knocking out air. For macaron making, you WANT to knock out sufficient air so that you get the rise but not cracked shells due to too much air within the batter.
5. Mix well until a ribbon forms from the batter when you lift up your spatula. Alternatively, test pipe using a spoon and the peak should flatten out within 5 seconds with a good shake.
6. Pipe 2cm circles onto a parchment paper, slam the baking tray on the table to get rid of excess bubbles and bake for 5 minutes at 190C and 160C for another 10 minutes approx. Macarons are ready when they are firm on their 'feet' and not wobbling.
1. Humidity is the nemesis of macaron making. Try to avoid making macarons on a rainy day, it really does affect the final product. On a dry sunny day I have made 3 to 4 batches in a row with perfectly baked shells, smooth and shiny top and even feet. The opposite was true on a rainy day when I failed 3 times in a row ending up with lots of shells with cracked surface (still tasted good but not presentable). In addition, make sure all your utensils and mixing bowls are very dry especially if you're sharing a kitchen with others. You may think your mixing bowl that has been left on the rack for half a day is dry but your flatmates might have decided to leave his newly washed saucepan on top of your dried bowl so always check and give them a good wipe before use!
2. Macaronage - The mixing of the dry ingredients and the meringue is perhaps the most technically demanding step. It requires the baker to recognise the exact consistency of the batter before piping. Undermixing would give you very lumpy looking shells because they don't even out on their own upon piping(too stiff). Not sure if you've come across some home-baked macarons that look like they're wearing a hat on top, that's a sure sign of under-mixed batter. Overmixing would result in very fluid batter and you get irregularly shaped shells. Both under and over-mixing could give you cracks as well. The consistency you're looking for is what's called 'the ribbon stage'. Pick up your spatula with the batter and let it drip down, they should fold over itself like how you could do for a strip of ribbon. If you're unsure, spoon out some batter and test pipe it on a (dry!) plate, the spike on the top should even out within 10 seconds or less.
3. Drying - This step is crucial if you're using the recipe I posted. Some says the Italian meringue recipe users can skip this step but I've always used French meringue so I'm not sure. Drying is necessary for the formation of a layer of 'skin' on top. This is essential to prevent cracks during baking. While your macarons are in the oven, the heat causes the air bubbles from the meringue to expand giving it the rise and thus the feet. However, if this rise is excessive(severely under or unevenly mixed meringue) and there's not a layer of crust/skin on top to stop its emergence, cracks appear. Drying time depends on the amount of moisture in your batter and the weather, the way to test this is by using a piece of tissue paper and gently dab on the piped macarons, they should not stick to the tissue paper. Proceed to touch it with your fingers, check and make sure there's no stains of batter on your finger tips. The reason I prefer dabbing with tissue paper first is so I don't end up with lots of sticky batter on my fingers. This takes 10 to 20 minutes on a dry sunny day.
I hope these three tips have been helpful to you. Macarons are very tricky to bake and probably this reflects on the fact that they are sold up to 1.50Euro a piece in Paris! They were sold at 80p per piece(1.5cm diamater only!) at a renowned patisserie chain in my local area the last time I checked. I hope this inspires you to make your own instead of paying extortionate prices for these beautiful sandwiched cookies.
For the filling, your options are limitless. For a simple chocolate ganache, melt equal portion of chocolate and double cream (for example, 100g chocolate with 100ml cream) and stir in 20g of butter. Let cool to a piping consistency. Pipe onto one shell and sandwich with another and voila there you have it! Macarons are actually at their best after a day or two (or three even!). Some say the filling helps make the centre more chewy but for me I think it's just because the flavours of the almond and filling amalgate better after a couple of days. If you can take the trouble to make these why not give it some time to mature like a good block of cheese (not). That aside, get creative with your flavours, infuse the cream with herbs, tea leaves or add a few drops of mint extract. This is the beauty of DIY, you can do whatever you want with the flavours!
Perfect for an afternoon tea or even as gifts as seen above!