There are a lot of different cooking/baking moods aren’t there? There is the “Okay, I guess we need a loaf of bread today” mood or the “I really, really want salted chocolate chip cookies… I NEED SALTED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES” mood.
Then, sometimes we want a challenge, right? It’s the “How do they do that? And can I do it, too?” mood. For me this usually hinges on some kind of technique or process that produces something special.
Most recently, I have been in the mood to learn the techniques for making Macarons.
Honestly, my first experience with Macarons was awful. Mike was in NYC, and he brought them home. I had no idea what this little sandwich item was, but it wasn’t a macaroon — which, because it is made of coconut, is heaven. These were not those.
These were in a candy box, and they were all flavored with florals, lavender, etc. The rose-flavored ones I remember spitting out. I thought they were hideous, and after that I judged all Macarons by that first experience. I wondered why anyone would actually even make such a disgusting item — until we went to Paris in 2015.
When you have real, fresh, well-made Macarons, then you get it. Sweet, but not overly so. Crunchy, but soft. Addictive, even. In Paris, all the flavors you could imagine, most of them delectable.
We ate them daily there (along with the most gorgeous eclairs I have ever seen), but I still would not have considered making them. It took watching the people on The Great British Baking Show making them time after time that finally egged me into trying tomake my own Macarons. The home cooks there seemed to whip them up in no time, so why not me, right? And I was up for a challenge. To learn something new.
Yeah. Well. There’s a reason this post on Macarons is “Part One.” My hope is that as I work through the recipes, tweak things, learn more, I can allow some of you to start a little farther down the road, perhaps without so much experimentation (one can hope).
The first time, I followed this recipe at AheadofThyme, and I ended up with something that was more like a collection of little meringue Hershey’s Kisses. Cookies, basically, which were tasty, but were definitely not Macarons.
This is not necessarily the fault of the recipe, though I did have some problems with this one. A lot of detail is left out; for instance, that there are various almond flours (blanched, not blanched, and stuff you grind yourself) and confectioner’s sugar (organic, with tapioca starch rather then corn starch). Also the measurements were not in weights, which makes it much more unpredictable. People in reviews did seem to have luck with it, but maybe because they were on a different leg of their Macaron Journey.
I did like that the AheadofThyme recipe makes a reasonable amount of cookies for the home cook, though. Still, I was not doing something right. I needed more information than this recipe offered.
I discovered that a large part of the process is in the macaronage, the step wherein you deflate the meringue. (I have to add “a lava like consistency” means nothing to me. Lava seems to have a lot of consistencies. There is the slow, watch it encompass a car lava, and the “run for your life” lava. There is lava that just sits there bubbling. In fact, Geology Rocks.com says “This viscous liquid can range from the consistency of syrup to extremely stiff, with little or no flow apparent. ”
So, I would urge people to please drop the “lava” comparisons.
At this point, three batches of Macarons in, I think each case is unique. There may not be myths as much as variations: how your Macarons behave depends on your oven and environmental differences, skill levels, altitude, maybe even the pans you use and the mood you are in. Whether it’s raining or dry, or if you paid your bills. I think it all might figure in.
So, one thing I have learned about technique is each person has to adapt it to their particular situation.
Back to the Macarons. Given Brave Tart’s experience (and that she measures ingredients in weights), I decided to use her recipe the second time around.
This time I did end up with something that approached a more Macaron-looking Macaron. They looked good, tasted good — BUT — I only ended up with about 15 out of 40 or so that actually looked like this. You can still see the bumps on the top, and aside of these few, the ones that came before didn’t have “feet” (the little crunchy bottom to each cookie) or were completely hollow.
Also, while Brave Tart did loads of myth-busting, she did not find leaving the trays out mattered — but the trays that I left out on the counter the longest came out the best.
The Macarons on first and second tray in were all hollow, and had no feet. The last trays in rose nicely — on the counter for 45 minutes or so — had nice feet and were not hollow, or at least not as hollow. Maybe this was oven temperature as well? I made a note.
So, now, on to attempt #3.
I took, this time, a combination of both AheadofThyme’s recipe and Brave Tart’s, because Brave Tart’s made more than I wanted, and I was able to roughly scale based on AheadofThyme’s portions. So I ended up making my meringue as such:
- 80g blanched almond flour
- 120 g confectioner’s sugar
- 75 g eggwhite (in this case, aged, since I’d saved them from a bread recipe a week before — I don’t know if this made any difference, BT seems to say not, and honestly, it’s not something I’ll do again unless nothing else works)
- 40g granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp lemon extract, just to be different.
This time, I paid much more attention to the macaronage. The first time around, I’d been way too gentle, worried about deflating, which is actually what you want to do!
After piping them out on the pans, I let them sit on the counter for an hour+ while I walked the dogs. I gave them a few raps on the counter before letting them set, not before putting them in the oven. I also let the oven heat up during this time, to make sure it was at temperature.
Baked with Brave Tart’s instructions, I ended up with much better Macarons this time — they spread slightly better, though still with some bumps on top, and had decent feet.
However, many, though not all of them, were hollow.
I filled them anyway, since you can still eat a hollow Macaron, but the point of this journey is not to just make an edible Macaron, but a perfect one, which means perfecting the technique. I have not. Yet.
The end result was about 20 Macarons that were better, but still not perfect. They needed to spread more — so I still hadn’t deflated enough — and a percentage were still hollow. Also, I could have gone with a whole teaspoon of extract as the lemon was barely detectable and was also completely overshadowed by the chocolate filling .
So. More research. The next time, I plan to go back to actual baker’s percentages, and refigure based on Brave Tart’s recipe, leaving the other behind. I also found this wonderful, wonderful page at Indulge with MiMi that includes a video about Macaronage and what the meringue should look like in the end. I think this will be very helpful.
I may also try not getting the meringue quite as stiff as Brave Tart and AheadofThyme advised (to where it clumps inside the whisk), and see if that helps. So, stay tuned for the next step on the Macaron Journey! And if you decide to try these yourself, let me know and feel free to post any comments, advice or other links you think are worthwhile.