I have a strong love-hate relationship with macarons (say the ending like you’re saying the name, “Ron”. Macaroons are the coconut cookies… totally different). They’re so pretty, they’re a blend of a wee little bit of crunch and a little bit of chewy, and they’re sweet, but not too sweet. If I want to bake something with a wow-factor, macarons are the obvious choice. But they take time and the right weather and so much precision and attention. There’s no multi-tasking when making macarons. I have to psych myself up to get in the zone to make them. They are more finicky than I am. Fortunately I have a troop of vultures who are more than happy to eat any that crack or are misshapen or hollow or have soggy, not-cooked-enough bottoms…
When you see them for sale for $3 each, you need to know that yes, the labor that went into them is worthy of that $3. So if you choose to spend your $3 on something that you can consume in one bite, you want it to be amazing, right? But often they’re not. So while you’re quarantined and wheat flour is nowhere to be found, it’s a good time to give it a go at making these gluten-free beauties. You don’t need a lot – almond flour, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, egg whites, coloring, flavoring and frosting (butter, powdered sugar, salt, heavy cream, coloring, and flavoring).
I taught myself to make macarons using the Bouchon Bakery recipe. This website has step-by-step photos of that method, which is known as the Italian method. It is a great recipe, but it is a lot of work – cooking the water and sugar to the just right temperature, then adding it to whipped egg whites at just the right time – not too quickly that it cooks little pieces of the egg whites, but not so slowly that the sugar hardens before it gets mixed in with the egg whites. I took a macaron class at a local cooking school, and the technique was similar. The instructor was shocked that I had such success at learning to make them on my own without aging the egg whites and several other steps he led us through (some I now use, some I still don’t – like the egg white aging).
This past fall in Puerto Rico, we were celebrating a friend’s birthday with an amazingly talented local chef (a Puerto Rican Hokie!!). Macarons came up in conversation, and our chef friend said that he has tried to make macarons, but it’s just not possible to make them in Puerto Rico with the heat and humidity. I took that as a challenge. During some cooler days around Christmas, I gave it a try, and the macarons were a success! Since I already thought they would fail, I decided to try a different recipe that didn’t require heating the water and sugar and adding it to egg whites – the French method. The recipe worked! And saving those stressful steps is seriously a game changer. They’re still not quick and easy to make, but they’re far easier. I made them again in the fullness of heat and humidity here in Puerto Rico, and again, they held up! And we made videos for you to see how we make them.
What you need to know:
- A kitchen scale is essential. I used our 10th grader’s chemistry scale since my kitchen is pretty basic this year while we’re in PR. Weights are given in grams. You need to be exact with this.
- Draw out a template on several pieces of parchment paper before you begin (two of these will fit on one tray). Or buy silicone macaron mats. They do bake a little differently on parchment vs silicone. I use both, but I prefer parchment paper.
- Make sure your mixing bowls and beaters are clean. Any oil residue will prevent the egg whites from turning into the merengue you’re going for.
- Sift your almond flour and powdered sugar or process them in a food processor to aerate and remove lumps. They need to be incredibly fine so that your macs are smooth, shiny and not lumpy. This may take a while if you’re using a fine-mesh strainer to sift, but don’t skip it. If you go the food processor route, you also need to be careful to do several short pulses. Too much processing = almond butter.
- Use room temperature egg whites. A large egg white is usually about 30 grams. If you get any yolk in it, start over.
- Keep the egg whites moving. After they have formed hard peaks, turn the mixer down to low.
- Add your coloring and flavoring to the egg whites when they’re just about hard peak stage (I forgot in my video and did it later… it was fine. Just don’t do it earlier).
- Don’t use the liquid food coloring you can buy at the grocery store. Use gel food coloring (normally you can go to a cake decorating store or even a craft store to find these) or my macaron instructor recommended powdered food coloring, but I’m blanking on the brand I use. Obviously natural food dye is ideal, but since it adds flavor, make sure you want your macs to be the flavor of the food dye.
- I keep all my mac shells the same flavor – some add no flavor, some add vanilla. I add a bit of almond to really highlight that almond flavor. Color the shells to match the flavor you’ll use for your frosting.
- Macaronage – this is the main tip I gleaned from my class – the “mashy-mashy”. When you combine your merengue with your almond flour/powdered sugar mixture, it will most likely be too thick. Using a sturdy rubber spatula, fold and mash the batter, spinning the bowl as you mash. You want the batter to flow like a ribbon from your spatula. It’s the correct consistency when you can lift your spatula and make a figure 8 with the batter coming off of it, without breaking the ribbon. Then it should smooth back into the rest of the batter within 10 seconds. (I recommend watching the video above for this step).
- When you pipe the shells, keep your frosting bag at a 90 degree angle to the tray (straight up). I don’t pipe circles, I just hover the tip in the center of the circle and squeeze until the circle is filled or almost filled. They will spread a bit more as they settle on the sheet, though not while baking.
- Once you’ve piped all the shells on your sheet, wrap up your pastry bag tightly so air doesn’t get in. Then bang the tray on the counter 3-5 times to remove the air bubbles.
- Oven temperature is important. It’s recommended that you have an oven thermometer. I don’t. But if your macarons are failing and you’re not sure why, it’s probably worth checking your oven’s temperature.
- Bake one sheet at a time. When I try to rush them and do two sheets, they crack.
- Putting an empty baking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven helps evenly distribute the heat, at least in non-convection ovens.
- Figuring out when they’re done cooking is hard. If they’re not cooked enough, the feet (raised part on the bottom) are gooey and won’t come off the tray. If you cook them too long, they start to brown and the color isn’t as pretty. So you can either a) do some trial and error or b) push gently on the top of one of the shells – if the foot stays firm, it’s done. If not, give it another minute or so.
- Let’s say you can’t get them off the tray. Put the tray into the freezer for a couple of minutes until they easily come off the tray.
- Here’s a site with some troubleshooting help for the French method. I’ve made macarons at least a dozen times, and I’m still learning.
- I use my normal American buttercream recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. For a classic flavor, I add some pure almond extract to the frosting. I pipe a circle, and in the center, I put 1/4 or 1/2 of a fresh raspberry. Because of the moisture of the raspberry, you want to eat these the same day you put the berry inside.
- I think my all-time favorite flavor was blood orange. I added a bit of blood orange zest and juice to the frosting, and it was soooo good.
- Be creative with your flavors. I prefer using real flavorings – zests, juices for citrus fruits, or freeze dried fruit for berry flavors. Pinterest will give you a bounty of flavor combinations to experiment with. I also love this strawberry passionfruit combo for the filling (I still make the classic shells but with pink coloring).
- Don’t overdo it on the frosting. A little goes a long way. You want these beauties to be dainty, not overly sweet, so err on the less is more with the frosting.
- 170 g almond flour
- 300 g powdered sugar
- 180 g egg whites, at room temperature
- 160 g sugar
- 1/2 tsp pure almond extract (optional)
- Gel or powder food coloring (optional)
- Decorations, like food glitter or nonpareils (optional)
- 10 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- pinch sea salt
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp pure almond extract, or other flavoring of choice
- fresh berries (optional, though raspberries are highly recommended)
- Food coloring (optional)
Preheat oven to 300˚F /150˚C, and position the oven rack in the center of the oven. Using a round cookie cutter or the base of a glass (something about 1.5 inches in diameter), draw a "template" for your macarons your parchment papers, leaving about 3/4" between each circle. Here is one you can print and trace. Flip the parchment paper over so that the side you drew on is touching the baking sheet.
Combine the almond flour and powdered sugar together in a large bowl. Sift or pulse the mixture in a food processor, to ensure there are no large lumps and that the mixture is properly aerated. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, increase the mixer speed, and whip on high until the meringue starts to firm up. Add gel food color a few drops at a time, until the desired color is reached. Add almond extract and mix until incorporated. Continue to whip until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add half of the almond flour and powdered sugar mixture, and fold into the meringue. You want to deflate the meringue just a little at this stage, to combine the meringue and ground almond mixture.
Add the remaining almond flour mixture, and stir lightly to combine. Now you are going to "macaronage" the batter until you get the right consistency. Fold the mixture in a series of 'turns', deflating the batter by spreading it against the side of the bowl. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat the movement – scooping the batter from the bottom of the bowl, and spreading it against the side. Continuously check the consistency of the batter – you want it to flow like lava when you lift the spatula from the bowl, and you should be able to 'draw' a figure 8 with it, without the batter breaking (see video #2 above). This step can take some practice until you know what it should feel and look like. If in doubt it is better to under-mix them than over-mix them – the process of putting the batter into the bag and piping out will help mix a little too.
Fit a large pastry bag with a medium sized round tip, such as an Ateco #805. Holding the piping bag at a 90˚ angle to the surface, pipe out the batter into blobs the size of the circles drawn on the template. Finish off each piped circle with a little “flick” of your wrist to minimize the batter forming a point (it will still form a small one, but we can get rid of this with banging).
Hold the baking sheet in two hands, and carefully but firmly, evenly bang it against the counter. Repeat this a few more times – this will get rid of any air bubbles, remove points on the top, and help them to spread out slightly.
Repeat the piping and banging process until you have used up all of the batter – I usually make four sheet pans worth. Assuming you do not have four baking sheets, keep the unused batter covered. When you’re ready to pipe, make sure to repeat the macaronage technique with the batter to ensure the proper consistency again. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the macarons with food glitter, nonpareils or sprinkles for fun after piping and banging the tray.
Allow the macarons to dry at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes, or until they form a skin that you can touch without your finger sticking to them. This time will vary depending on the humidity.
About fifteen minutes before you are going to bake the macarons, place a spare sheet pan on a lower rack in the oven to preheat – this should help ensure even baking. Bake the macarons one sheet at a time – place the sheet with the macarons on a rack above the preheated sheet, and place in the oven.
Bake for approximately 18 minutes, rotating the pan once during the cooking process, and checking for doneness after 15 minutes. The macarons should develop a foot (the ruffled part on the bottom of the macaron), and bake without browning. To see if they are done – press down lightly on a shell. If the foot gives way, it needs a little longer; if it is stable, then it is close to being done. Test a macaron shell – if you can peel it away cleanly from the paper, they are done. If they are stable but cannot yet peel away cleanly, give them another minute or so. Again, this part takes a little trial and error depending on your oven. If they seem done but do not peel away cleanly, do not worry – there is a little trick for that!
Remove from the oven, and allow to cool on the sheet pan for 10 minutes before peeling off the parchment paper and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat the baking with the remaining trays.
If your macs do not peel away cleanly, place them, on the parchment paper, into the freezer for 5-10 minutes, then peel away from the paper.
Store cooled macarons in an airtight container until ready to use.
American Buttercream Filling
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod (if using) into the bowl and add in the salt. Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Mix in the heavy cream and almond (or other flavoring) on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4-5 minutes. Add gel food coloring until the desired color is reached. Transfer to a bag fitted with a large round tip.
Pair each macaron shell with another of a similar size. Pipe a circle of buttercream on one half, not quite reaching the edge and then gently sandwich with the second shell. If adding a surprise of fresh fruit or curd in the middle, pipe a ring of buttercream, not quite reaching the edge of the macaron. Fill the hole with the fruit or curd. Top with a second macaron and gently press to spread the buttercream to the edges.
Macarons taste best if you 'mature' them in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors come together, if you have patience for that. Bring to room temperature before eating. They're delicious eaten the same day as well, which is recommended if using a fresh berry on the inside.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. If freezing, defrost in the refrigerator for 3 hours and then bring to room temperature before enjoying them.
Source: Macaron Shell adapted from Cloudy Kitchen; Buttercream from America’s Test Kitchen
The buttercream recipe will be enough for a scant amount of filling. Double it if you want to ensure plenty of filling.
The yield will depend on the size of your macarons, but I generally get about 48 filled and assembled.