Macaroniers, Macaronistes et Macaroneurs,
So you want to make better macarons? Welcome to the third instalment of La Macaronicité at Syrup & Tang! If you missed the introduction, click here to read it. And if you want to learn about basic technique, ingredients and method, visit the second article.
La Macaronicité: Advanced technique and knowledge
Please remember that this material is copyright. If you want to use any part of it (beyond a very short quote), please contact me for permission.
There's a lot of information here and it's possible that not everything applies to your kitchen or experience. I don't know everything about them (there's a limit to how many kilos of almond meal a poor writer can buy!). I welcome feedback about other solutions/explanations/ideas, but please don't submit comments listing other recipes unless it contributes to a better understanding of the actual process and problems. You're welcome to contact me directly if you prefer and I'll incorporate helpful info into the article where appropriate.
To summarise the more detailed ingredient information from the previous article, the macaron batter consists of only four ingredients:
- almond meal (ground almond) – amandes en poudre
- pure icing sugar (confectioner's sugar, no starch added) – sucre glace
- egg whites, preferably old – blancs d'œufs
- sugar – sucre
On occasion you might also see mention of cream of tartar or salt, both of which strengthen egg white foam.
The batter may be coloured (very common) and flavoured (less common, though not too difficult).
There are three types of recipe:
- macarons au blanc monté (1) – a simple eggwhite foam is combined with the dry ingredients; preferred in Pierre Hermé's books
- macarons au blanc monté (2) – a simple French meringue is combined with the dry ingredients; in most other books, including Alain Ducasse
- macarons au sucre cuit – an Italian meringue is combined with the dry ingredients; preferred in most professional books
I'll explain the third recipe type (Italian meringue) here.
The important differences in this style of macaron recipe are as follows:
Meringue: This recipe uses a so-called Italian meringue, made with a hot sugar syrup which is beaten into the whipped egg white.
An Italian meringue gives this beautiful peak, called a 'bec d'oiseau' (bird's beak) in French.
Mixing: As with the simpler recipe, at first the ingredients won't mix together well. The Italian meringue is slower to pick up the dry ingredients and needs a bit more mixing to achieve a smooth batter. If you find you have lumps of powder in the batter, don't be scared to smear the batter against the side of the bowl with the spatula. The final batter looks fluffier (some visible bubbles) than for the simple recipe. If the batter sits for any length of time the aeration becomes more apparent. That's fine. This batter seems a little more tolerant of overmixing. This mixture dries out much more quickly than the simple one, but also remains usable for longer. Just cover the bowl with plastic film until you need it (e.g., if you're baking multiple batches).
Crusting: I experimented with leaving some macarons to crust for an hour. The surface was actually almost hard after this time! Popped them in the oven and they rose happily, though some air bubbles made the surface irregular. The most striking difference between crusted and uncrusted macarons is that the former have a clearly defined line between the shell and the foot. On the downside, the shell was thicker than desirable. [UPDATE: after more testing, I now recommend permitting the shells to sit for half an hour or so. It helps reduce some problems if your oven has strong heat below the baking tray.]
Sugar syrup: The syrup is made by simmering off moisture until you achieve a certain sugar concentration, which is judged by its temperature. If only making a small quantity of syrup (e.g. for the recipe example quantity below), it's best to use a small narrow saucepan or even a Turkish coffee pot.
Hot sugar syrup can cause bad burns, so be careful of splashing and don't feel tempted to stick your finger in it! You need a digital thermometer or sugar thermometer to check the temperature. (Actually, you can check it using the old-fashioned drop test into cold water, but for that I suggest you check out one of your cookbooks — look up 'firm ball' stage.) Syrups harden quickly as they cool, so you need to have your equipment and ingredients ready to go.
Oven: Being slightly less touchy, this recipe doesn't require changing temperatures and leaving the oven door ajar. You should be able to cook the shells at one temperature with the door closed. In general, you'll lose fewer shells to burning or sticking if you use your first attempt to work out the best temperature for your oven — just cook a few macarons at a time at different temps (or trust me, LOL).
In testing, I found that at 150C the shells came off the paper beautifully, had good feet, but had air pockets. At 160C air pockets were absent, but the bottoms were just a bit sticky. At 170C the feet were more modest (still good) but the bottoms were sometimes too sticky. Permitting the shells to crust before baking gave a good rise (feet) and fairly dry bottoms, but a duller shell.
Experiment with temperatures: air pockets at low temperature.
Be brave and face the batter!
macarons au sucre cuit; (Italian meringue)
This method is rarely found on the English-speaking internet and is only mentioned in a small number of professional cookbooks. It is fairly reliable, though still requires some practice.
Decide how many eggs you want to sacrifice. Crack and separate the eggs, remembering to keep the whites and all vessels and implements scrupulously free of fat or egg yolk. You don't need to weigh the egg whites at this point. One egg white will yield about fourteen 3-4 cm macaron shells.
It isn't necessary to age the eggs (though probably doesn't hurt).
Formula and method
When you're ready to start cooking, weigh the egg whites and then scale the recipe appropriately. The formula is below.
'eggwhite' refers to the weight of the egg whites in grams. The righthand column provides an example calculation.
|Ingredient||Amount||Example||(with eggwhite=50 gm)|
|Almond meal||1.35 x eggwhite||1.35 x 50 =||67 gm|
|Icing sugar||1.35 x eggwhite||1.35 x 50 =||67 gm|
|Sugar||1.35 x eggwhite||1.35 x 50 =||67 gm|
|Water||0.33 x eggwhite||0.33 x 50 =||16 gm|
|Egg white||50 gm|
A batter with 50 gm egg white should yield one baking tray 30 cm x 40 cm or approximately 25 shells.
Preheat your oven:
Conventional oven: centre rack, 160C. Convection oven: 140C
- Stack two or three heavy baking trays. Line the top tray with non-stick baking paper. If you're well organised, mark the paper with 2 or 3 cm circles, spaced about 4 cm apart (the piped batter will spread about 1 cm).
- Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and leave to stand.
- Divide the total egg white into two equal amounts, placing one half in a small bowl or glass and the other half in the bowl which you will use for making the meringue. It is preferable to weigh the amounts, not do it by volume or eye.
- Process the almond meal and icing sugar at high speed to achieve a fine powder. Sift (or whisk the powder by hand) to break up any lumps of powder and place in a large bowl.
- Place the saucepan for the syrup over low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir once or twice to help dissolve the sugar, but once it's simmering you shouldn't stir it again. As the syrup boils it will splash the sides of the pan and you should use a wet basting brush to dissolve the dried sugar so that it runs back into the syrup. Start to measure the syrup temperature after it has been simmering for a minute or two.
- If you are using an electric hand beater rather than a kitchen machine, beat the egg white until it makes soft peaks. If you are using a kitchen machine you can start the machine when the syrup is a few degrees below the final temperature (see below).
- The final temperature you want the syrup to reach is 118C (no drama if you overshoot slightly). Beat the egg whites to firm peaks just before the final temperature is attained.
- Set the beater/machine to slow speed and slowly pour the hot syrup into the bowl of beaten egg whites in a thin stream. The syrup may splash a little. If you are too slow to do this, the syrup might harden in the saucepan… there is always some wastage.
- As soon as all the syrup is in the egg whites, increase the beating speed to maximum and beat for several minutes until the meringue is just warm to the touch. If there was lots of splashing when you poured the syrup on, you can stop beating briefly at the start to scrape down the sides a bit. The final product should be a stiff, white, compact meringue with a lovely satiny consistency.
- Pour the unused amount of egg white (see beginning of this recipe) onto the dry ingredients. Then scoop the meringue on top of that. Mix the ingredients with a spatula using a circular motion around the bowl and under the batter. The mixing process for this recipe takes a little longer than for the simpler recipe in the previous article. You don't need to be gentle, but the goal is to incorporate the dry ingredients quickly to avoid overmixing. It's better to undermix than overmix. You can add colourings or flavourings during this mixing.
- The final batter should be the colour of pale ivory (if you haven't coloured it) and smooth and thick but flowing (typically referred to as being 'like magma', but as few of us have visited an active volcano or been to the centre of the Earth…). A ribbon of batter dropped from a spoon onto the top of the remaining batter should take about 30 seconds to disappear.
- Dab a little batter under each corner of the baking paper on the tray to anchor it (otherwise it'll slip).
- Spoon the batter into a piping bag/gun with a 8-10 mm nozzle and pipe evenly onto the baking paper. Mild peaks should settle back into the batter eventually. If they don't disappear, tap the tray repeatedly on a table until the peaks have largely disappeared. Usually the batter will spread a little and any bumps will disappear. Sometimes the batter is quite runny and will rapidly flatten out. (It might be overmixed.) This consistency will often yield irregular shells. If the batter never stops spreading then you should probably scrape it all back into a bowl, gently add some more almond meal and try again.
- If you want, you can leave the piped batter to dry for anywhere between 20 mins and two hours.
- Place the tray in the oven. If you're using a conventional oven, cook as normal (ie, with the door closed) for the entire time. For a convection oven, you will need to experiment a little, possibly leaving the door ajar for part of the time.
- At the 5 minute mark the shells should have lifted and developed 'feet'. At the 6-7 minute mark they should be starting to colour just slightly. Rotate the baking sheet if the colouring is uneven. The outermost shells often have to be sacrificed in order for the centre ones to be cooked, but the majority should be no more than the palest cream colour. They are probably ready if a shell moves only reluctantly on its foot when you lightly nudge it with a finger.
- Remove from the oven and leave on the tray for a minute or two. Gently try to lift one of the outermost shells. A slight twisting motion or a peeling motion can help. If the shells stick badly, but are firm, try spraying or brushing a little water under the baking paper. This will moisten the paper and soften any stuck bits after 1-2 minutes. Don't use too much water or the shells may start to dissolve around the edges. Remove each shell by gently peeling away the baking paper or with the aid of a thin palette or paring knife. Another solution to the sticking problem can be to place the paper or Silpat (with stuck macarons) in the freezer for a while.
- Once removed from the sheet, leave the shells to cool on a wire rack, face up.
Very sticky macarons leave their bellies behind Don't try to peel the macarons off. Just put the paper with stuck macarons on a rack for a few hours and then peel carefully.
- If you haven't already made a filling, do so now.
- The plain shells can be frozen for a few weeks quite well. Complete macarons store well in the fridge for two to three days. After that they become softer. Eat macarons at room temperature.
Background to my recipe
There's only really one formula for the Italian meringue style of macaron recipe, as illustrated here. Alain Ducasse (in his Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries) is approximately 1.4:1.4:1.0:1.4 (almond:icing sugar:egg white:sugar). My favourite book, by Christophe Felder (Les Macarons de Christophe), uses a ratio of 1.33:1.33:1.0:1.33. I've used both successfully, but settled for a compromise of 1.35:1.0. I don't know how much impact these minor variations will have in your kitchen.
If you have any doubt about the preferability of the Italian meringue approach, read what talented Joycelyn at the beautiful Kuidaore site has to say, or see what Kitchen Wench has written about her macaron adventures.
For troubleshooting and additional info on technique, remember to read the previous article.
Pause for breath
I'll leave everyone who is so inclined to play with their delicious divas over the weekend. Next week I'll write about fillings and flavours, amongst other things.
My piping gun has cracked, my piping bag is torn, and I have fourteen neglected egg yolks in the fridge, clamouring for use!
Naked shell with chocolate ginger ganache. My midnight snack.
You can read La Macaronicité 1: an introduction to the macaron.
La Macaronicité 2: basic technique and simple macaron recipe.
La Macaronicité 4: fillings, flavours, frippery.
La Macaronicité 5: Macawrongs and macarights, macarons day and night.