I felt challenged to make macarons for my friend. A lot of people call these macaroons, or French macaroons, but they are distinct and very different from the macaroon cookie. I tell people that they are a take-off of the Oreo cookie, but of course, they came first so maybe the take-off is in the other direction.
The recipe seems simple enough- only 4 ingredients in the basic recipe, and then you add food coloring and extract flavoring. The basic recipe is to make an meringue, and then fold it into a mix of almond flour and powdered sugar to create the dough. The dough is piped onto baking sheets, and cooked. These finished ‘cookies’ or shells are coupled together and filled- as I say, like Oreo cookies.
But, although the recipe is fairly straight forward, it has a lot of subjective decision points, and those make it difficult to learn. I made the recipe 5 times and threw it all in the trash before I got a handle on all the issues.
- 3 egg whites
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup almond flour
- Mix the almond flour and powdered sugar and sift them into a 2-quart bowl.
- Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are starting to foam. Add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until there are stiff peaks.
- Fold the egg white meringue into the sifted flour/sugar mixture to create the dough. Continue to fold the dough until the dough is smooth enough to flow.
- Fill a piping bag with a ½ inch opening with the dough, and pipe the shells onto a lined cookie sheet. Let the piped shells stand at room temperature until a hard skin is formed on top; about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Bake the shells until they are set, but not browned- about 10 – 15 minutes.
- Let the shells cool completely with the baking sheets on the cooling rack before trying to remove them and filling them.
In the photo, the darker macarons were from the first batch that I felt was anywhere near a success. I got 6 shells from that batch which was only about a 20% yield. However, I then was able to correct the last couple parameters and start getting 90% yields from a recipe that made 40 shells. If you look closely at the photo, you will see a fringe-like layer at the bottom of the shell; this is know as feet. A proper shell has feet. These shells were filled with nutella, and you can see it showing with some of the macarons.
Starting at the first of the recipe, these are the issues I found, and the way I finally set the parameters.
1)Sifting the flour/sugar mixture can be difficult in high humid weather. As a starting point, I would suggest waiting for drier weather to learn how to make the shells.
2)I decided that the meringue was complete when the peaks made by lifting the whip stood straight up, and the tips of the peaks did not bend over. Don’t go much beyond this stage as it will dry the meringue and it will not incorporate with the flour/sugar mixture properly.
3)When the folding has gotten to the point that all of the flour/sugar mixture is wet, you can add flavoring and color to the shells. For color, use 2 – 3 drops of a gel food coloring, and for flavor, add 1/2 teaspoon of an extract. There seems to be some agreement on when the folding is complete: it is called the figure 8 test. The dough should be liquid enough to flow off the spatula as a continuous ribbon with which you can make a figure 8, but not so liquid as the start of the 8 disappears before the full figure is formed.
4)Most of us have 12 inch piping bags; these are a problem in that they do not hold all of the dough and so they need to be refilled. I finally went to the Decorette Shop and bought some 18 inch bags and so had much less fuss piping.
5)I did not use any special piping tips with the piping bag, but just cut the tip of the bag off. To get the 1/2 inch diameter opening, I measured up to the point where the distance between the two sides of the flattened bag was 1 inch and cut. If I remember my math, the 1 inch is half the circumference and the circumference is Pi * diameter meaning the diameter is 2 / pi, or about 2/3 inch- slightly larger than the 1/2 specified in the recipe, but it works.
6)In order to get constant size shells, you need a guide. I drew circles with a compass on a separate couple sheets of paper as that guide. Then I placed the guide under my silicon mats to do the piping, and pulled the guide papers out once I had the shells piped. My circles are 1.5 inches in diameter and placed so that their centers are 3 inches apart. Once they were drawn, I inked the circles and their centers with a black marker pen.
7)Another test that the dough is soft enough is that the nipple from piping disappears; the top of the shell should be smooth. I had a few nipples but most of the shells were smooth.
8)If you don’t wait long enough for the skin of the shell to form, the shell will not have feet. It is the rise of the dough in the oven locked in by the skin that causes the feet to form.
9)After having too many shells that were starting to brown, I decided to shield the baking sheet completely from the upper element of the oven. I put a piece of foil on a rack leaving only the side edges uncovered, weighted it down with an empty baking sheet, and put the rack on the position just above where the shells are cooking.
10)If the shells are not cooked long enough, or not completely cooled they will separate when they are removed from the silicon mat or parchment paper. The bottom of the shell will stick to the lining of the cookie sheet.
Now that you have the macaron shells, you can consider how to fill them to complete the cookies. I found that flavored ganaches seemed to work best. I also tried jams with cream cheese as a binder; I had a mess with that in that I used too much jam and it didn’t all harden. And as I show in the photo, you can use things like Nutella.
For cream cheese based fillings use 4 ounces of softened cream cheese with 3 Tablespoons of jam.
For ganache based fillings use 3 ounces of chocolate to 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream. Add 1/4 teaspoon of extract flavoring and 1 drop of gel food coloring if desired.