Monday, July 24, 2017

Tips and Tricks for Making Perfect Macarons

I love baking macarons


They are so beautiful, so delicious, and honestly, impress anyone you share them with. They require some precision and patience, but really aren't the most difficult thing to bake. I am not a pastry chef and I'm certainly not an expert, but by following the advice and tips below, I have had success every single time I've made macarons. I wanted to share all of my tips in case they would be helpful for anyone else! This is very long (I'm sorry), but bear with me and I think you will be able to make your own beautiful macarons. 





Ingredients

You must use a kitchen scale! All of the measurements are extremely precise, and this is really the only way to accurately measure your ingredients. They aren’t that expensive to buy, and will make your life so much easier. A lot of recipes put ingredients with both volumetric and weight measurements, so you can use it for many other recipes.

Almond Meal

I've found that buying almond meal in bulk is the cheapest way to do it. This will be your most expensive ingredient, but if you get a lot of it, each batch of macarons will be incredibly inexpensive to make. I found a 3 lb bag of the good stuff (Bob's Red Mill) for only $13. If you do buy in bulk, keep a portion of it in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. The high fat content can cause it to go rancid if you leave it out. Let it come to room temperature before using it - it works well to pull it out at the same time you pull out your egg whites (see below). 

I have seen recipes that claim otherwise, but I have had the best success with blanched almonds that are super fine or finely ground. Blanched almonds have had their skins removed. You will get a much prettier, much smoother macaron with these tips (and you will save time sifting). 

Egg Whites

Always use fresh – do not use egg whites from a carton, they just won’t beat up properly.

Eggs separate best when they are cold, so separate the whites straight from the fridge. Then you need to let the egg whites 'age' for a bit. You can sit them at room temperature for 24-48 hours, or in the fridge for longer than 48 hours. If you do put them fridge, let them come to room temperature before using.

Do not get any traces of fat in your egg whites. Even a drop of egg yolk can prevent the whites from beating properly. I like to put a little vinegar on a paper towel and wipe down everything that comes in contact with the egg whites – the mixing bowl, the whisk attachment, the container the egg whites go into age. The vinegar won’t affect the taste or smell of the macarons.

Some recipes use cream of tartar to help stabilize the egg whites. I have never found this to be necessary, so I don't use it if a recipe calls for it. The red white and blue macaron recipe below calls for cream of tartar, and mine turned out perfectly without it.  

Colors

Do not use liquid food color – it will completely change the consistency of your batter. If you are going to add color, make sure to add powdered or gel/paste food color.

I have tried both Wilton and AmeriColor gel/paste food color, and I prefer AmeriColor. It is a little more expensive, but there are many features that I prefer. It comes in a squeeze bottle, so you don’t have to dip in dozens of toothpicks. This also allows you to be more accurate – once you figure out the correct number of drops to get your desired color, you can repeat that in the future. AmeriColor has given me more vibrant colors, and the colors don’t change after they have baked. (If you overbake your macarons, they will turn brown regardless of whose colors you are using.)

 
Wilton - even a TON of drops didn't make a very vibrant color, 
and the color faded after baking

Another side by side of before and after baking (Wilton)

AmeriColor - it took a lot, but I finally achieved a vibrant color
The color didn't change very much after baking

You will have the best chance of getting the color you want if you add the food color to your egg whites. It takes more mixing than you would think to get the color incorporated evenly, and you don’t want to overmix your batter in the process. I usually add a drop or two at a time, then beat the egg whites well to get the color mixed in while also trying to maintain the consistency.

This is just a recommendation, but I would suggest making separate batches if you want more than one color. If you have multiple bowls and whisk attachments for your stand mixer (or hand mixer) then you would be fine splitting your egg whites in half. Otherwise, I feel that the second half of the batch suffers.

Method

I have only done the ‘French’ method, versus the ‘Italian’ method. This means I beat my egg whites with granulated sugar, and then fold in the powdered sugar and almond meal. The other method involves a sugar syrup that is beaten into the egg whites. Many have had success with each method, so I’m not saying one is better than the other. The French method is the one that I have used, and I have had success every time.

Sifting

Sift 2-3 times. I know this sounds crazy, and I know it takes forever, but it is essential to a smooth macaron. First sift the almonds on their own (at least 2 times). Then you will want to sift the almonds and powdered sugar together, so they get mixed well prior to adding to the egg whites.

You want to use a sieve with fine pores. I made some recent batches with a larger sieve because I was lazy, and I could tell right away that the batter wasn’t as smooth. They turned out just fine, but I think I will go back to a fine sieve in the future for a better appearance.


These were my first two batches, back when I was being really careful about sifting
The piped macarons look smooth and shiny

By now I had become lazier, and I think that the macarons look less smooth

I tried to take some pictures of my two sieves, so you can see what two sizes I'm referring to. The pictures aren't fantastic, but you can see the one with the long handle has tiny diamond-shaped holes, while the holes in the free-standing sieve are bigger. You can use the bigger sieve for your final sift, when combining the almond meal with the powdered sugar. However, I recommend using the smaller sieve for the first two sifting steps. 
Small sieve on the left, larger sieve on the right

Close-up of the pore size

Mixing

I was most nervous about this part when I first made macarons. I had worked so hard to get fluffy egg whites and didn’t want to completely deflate them. Well it turns out that you do need to deflate them quite a bit! It is easiest if you use some kind of flexible spatula, I like the silicone style. Dump all of your dry mixture on top of your fluffy egg whites, and then push your mixture firmly from the middle out to the sides of the bowl. Turn the bowl a quarter turn after each push. Once everything is combined, keep folding your mixture until you can lift it up and a ribbon of batter drips off the end. It is okay if the ribbon is only for a couple of seconds before it breaks. Another way to test consistency is to make sure the ribbon that dripped off disappears into the batter within 20 seconds, but doesn’t immediately. It is okay to be a little under-mixed, since putting it into the piping bag and squeezing with your hand will continue mixing it a bit.

Piping

I trace circles onto parchment paper and then turn it over when piping, so I don’t get any pencil on the macarons themselves. I use a round cutter that is 1 ½ inches in diameter (from the Ateco round cutter set). Leave around 1 inch between circles in case of spreading. Always trace a few extra circles. Even though the recipe says it makes 30 sandwiches (60 macarons), you might make yours slightly smaller or bigger. You don’t want to be scrambling around while holding the dripping piping bag in your hand!

I have always used a disposable piping bag fitted with a Wilton 12 tip. This is just over ¼ inch (5/16 to be exact). If you are splitting up your batch, a 12-inch piping bag works really well (25-30 macarons, or 10-15 macaron sandwiches). I would recommend a larger piping bag for a full batch so you don’t have any batter that squeezes out the top.

The easiest way to fill a piping bag without getting it all over everything is to put it in a tall glass or vase. Fold over the top edges so they remain clean, and then transfer your mixture into the piping bag. Then you can un-fold the top edges and roll them down so you have all of the batter trapped inside.
This is not an example of making macarons!
I was making two-toned frosting for cupcakes
However, it does show how to use a tall glass for a piping bag

I do not like using a coupler – this is really useful when you need to switch tips for the same batch of frosting, but if you are using the same tip throughout you just end up having a lot in the bag that you can’t use. If you just snip off the end of your piping bag you can easily slide your tip in without a problem.

If you want to make a few colors at the same time, I recommend getting a few of the same size piping tip. Otherwise you will have to quickly remove the tip from one bag before moving onto the next.

When piping, hold your piping bag completely vertical in both hands. I like putting my dominant hand toward the top, to control the flow, with my non-dominant hand toward the bottom to help steady. Put the tip about a half inch above the parchment paper, directly in the center of your traced circle. Squeeze gently and with constant pressure until you have just barely filled the circle. The batter will come up the side of the tip while you are doing that. Some recommend a fancy wrist flick while finishing piping to give you a smooth top, but that has never worked for me. Just follow the tips in the next section and you can fix any bumps in the top. 

Before the oven

As soon as you pipe out the macarons, you want to gently tap the baking sheet on a flat surface to get any air bubbles out. Be very careful – you don’t want to drop the sheet!

Use a dry small paintbrush (like one you would use for watercolors) to very gently smooth out any imperfections. I always end up with a little ‘nipple’ at the top. I tried a few different techniques to try to get rid of it, and the paintbrush works wonders. I tried using a damp fingertip, but the extra water messed up the texture (see below). I’ve also tried using a toothpick, but it would stick to the batter and honestly make it look worse than it started. Using a paintbrush helps gently coax the batter into the shape you want. This way you can get rid of any bumps on the top, as well as smooth out any air bubbles that rise to the top. 

See the off-color spots on the blue macarons?
That is where I used a wet fingertip to smooth down the tips
Don't do that!

If you want to top with any edible decorations, now is the time to do it! The macarons will start to dry quickly (this is a very good thing), so the window of time to get anything to stick to them is small. You can add sprinkles, a sprinkle of cinnamon, edible flowers. Just make sure that you don’t add anything too heavy that will interfere with the bake.

This is important - let the macarons dry out a bit before baking them. I mentioned a few times that they will dry quickly, but this all depends on the weather. This will take anywhere between 15 and 60 minutes. They will be ready to bake when they are no longer shiny and they do not feel sticky when you touch them very lightly. If you skip this step, you might not get the pretty 'feet' at the bottom that are what give the macaron their signature look. 

Baking

I have found that the baking temperature and time actually depend on how runny your batter is. In my latest batch, I had split everything in half to make two different colors. My first half of the batch was slightly thicker, and did not spread at all once they were piped. These did very well in a 300 F oven and were perfectly baked after 16 minutes. They also peeled off of the parchment paper perfectly. My second half of the batch was a little runnier – they spread a little after piped (completely normal). They started to brown before they were cooked completely through, and I think would have benefitted from a slightly cooler oven with a longer baking time.

You don’t want to underbake your macarons. If they are gooey when they come out, that ends up collapsing after they cool, and you end up with macarons that are hollow in the center. Make sure that if you touch them gently (very very gently), they do not jiggle at all or move away from the ‘foot.’
Bake only one sheet at a time. They have a relatively quick baking time, so the other sheet of macarons can wait until the first one is done.

This is an underbaked macaron - the center collapsed slightly leaving a hole

This is very important – cool COMPLETELY before even attempting to get the macarons off the pan. If you take them off too soon they will stick. Once cooled, they should peel off easily. Don’t worry if there is a little residue left on the parchment, or if the bottoms are a little wrinkled. You won’t see anything once they are filled.

Filling

This is the main way you are going to add flavor to your macarons. The most popular fillings are jam (or curd), buttercream and ganache. When choosing a filling, think about how long it will be until you serve them. The softer and wetter the filling, the quicker the macarons will need to be served before they become soft and soggy. Ganache lasts the longest, and I know from experience that macarons filled with ganache can be refrigerated or frozen with no negative effects.

The macarons themselves are pretty sweet, so I like using a filling that is a little bitter or tart. Cream cheese frosting or buttercream adds a nice tang, lemon curd gives a tart pop, and a bittersweet chocolate ganache provides an intensity to a dessert that could otherwise be one-note sweet. You can always do a combination – one day I would love to pipe a ring of buttercream around the outside and fill in the center with lemon curd.

To get pretty sandwiches, line up your macarons in size order before filling. Choose two that are of similar size to go together. You will have a range in size, even if you use a guide while piping. Depending on whether you were at the beginning or end of your batch (or if you made multiple batches), some will spread more than others. It works best if you decide in advance which two are going together.

Choose the macaron that is flatter to be on the bottom, otherwise it will roll all over the place while you are trying to fill it.

* If you are putting together macarons of different colors, or have another reason why you can’t match the size, make sure to put the filling on the smaller of the two. This will prevent filling from coming out the sides and making everything messy.

I recommend a layer of filling that is roughly equal to the height of one macaron cookie. Add your filling to the bottom cookie (either pipe or spoon it), gently place the other cookie on top, and then give a slight twist to the two macarons (in opposite directions). The twist allows you to adhere the macarons to each other and the filling without having to push and risk damage.

If you want to pipe your filling using a star tip, I recommend Wilton 21.
Buttercream piped with Wilton 21 (star tip)

If you are using a ganache that is still a little warm (and hasn’t thickened up completely), make sure to just put it on the center of the macaron since it will squeeze out to the sides. If you are using a filling that is already in its final state, then make sure to put it all the way to the edges.

Transportation and Storage

Now that you’ve made some beautiful macarons, you want to bring them somewhere to share (and show off a little). They are incredibly fragile, so you need to be careful otherwise you will end up with a lot of broken shells. Think about when you go to a fancy pastry shop – they have fancy little boxes for macarons with them all on their sides. This is because the top/bottom of the macaron are the most delicate, but the sides are a little sturdier.


If you will be consuming the macarons soon, you should keep them in the refrigerator. This is especially helpful when you have filled them with something on the softer side, like jam, curd or buttercream. Allow them to sit out for a few minutes to come to room temperature before eating.
Most macarons will freeze beautifully. The shells will always freeze perfectly, you just need to make sure the filling does as well. I have had great success freezing macarons filled with ganache. Just let them thaw before eating.

Recipes I have had success with

https://theculinarychronicles.com/2011/04/15/vanilla-bean-macarons-with-dulce-de-leche-buttercream/ (didn’t use vanilla bean or the buttercream, but I’m sure they would have been delicious)


https://theculinarychronicles.com/2016/03/20/chocolate-and-peanut-butter-macarons-happy-macaron-day/ (didn’t use the peanut butter buttercream, used the ganache below)



Fillings

https://smittenkitchen.com/2008/08/chocolate-peanut-butter-cake/ (Used the ganache from this recipe, with bittersweet chocolate)
http://thepioneerwoman.com/food-and-friends/how-to-make-lemon-curd/

Tools

Some of these I own, some of them are just examples of what I think I would be very useful




Round cutter (around 1 ½ inches) - this is the set I have

Wilton 12 tip (part of my kit)

Wilton 21 tip (part of my kit)

AmeriColor gel food color kit - I own and recommend

Watercolor brushes - this is overkill, but an example of what you can look for



Kitchen scale - I own and recommend


Disclosure - I have included affiliate links in this post. If you buy any of the products I recommend on Amazon, I get a tiny tiny percentage of the sale, but it's still the same price for you