Several weeks ago, I wrote about my projections of macaron madness. As I wait for macarons to take over the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, I have decided to undertake Project Macaron. It is a pricy endeavor (a 16-oz. package of Bob’s Red Mill almond meal/flour is $14.99 at the Wedge Co-op and $12.99 at Lund’s, yielding about 2 batches of 20-24 macarons), and friends are going to have to play the difficult role of taste testing and consuming. But I think we’re all up to the task.
First of all, you may have read that macarons are easy to make. LIES!
Alright, maybe not lies, these people are probably gifted pastry chefs and not the average home cook/graduate student with too much time on her hands. Macaron-making is quite a complicated task. David Leibovitz notes in his recipe for French Chocolate Macarons, “Les Macarons are all about technique, rather than about just following a recipe.” Most recipes agree on the main ingredients of the recipe: almond meal/flour, egg whites, and (pure) confectioner’s sugar. When it comes to technique, however, there are all sorts of opinions on a number of factors. Some of the main factors of debate:
- Sifting, processing the almond flour/dry ingredients: First of all, always sift confectioner’s sugar because there are inevitable hard lumps due to moisture. Several sites recommend giving the almond flour/sugar a whirl in the food processor to make for a very fine powder. In addition, some also recommend drying the almond flour (if using store-bought) on a very low temp in the oven to remove some of the moisture. I have not bothered with the food processing or drying and found the results to be fine, albeit a tiny bit on the grainy side.
- Aged vs. fresh egg whites: Many recipes I’ve come across recommend using egg whites which have been aged (i.e., sitting outside of the fridge, uncovered) for 24-48 hours. Several bloggers have documented the advantage of aged whites, and I experienced this as well. Fresh egg whites result in more thin, fragile crusts. One explanation I’ve come across is the reduced water content of aged egg whites. There are also some recipes which recommend using meringue powder, which is essentially dehydrated egg white powder.
- Oven temperature and regulation: Some recipes recommend some form of changing the temperature midway through baking. Pierre Herme suggests starting at 450F, then immediately lowering to 350F and then sticking a wooden spoon in the door.
- Crusting: No consensus on whether or not you should leave the batter to “crust” for anywhere from 10-30 minutes before placing in the oven. Leibovitz found that this additional step did not make a noticeable difference, others recommend otherwise.
- Meringue type: the blog Syrup and Tang points out that there are three major camps as far as the recipe and technique of macarons:
- 1) Egg whites are barely beaten into a foam and then combined with the other dry ingredients (e.g., Pierre Hermé);
- 2) Egg whites are beaten with sugar (i.e., a traditional French meringue) then combined with the other dry ingredients (e.g., Alain Ducaisse); or
- 3) Egg whites are beaten with a sugar syrup (i.e., an Italian meringue) and then combined with the other dry ingredients (e.g., this recipe from Food and Wine magazine below; as a side note, I consulted with @pastryqueen, who gave me her personal opinion that she prefers the Hermé recipe to this method).
- Beating: Don’t just beat it. I’ve come across several blogs that have documented the detrimental effects over-beating the egg whites and over-mixing the batter. You’ll end up with flat, runny batter that does not hold a circular shape (that’s why my Take 1 macarons look so misshapen).
Many bloggers before me have documented their scientific trials with the numerous variables, so I’m going to liberate myself from the pressures of rigorous experimental design (unless someone wants to give me a grant to conduct such research). If you want to check out some of these other resources, Serious Eats and David Leibovitz have compiled many links to several macaron experimenters. You can also view this video tutorial (en français) that has been translated into English on the Desserts online magazine website.
Below is the recipe for my first attempt at the finicky macaron, taken from the December 2009 issue of Food and Wine magazine. Unfortunately, the article does little to explain some of the minor details in technique that can make a big difference. The results I pictured above were less than perfection (thin, fragile crusts from using fresh egg whites, overbeaten batter leading to misshapen, flat bases). However! I did achieve a tiny semblance of the “feet” at the bottom of the base that characterizes a macaron. They were also still quite decadent, with strong almond flavor and an assertive sweetness. The friends and classmates I shared them with had nothing but positive things to say. I’ve made two more attempts so far and many more to come, stay tuned for future installments of this most challenging pastry project.
Basic Macarons, from the December 2009 issue of Food and Wine
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 c. almond flour
3 large egg whites, at room temp
1/2 c. gran sugar
2 Tbsp. water
2 or 3 drops food coloring
1. Preheat oven to 400, position racks in upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets w/ parchment.
2. In a large, wide bowl, using a large rubber spatula or handheld mixer, mix the confect. Sugar and almond flour with 1 of the egg whites until evenly moistened.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the gran sugar w/ water and bring to boil; using a moistened pastry brush, wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Cook over high heat until the syrup reaches 240 on a candy thermometer.
4. In another large bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat remaining 2 egg whites at med-high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer at high, carefully drizzle the hot sugar syrup over the whites and beat until firm and glossy. (Note: I started to lose it at this phase. First time I did this, I dumped it all in too fast. Fail. I started over with new egg whites and sugar. The next time I tried, it seemed fine but I wasn’t quite sure what I was going for.) Beat in the food coloring. I am pretty sure that I overbeat my egg whites:
5. Stir one fourth of the meringue into the almond mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining meringue. Transfer meringue to pastry bag fitted w/ plain 1/2-in tip; pipe onto prepared parchment sheets in 1-1/2 inch mounds 1 inch apart. Tap the sheets (to remove any air bubbles) and dry for 15 minutes to form crusts.
6. Transfer the meringues to the oven and immediately turn off the heat. Bake for 5 min. Turn on the oven to 400F again and bake for 8 min until puffed and tops are firm and glossy. Transfer to sheets and let cool.
7. Spread the filling of your choice between two of the macaron bases. I used Crofter’s Superfruit Spread, made of blueberries, cranberries, Morello cherries, and red grapes.