It’s a well-known fact that if you really want to learn all about a specific subject, you will need to immerse yourself in its world for a certain period of time, the longer the better. Which is what I did for four straight days last December (remember this update?).
Granted, four days isn’t really a long time in the larger scheme of things, but when it comes to baking sheet after sheet of macaron batter twice, sometimes three times, daily, it gets a little intense. Just a little. But looking at these sandwiched beauties again as I write this post makes it all worthwhile.
After the spectacularly wrinkled macaron shells of last September, I knew I had to make these confections again. And again. And again. As long as it would take for me to get them right. Being the over-optimistic, super-ambitious baker that I am, I decided to make not one, but an assortment of macarons as Christmas gifts for our close friends, armed with a track record of failed macarons and just a week to go before our Christmas holidays.
I guess you can say that I like challenges. (Well, sort of).
Before embarking on this quest for the Holy Grailof perfectly-domed cookie crusts to book-end a soft pillow of flavor-infused cream, I did things differently. I studied. Yes my friends, I devoured all the recipes, tips and tricks from the experts before setting to work, scrutinizing every line and every proportion to ensure that I didn’t miss the “fine print”. I analyzed instructions like, “Whip the egg whites until very fluffy” (define “very fluffy”); “Fold the dry ingredients into the meringue until a shiny mass forms” (what is “shiny”?); and (my favorite) “The final batter should flow like Magma” (Magma???).
The best resource to help me answer these burning questions were the 15 pages of discussion dedicated to macarons over at the eGullet forum, guaranteed to provide endless hours of entertaining bedtime reading. Also useful was Helen’s detailed step-by-step guide in Desserts Magazine, Veronica’s video where she expertly creates a batch of chocolate macarons in just under eight minutes and Julia’s meticulous ‘How To’ guide over at Mélanger:: To Mix. Short of apprenticing with a macaron expert to get the job done, these resources made great a substitute teacher, along with the classic duo of Trial and Error.
Yes, there were (many) failed batches that didn’t make the cut on this four-day intensive. But they’re a small price to pay for the subtle nuances of macaron-making that I’ve come to learn because of them. There are many resources out there which will tell you what to look out for in the process, so here are my three main observations:
- Ratio of dry vs wet ingredients: Basically, the amount of moisture in the egg whites used. Leaving them out to dry, uncovered, for at least one night is essential, two, if you can afford the time. Avoid using egg whites that have been previously frozen unless you have the time to leave them out to age for at least three to four days. The less moisture in your egg whites, the easier it will be for the shells to form a ‘skin’, which are essential in the development of macaron feet.
- Icing Sugar: Julia’s guide suggests that the icing sugar should not contain any starch, which, if you’re using egg white powder and/or the Italian meringue method, would apply, but not for the French meringue method. The starch present in the icing sugar helps in the forming of ‘skin’, which sets the macarons on their way to finding their feet (sorry, couldn’t help it) in the oven.
- Oven Temperature: Knowing your oven is key, as is knowing if the recipe you’re reading was developed with a convection or a conventional oven and adapting the baking temperatures and times to yours. I had a streak of wrinkled shells despite following the instructions and folding technique very closely, which only ended after I lowered the oven temperature and extended the baking time for my conventional oven.
Matcha Macarons with White Chocolate filling (loosely adapted from Cannelle & Vanille’s recipe for Vanilla Bean macarons)
Makes about 40 macaron shells/ 20 filled macarons
One ingredient that Aran uses, which I didn’t, is to add egg white powder to the mix to stabilize the mixture and ensure greater consistency. If you can get your hands on it, definitely add it in, otherwise, pay careful attention to your technique of folding in the dry ingredients and the temperature and baking times.
For the macarons:
90 grams almond flour
120 grams powdered sugar
70 grams egg whites, aged overnight, uncovered, at room temperature
3 grams egg white powder (if using)
2 grams fine sea salt
40 grams granulated sugar
2 teaspoons matcha powder
1. Sift the almond flour, powdered sugar and sea salt and set aside.
2. Whip the egg whites with the egg white powder (if using), until the mixture resembles shaving foam, then slowly add in the granulated sugar while the egg whites continue to whip. The whites are ready when they are whipped to stiff peaks, giving the whisk a “beak-like” end like this.
3. Sift the matcha powder into the meringue, then add the dry ingredients and fold them in with a spatula until you get a mixture that’s smooth, thick and shiny. I’ve found that Helen’s advice to count the strokes (up to a maximum of 50) to be pretty helpful in gauging when to stop mixing. The batter should be a little runny but still fairly thick – when piped out, any peaks in the batter should slowly flatten on its own.
4. Using a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip, pipe small rounds onto baking pans lined with parchment or Silpat. Gently rap the tray on the counter to remove any air bubbles in the batter then leave the piped rounds out to dry for at least 45 minutes until a ‘skin’ forms. To test whether the batter is ready for baking, gently prod the top of each shell – there should be a soft impression but your fingertip should remain clean. If you come away with batter stuck to your fingers, leave the shells out for longer.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 300F/ 150C. Place one pan in the oven at a time, baking for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the trays from the oven and let cool before detaching the shells. If you’re using parchment paper, pour some hot water under the parchment to “steam” the shells off. Store unused macaron shells in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
For the white chocolate filling:
75 grams heavy whipping cream
30 grams white chocolate, chopped
1. Boil the cream in a saucepan and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two before stirring the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted. Refrigerate for at least three hours (overnight is best) and whip into a thick cream just before using.
2. Pipe or spoon some of the filling onto half of the macaron shells and top with another shell, being careful not to press down on the cream.