As I have previously mentioned, my first encounter with macarons was in Paris with my aunt when I was 18. I immediately fell in love, but I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably have to come back to Paris to ever taste them again, which would either be a) never, or b) a very very long time off. It never even occurred to me that I could make macarons at home – they seemed like some kind of impossibly complicated, intricate pastry that only the French could create – until I started noticing them popping up on food blogs a few years ago. However, it was also noted that the homemade macaron was a highly temperamental creation, and that the very techniques and methods that some people swore by were the same techniques and methods that others blamed for their macaron disasters.
Armed with the knowledge that macarons were possible in my own kitchen, I set out to scour the internet and learn as much as I could about making them. This may have been a mistake. Sometimes it’s better to go into things a bit blind, because you aren’t aware of every little thing that can go wrong and therfore totally paranoid about them. The whole process became overwhelming and a bit intimidating, so I put off making macarons for fear of failure.
Until now. I decided to tackle macarons as part of my Christmas baking marathon this year, and as it turns out, they are deceptively simple to make. And, if the reactions they got are anything to judge by, they are probably among the most delicious things I have ever made. Upon biting into one, my mum said, “This may be the most wonderful thing I have ever tasted!” My friend Sam asked if he could have them for his birthday. So you could say they went over well ;).
To make macarons, you fold together a batter of whipped egg whites, ground almonds, and confectioner’s sugar, and pipe it into rounds on a baking sheet. You let them dry for about half an hour, then bake in a slow oven and watch as (hopefully!) the frilly, lacy “feet” emerge from underneath the meringue shell. You then sandwich two meringue shells together with a delicious filling between them. It’s a fairly straightforward process that just requires a bit of confidence, attention to detail, and a good recipe.
For my first foray into macaron-making, I turned to the woman I think of as the Macaron Queen: Helene of the blog Tartelette. She is also the person that the Daring Bakers turned to when they made macarons a few years ago (before I joined the group), and she knows her stuff. Her method is very simple, and her main pointers for success are as follows:
- Use egg whites that are up to five days old rather than fresh-outta-the-chicken. You’ll know they’re good for macarons because the whites will be thin and watery rather than thick and viscous. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the older egg whites actually have less moisture in them, resulting in a better macaron.
- Don’t over-mix the batter. It should be smooth but not too runny, and if you stir too much you knock all the air out of the whipped egg whites and the macaron shells won’t puff up in the oven. Keep in mind that piping the macarons will deflate the batter a little bit as well, so slightly under-mixing is better than slightly over-mixing. However, if you don’t mix the batter enough, you’ll end up with lumpy shells. It’s a fine balance.
Helene’s recipe also uses weight measurements rather than volume measurements. This eliminates any errors due to inconsistencies in ingredient amounts and is generally easier all around – for macarons and other things! I finally bought myself a proper digital kitchen scale and it was worth every penny.
Two common pitfalls of macarons are lack of feet and/or cracked tops, both of which I avoided by following Helene’s instructions to the letter. I used aged egg whites and counted the number of folding strokes I made to stir the batter, taking care not to under- or over-mix. I was anxious as I waited for the macarons to come out of the oven, so when I peeked through the oven window and saw the frilly little feet and smooth, round tops, I actually started dancing and waving my hands around, shouting, “The macarons! They’re working!” (to which Nate replied, “What the heck is a macaron?!”)
Paired with an eggnog-inspired buttercream flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg, these macarons are deadly. I know I will be making many many variations of these, and I suggest making them anytime you want to impress someone, because damn, they will be impressed. Just don’t over-mix ;).
90 grams egg whites (from about 3 eggs, preferably aged 2-3 days in the fridge)
25 grams granulated sugar
In a mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until you get a thick, glossy meringue – if you were to hold the bowl upside down, the egg whites would stay put. Don’t over-beat or the meringue will be too dry.
200 grams confectioner’s sugar
110 grams ground almonds
Add the nuts to the meringue and fold briskly with a rubber spatula a few times to break up the meringue slightly. Continue folding more gently until you get a batter that smooths out on the surface on the count of 10. This shouldn’t take more than 50 strokes. To test the batter, spoon a small mound onto a plate. The top should smooth out on its own. If a small beak remains, fold the batter a few more times.
I forgot to take a crucial photo, so pretend this is a picture of the batter after being folded together… it should be nice and smooth looking.
Load the batter into a piping bag with a round 1/2″ – 3/4″ tip (I just used the plain coupler) and pipe into small 1 1/2 inch rounds on a parchment- or silicone mat-lined baking sheet. My rounds were a little on the large side – next time I will aim for twoonie-sized! Let the macarons rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour to dry the outside of the shells slightly. While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 280˚F, then bake the macarons for 14-20 minutes, depending on their size – mine were perfect at exactly 14 minutes and were ever-so-slightly browned. Let cool for 10-15 minutes on the parchment paper, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. If you are not filling them immediately, store them in an airtight container, unrefrigerated or in the freezer.
Eggnog Buttercream Filling
In the heatproof bowl of a mixer, combine:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
Place over a pot of barely simmering water and whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is quite warm to the touch (it should be white and foamy). Place the mixer bowl back on the mixer and beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high to high speed until glossy, stiff peaks form. Continue to stir on medium-low until the meringue is completely cool to the touch.
While the meringue is mixing, cube 3/4 cups unsalted butter and leave it at room temperature to soften.
Switch to the paddle attachment on the mixer and with the speed on medium-low, add the softened butter to the meringue, one cube at a time. The meringue will deflate and look curdled – don’t worry, this is OK. When all the butter has been added, turn the speed up to medium or medium-high and continue beating until it comes together in a thick, smooth buttercream. Stir in:
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
Place the buttercream in a piping bag with a round 1/2″ to 3/4″ inch tip (again, I used the plain coupler) and pipe thickly onto the bottom of one macaron shell. Sandwich it gently with another macaron shell. If you are not devouring them immediately, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, or longer in the freezer.