The same friend who requested the camera cake also asked for 2 dozen macarons amongst a bunch of other requests for macarons plus I had to make a heap for the obligatory family Christmas gatherings. Making a normal batch of about 40 macaron shells is usually pretty challenging. But getting the results consistently for over 100 macaron shells is where the real fun begins and your sanity just about ends.
I could probably write tomes about macarons and others certainly have (a quick search on google will turn up hundreds of results and several blogs dedicated solely to the art of the perfect macaron). I’m self-taught when it comes to these fickle little delicacies of almondy delight and I have tried and tested about 4 different recipes. What I’ve realised is that there is no one foolproof method – it’s a matter of trial and error until you get the right recipe, bake time and drying time that fits the conditions in your own kitchen.
The two books I rely on the most are: Secrets of Macarons by Jose Marechal for a good recipe and I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita for excellent interesting flavours. I have also tried Adrian Zumbo’s recipe however it asks for powdered egg whites which can be hard to come by and in my oven, it doesn’t seem to quite produce the same results.
Amy’s Top 4 Macaron Making Tips (I didn’t do a top 5 as I couldn’t think of a noteworthy 5th..)
Note that these are for the Italian meringue method, not the French method. I now only use the Italian method as I found my French macarons were too brittle and fragile for handling. The Italian method also gives you more reliable results and tastes a lot more moist and spongy when you bite into it. I’m not sure you can really see the difference but here are the two types:
#1 Grind, Sift, Sift. Processing the icing sugar and almond meal together in a food processor can be time consuming and laborious but it’s absolutely essential. Sifting it twice through a fine sieve is even more so if you want nice smooth shells. This is my least favourite part of the recipe but a completely necessary evil. Doing large batches is especially heinous because it’s so laborious but I’ve never once compromised this part of the recipe.
# 2 Pipe everything and pipe the right amount. This is unavoidable if you covet a round shell that will rise evenly. I use a 12 inch plastic piping bag and Loyal plastic 1cm piping tip. A handy trick is to stand the bag in a tall beer glass before you fill it so it doesn’t get too messy. The size of the piping relative to batter consistency also makes a difference. These are two experimental batches piped to different sizes using the same batter – look at how differently it rises.
The batch to the left were piped to 1 inch wide, the batch to the right were 3/4inch wide.
Piping the filling is also necessary if you want a nice finish when you sandwich the shells together. I also use hand made baking paper cones to pipe the ganache / filling onto the shells. I was surprised at how much filling even a medium-sized shell requires to get the ganache all the way to the edge when you sandwich. In these photos, there is about 1 inch high mound of ganache for a standard 1.5 inch macaron:
Piped Chocolate Mint ganache filling and how much filling you need relative to shell size.
# 3 Croutonage is essential – for French Meringue macarons. This is also known as the drying time. And it really does vary depending on conditions. Some books say 10min, others say up to half an hour. Mine usually take 20-30min and if it takes longer, I usually know that I’ve messed up the proportions. The cardinal rule is if it leaves even the tiniest amount of residue when you touch one, it’s not ready. And don’t bung it in the oven thinking it’ll be fine… it generally won’t be and the 2 times I tried this both times the macaron didn’t rise evenly and the highly coveted little “feet” (also known as the crimpy part at the bottom of a perfect macaron which makes it a macaron as opposed to an almond biscuit or meringue) didn’t form. To top it all off they usually crack all over and end up looking more like cracked almond biscuits..
The perfect “feet” forming in the oven
# 4 Colouring the almond paste is more reliable than colouring the sugar syrup. I’ve tried adding colouring to the sugar syrup as is the method called for by Adriano Zumbo however this can be pretty risky depending on the colour. The main reason why I now avoid this method is because you can’t tell if your sugar is burning if your thermometer isn’t accurate. Usually by the time you smell it burning, that’ll be the time to chuck the sugar syrup out and face a hefty clean up of a sugar coated saucepan!! Also – if you are trying to achieve dark colours, use more colouring than you think you’d need.
To get to this shade of green and red…
…I needed about 1 bottle of Green & Red Spectrum brand gel paste food colouring which originally looked like this in almond paste form (note this varies by brand):
Coloured almond paste
The funny thing is, people always wonder why macarons cost so much. If you’ve ever looked at a macaron recipe you can probably guess why. It’s an intensive process and so many things can go wrong at any point in time – not to mention almond meal is extremely expensive!!! So next time you think $2.50 for a macaron is hefty, have a go at making them in one colour and flavour then you’ll probably appreciate much more all the different flavours and work that goes into what seems like a high price.
Click here for my new facebook album dedicated to my macaron efforts!