French Macaron 101
Attention, macaron-lovers! Check out my complete French Macaron 101 for detailed tips and tricks to perfect your macaron skills. Plus, visual troubleshooting guide to solve the most common problems!
If you’ve been around for a while, you know I have a thing for macarons! Due to non-existence of any bakeries with fresh macarons in my area (I live in the middle of nowhere!), I was forced to learn to make these little treats at home.
And I have to tell you I’ve had many, many trials and errors, as well as picture-perfect winners in the last 3 years since I discovered these gems! Earlier this year, I tried the famous Ladurée macarons while in Paris, so now I kinda know what considers as a perfect macaron.
Over the years I’ve gathered a few tips and tricks to perfect these finicky little delights. And today I decided to share an extremely long post to put together all the tips and tricks I know in one place. In order to bring you a complete guide, I even purposefully made the common mistakes like under-mixing and over-mixing the batter. (Remember that day back in August?? I know this post was in the making for very long time.)
By no means I claim I know everything about macarons. I’m just sharing my experience and what works for me. And although I tried to cover most of the common problems, I’m sure there are some I’ve never encountered. Sometimes, macarons fail for no apparent reason and leave me scratching my head. I encourage you never give up on making macarons though. There is no such joy as watching your macarons grow lacy feet as they bake in the oven and pulling out perfectly round macarons with shiny smooth tops and pretty ruffled feet out of the oven. I swear, every single time, when I see my macarons through the oven door puffing up and baking perfectly, I can’t help but do a little happy dance in my kitchen! Pure joy, I’m telling ya!
Ok, without further ado, let’s get started with some general tips.
Good stable meringue is the foundation for perfect macarons. There are 2 different techniques to make a meringue: French and Italian. Italian meringue is made with egg whites and cooked sugar syrup, while French meringue is made with egg whites and sugar. Some argue that Italian meringue is the easiest and foolproof, but I find French version is much more approachable for us home bakers.
Here are my tips to make fluffy and stable French meringue:
- Weigh the egg whites. All of my recipes call for large egg whites, which should yield about 30-33gr of egg whites per egg, or no more than 70gr of egg whites total.
- Be sure to use crystal clean (read: completely grease-free!) bowl and whisk to whip the egg whites. Just a touch of oil has a power of ruining your meringue, preventing egg whites to reach perfectly fluffy and sturdy meringue. Some advise to wipe the utensils with vinegar, but I don’t go that far. Just washing and drying with a clean towel does the trick for me. Also, try to use stainless steel or glass bowl, because plastic bowls tend to absorb oil.
- Along the same line, be careful not to include even the smallest drop of yolk in the egg whites. Egg yolk = oil.
- Start with room temperature egg whites. They beat faster and better than the cold ones. I don’t age my egg whites, because I don’t see much difference either way and I find it unnecessary. If you live in a humid climate, I do recommend aging the egg whites, as it helps to remove excess water out of the egg whites.
- To achieve perfectly fluffy and stable meringue, start beating the egg whites on low speed and then gradually increase the speed as they start foaming. Also, when the meringue reaches hard peaks, slowly decrease the speed instead of shutting the mixer off right away.
- Cream of tartar is not essential, but it helps to stabilize the egg whites for sturdy meringue.
- Add any additional flavorings, such as vanilla extract, or candy oils, and food coloring once the meringue reaches soft peak, or closer to hard peak.
- Once meringue reaches hard peak, stop! Overbeating will dry out the meringue, which will cause array of issues, like hollow macarons.
- I highly recommend using gel food coloring in the meringue, instead of liquid ones to minimize the amount of liquid introduced to the batter. You could use powdered food coloring, but I have no experience with it.
- And lastly, stand mixer is helpful, but it’s not required.
- Weigh the dry ingredients. This is super important for the macaron batter ratio. If you’re serious about baking macarons (or baking in general), do invest in kitchen scale.
- Sifting the dry ingredients is crucial as well. There are a few reasons for sifting:
- To aerate the dry ingredients.
- To thoroughly mix the sugar and almond flour.
- To get rid of any lumps and big chunks of dry ingredients for smooth and delicate macarons. It is normal to have about 2-3 tablespoons of excess large chunks of almond flour. Discard it, or add it to your cereal.
The most important aspect of making macarons, besides stable meringue and sifted dry ingredients, is the folding technique, aka macaronage. Although it might look pretty simple to mix the macaron batter, this step can make or break your macarons. Here are my tips on macaronage:
- Unlike many recipes out there, I don’t incorporate the dry ingredients into the meringue in 3 batches. Instead I simply add all the dry ingredients right away, and gently fold the batter. At the beginning the batter is quite thick, but it’ll get thinner as you fold.
- If you’re just starting to make macarons, it helps if you count each fold. It usually takes about 50-60 folds to get to proper consistency. I no longer count, but it helped a lot when I was just learning.
- What is the correct consistency of the batter? The batter should be thick, yet runny enough to fall into a ribbon when you lift the spatula. And the edges of the ribbon should smooth out within 10 or so seconds.
- Be careful not to over-mix, or the batter will get too runny and the cookies will spread too much. Over-mixing also results in hollow macarons, and other common problems, like no feet.
- And don’t be tempted to under-mix the batter to avoid over-mixing, because then the macarons won’t have shiny smooth top and won’t have pretty ruffled bottom.
Shaping and Baking
- I like using heavy-duty aluminum baking sheets. Unlike thin cookie sheets, these thick baking sheets bake the cookies evenly and prevent browning the bottom of the macarons.
- Try to pipe uniform circles for even baking. Mine doesn’t always turn out perfect, but I do my best. I use this Wilton A1 large round tip. Its extra large plain tip helps to achieve the uniform shells. If you want to be precise, you can print out little circles and place it under the parchment paper for guidance.
- I’ve baked macarons on both parchment paper and silicone mat. And I prefer the ones baked on parchment paper. Silicone mats are thicker and conduct heat differently. I find the macarons on parchment paper bake faster and more evenly, which helps to prevent excess browning on top.
- Once the macarons are piped into rounds, tap the baking sheet on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles trapped in the batter. If you don’t release these air bubbles, they will expand during baking and crack the beautiful macarons shells.
- Before baking, let the cookies rest for half hour or until they form a film on top. It shouldn’t stick to your finger when you lightly touch the surface. This helps to create that signature ruffled feet on the bottom. I’ve tested baking macarons without any rest time, and the result was fine. But keep in mind, I live in relatively dry climate, so if you’re in humid area, it’s best to stick with drying the shells before baking.
- The accuracy of your oven temperature is important as well. Too high oven temperature is culprit for many popular problems, like hollow macarons, cracked top, and/or browned shells. Low oven temperature will prevent the macaron shells to rise and create the ruffled feet. If you suspect your oven might not be accurate, test it with an oven thermometer.
- If you notice your macarons tend to brown easily on top, place another rack on the highest level and put an empty baking sheet to block the heat coming from the top of the oven.
- If bottom of the macarons stick to the parchment paper, or silicone mat, it means they’re not cooked long enough, or you haven’t cooled the cookies enough before removing. Here is a trick from Ladurée Macarons book: “Remove the baking sheet from the oven, carefully lift the corners of the parchment paper, and using a small glass, pour a little water between the paper and the hot baking sheet. Do not use too much water or the shells will become soggy – the humidity and the steam produced will help remove the shells more easily when cold…”
Now, onto the macaron troubleshooting guide…
Are you still with me? Kuddos to you. I hope this post answered your questions and helps you to perfect your macaron skills.
And if there is anything I haven’t covered, please leave me a comment below. I’d like us, macaron-lovers, connect and discuss various problems we face baking macarons. Let’s get the discussion started.
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