When it comes to the kitchen, I’m pretty fearless. Very few recipes intimidate me. In fact, I love spending the better part of a day tackling something challenging like boeuf bourgignon (even if I don’t eat a bite of it ’cause I don’t eat stuff that had parents). Macarons, however, scared the bejesus out of me until recently. I haven’t taken very many cooking classes because I can usually figure out how to cook just about anything on my own. But after a terribly failed first attempt at making macarons (they didn’t even make it into the oven), I decided I needed professional intervention, so I wrangled my mother-in-law into taking a class with me at Sur la Table in Dallas a few weeks ago. ‘Twas a great success, as I’ve now successfully made macarons several times in the comfort of my own kitchen.
I had a housewarming party to go to this weekend, which I figured was a good excuse to try my hand at some Tiffany blue macarons, which I’m always coming across on Pinterest. The great thing about these cookies is that you can do about a bazillion different things for the filling: chocolate ganache, Bailey’s buttercream, raspberry jam, salted caramel. It’s actually kind of overwhelming. For my Tiffany blue macarons, I just wanted some kind of white filling so I decided on cheesecake (I used a no-bake cheesecake recipe).
Macarons are challenging, but not impossibly so. And it feels so good to conquer them. I’ve never had a prouder moment in the kitchen than the first time I saw the pieds, or “feet,” popping up in the oven.
Before we get started, here are a few tips:
- I wasted a lot of time on recipes that used volume measurements instead of weight. I finally cracked and bought a food scale, and it’s so helpful. Essential, really.
- Crunch the numbers for your almond meal. The pre-made stuff can sometimes be expensive (about $9 to $12 for a bag), so it might be cheaper to buy slivered almonds and run them through your food processor.
- I’ve done a lot of research and have come to the conclusion that you do not need to age your egg whites, but you do need to let them come to room temperature. This is just my opinion based on my own experience, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who are very pro-aging.
- There are two methods for the meringue: the French method (in which you add sugar to the egg whites) and the Italian method (in which you add syrup to the egg whites). We used the French method in the class I took at Sur la Table, with mixed results. The instructor even told us that the Italian method would produce a better macaron, so that’s the method I’ve gone with at home. It seems a little intimidating at first, but as long as you have a reliable candy thermometer, it’s very easy and I’m certain that it does, in fact, yield more consistent results.
- Don’t use a thick cookie sheet and don’t pipe your macarons onto a nonstick mat like a Silpat. Silpats are great for a lot of things, but they ruined my first batch of macarons, which baked unevently and, ironically, stuck to the mat. Some of them even exploded. It wasn’t pretty. Just trust me: keep it simple and use parchment paper.
- I cheat and use a template to pipe my macarons. There are loads of them online, and they’ll help you get roughly equal sized shells (unless you’re really good at eyeballing it, which I am not). I printed several sheets with 1 1/2″ circles and put them underneath the parchment paper. Just slide the paper out when you’re ready to put them in the oven.
- Regardless of what filling you decide to use, your macarons need to spend some time in the refrigerator once you’ve assembled them so they can “ripen.” Unlike many, if not most, other cookies, macarons benefit from the passing of time, and their flavor improves if you allow the filling to get to know the shells for a while. You can even freeze them for use at a later date (I’ve read that they’ll keep for up to several months; just let them come to room temperature and serve).
OK. Let’s go.
Macaron Shells – Makes 60 Cookies (adapted from French pastry chef Pierre Hermé’s recipe)
- 300g almond meal, sifted (note: if you have any large pieces after sifting, run them through a food processor or coffee grinder to break them down; just don’t over-process or you’ll get almond butter)
- 300g powdered sugar, sifted
- 110g egg whites, room temperature
- 300g granulated sugar
- 75g water
- 110g egg whites, room temperature
- Gel food coloring of choice (I used equal parts blue and green to get the robin’s egg color I was aiming for)
- Combine the almond meal and powdered sugar in a large bowl and break up any clumps.
- Create a well in the center of of almond meal and powdered sugar and pour in the first 110g of egg whites. Slowly start folding them in (if you’ve made pasta before, think of it like adding the beaten eggs into the flour: you can’t do it all at once or you’ll have a big clumpy disaster). You’ll need some elbow grease and perhaps even a strong and attractive man, as the resulting mixture is very thick (yes, the man must be attractive or your macarons will crack; it’s science, don’t ask questions).
- Put the other 110g of egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
- In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer to the pan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. (Please note that this sugar-to-syrup process is a little dangerous and you need to be careful so you don’t burn off your face or a vital appendage.)
- Keep a close eye on the thermometer. When it reaches 239°F/115°C, turn on your stand mixer and begin whipping the egg whites to soft peaks (I put my Kitchenaid on 6). When it reaches 244°F/118°C, remove the pan from heat and, with the stand mixer running, pour the syrup into the egg whites, aiming for the spot where the egg whites meet the bowl.
- Whisk on high for a minute or two and then reduce the speed (I turn it up to 8 and then down to 4). It’s done when you have stiff, glossy peaks and the bowl has cooled off.
- Add your desired food coloring to the meringue and whip it in until fully combined and you don’t see any streaks of color.
- Fold the meringue into the almond meal/powdered sugar mixture in thirds (you can also adjust the food coloring in this step if need be). The batter should be smooth and have a lava-like consistency. To test it, get a dollop of batter on your spoon, hold it horizontally, and watch the way it falls. It should gently ribbon off the spoon. Check your consistency periodically, because you don’t want to overmix your batter.
- Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a #12 tip and pipe 1 1/2″ rounds on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. When piping, hold the bag vertically about a half inch above the cookie sheet. Squeeze the bag and let the circle form on it’s own—resist the urge to swirl the batter. When you’ve piped out a perfect circle, stop applying pressure to the bag and move the tip in a very small circle, then release. The goal is to have no bumps on the top of the shell.
- Whack the cookie sheet on the counter a few times to release any air from the shells you’ve just piped. Don’t worry, they won’t move, so whack the hell out of the cookie sheets.
- Let the piped macaron shells rest for about 30 minutes, until the tops are matte (if you touch one, no batter should stick to your finger). At this point, you can lightly tap down any bumps or points on the surface.
- Preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C (you may need to adjust the temperature depending on your oven) while the macaron shells are hanging out.
- When the shells are ready, bake them for 12 to 14 minutes (maybe less, maybe more, depending on your oven), keeping a close eye on them because you don’t want them to begin to brown.
- Allow the shells to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack. They should come off the parchment paper easily if all went according to plan.
You’ve succeeded if a.) your shells have pieds or “feet” (the bottom part where the cookies explode a bit) and b.) the tops and bottoms are smooth and uncracked. Using the Italian meringue method should help toward this end, if not guarantee it.
I’m not including the recipe I used for the filling because, as previously mentioned, you can do just about anything for the filling (though if you’re dying to know, the recipe just called for cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and heavy cream—easy peasy).
Bonne chance with your macarons!
Sifted almond meal and powdered sugar.
Add in the egg whites.
Keep a close eye on the thermometer.
The meringue is ready when it’s stiff and glossy.
Add your food coloring to the meringue.
Fold the meringue into your almond meal/powdered sugar mixture.
Freshly piped shells.
Shells that have rested and are ready to go in the oven.
Match up similar sized shells and add your filling. Misshapen shells and ones that aren’t perfectly smooth make great bottom shells.
I took these babies outdoors to get some decent lighting, and the color showed up much better in these shots: