Macarons are the new cupcake, haven’t you heard? Well, actually according the the New York Times, whoopie pies are the new cupcake. But I stand by my macarons. They are experiencing a renaissance, showing up in pâtisseries and bakeries as well as at weddings as favours. Now that Edmonton has finally opened a few cupcake shoppes, it signalled the end to that trend.
First: let’s get one thing straight. Not macaroons. Macarons.
Although macaroons are not without their charms. I used to buy the Neilson brand for $0.97 a box at Zellers during summers in Thunder Bay. It’s funny the things that thrill you as a child.
Macaroons are coconut based chocolate-covered candies or cookies, available at your local dollar store. Macarons are originally from France, and are meringuey light sandwiched cookies, with fillings. A world of difference.
Although I had never tried a macaron until this February at Bouchon in Las Vegas, I had long been interested in them. They’re just so damned pretty! And the flavours are insane. Earl grey, caramel fleur de sel, filled with jam, ganache, buttercream; even ketchup (yes you read correctly)…they are a baker’s dream of customization.
Then I started to research them, and I realized what kind of a baking challenge they were. I put off baking them for months out of fear of failure, which is a common reaction judging by all the blogs I have read about macarons. Some people report six or seven attempts to get something close to edible.The problems never end: too fresh of egg whites, under beating, over beating, under and over folding, humidity, wrong pans… Macarons are all technique, unlike many cookie recipes.
Macarons should be chewy, sweet, airy and with a bit of a crunch when you bite in.
Macarons gone wrong on other blogs:
I will not shame the bakers of these for they were brave enough to post their mistakes, but see what I mean? These suckers are a challenge!
However, I am happy to say, they were not as frightful as I had feared. While they are a bit advanced, I think anyone with a decent oven, electric beater/stand mixer, scale, piping bag and a bit of patience can make these.
I pulled my recipe from a number of sources. There are a few versions floating around the web, and I found the most successful recipes required weighing. I went to my parents house, where they have a convection oven, numerous baking pans, kitchen scales and most importantly: counter space and a KitchenAid stand mixer.
I started a day previous by aging my egg whites on a counter at room temperature. Some people age their whites up to three days. Why is this? According to Harold McGee in “On Food and Cooking“, it is complicated. Basically, the fresher the egg the easier to separate from the yolk. However, it can also be harder to get them to foam and stiffen, hence the artificial aging. One day on a counter at room temperature is equal to four days aging in the fridge.
McGee does say a stand mixer will whip even the freshest eggs, however. So the forced aging does have a reason and is not superstition, as many bloggers believe. The funniest thing about macarons is that everyone has their ‘trick.’ Some beat eggs for a certain number of minutes. Others dry roast their ground almonds, or add powdered egg whites to unaged fresh whites. Yet others let the piped cookies stand for over an hour to form a skin on top, then pray for the best.
Basic Macaron Recipe:
(# of sandwiches made depends on the size of your cookies. I got about 24 2″ cookies, to make 12 macarons)
- 225 grams icing sugar
- 125 grams ground almonds
- 110 grams egg whites (about 4), aged overnight at room temperature
- 25 grams granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
Weigh the icing sugar and almonds, and sift into a small bowl. Weigh the granulated sugar and set aside. Finally, weigh the egg whites.
In a clean dry mixing bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer on medium to beat the egg whites. Add a pinch of salt before you beat. The eggs should quickly become frothy.
At this point, slowly add the granulated sugar, and speed up the mixer slightly. The mix will become opaque and stiffen. Continue beating until peaks form and hold, and the surface becomes shiny. The whites should stick to the bowl and hold a well defined edge.
Gently fold in the almond/icing sugar mix with a spatula. I did mine in three portions. Here’s the tricky bit: “fold until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over fold.” Some say you should get something like lava: a gentle crust on top, with liquid motion, and peaks that flatten.
When I filled my piping gun, the mix seemed so thick! I was certain I had failed, to be honest. I piped 1.5″ circles onto parchment paper, smoothing any nipples on top with a moistened finger. I put the macarons into a preheated 350°F oven for 11 minutes.
7 minutes into baking, I saw feet popping up on my little macarons so I was feeling pretty proud. I did have some cracking (mostly in the second batch) but overall, success! I think I might let the macarons sit before baking a little bit longer next time. I think it might stop the quick spreading, and cracking, in the oven. If you have trouble with your macarons, try the Italian meringue method. Some have better luck with that.
The stages of the eggs:
At the start.
Getting foamy now, almost ready for sugar….
Sugar added, and whipping into stiffer foam.
Piping the macaron batter:
Look at those damn near perfect feet!
It’s citrus season and while I love RioStar grapefruit and naval oranges, I have a special spot reserved for blood oranges. They’re really spectacular. I decided to make blood orange curd for the middle of my macarons.
My initial curd recipe was a DISASTER and so I have this FAILcurd:
It looks like a prop in a horror movie.
One redo later, and I had something much better.
Blood Orange Curd
(makes 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon fine orange zest (TIP: zest before you juice the oranges, it is easier)
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (I might use less next time)
- 4 tablespoon cubed room temperature butter
In a small saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and juice until blended. Cook, stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes thick (like sour cream or a hollandaise sauce), about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter pieces. Add the zest and let cool. When cool, cover and put in fridge.
Next time I will include less sugar. Lemon curd demands a high amount of sugar to tone down the tartness, but blood oranges are so sweet they do not need the help. The leftover curd is great on toast.
My sources for my successful macaron making:
- David Lebovitz: Instructions and recipes for making French macarons
- Serious Eats: How to make macarons
- Translated from French, Mercotte: Desperately Seeking Macarons
Also, how wrong is it that making these macarons made me long for a new camera and a kitchen with natural lighting?
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