My macarons

{ Images :: some of my recent macaron creations }
Top row:  Lavender macarons, Champagne macarons, Liquorice macarons
Middle row: Blueberry macarons, Lemon macarons, Passionfruit macarons
Bottom row:  Pistachio macarons, Rose macarons with raspberry cream, Caramel macarons

GT July 2009There it was.  I felt legitimised.  For close to two years I have been obsessing about these petit French treats.  And finally there they were.  Boldly emblazoning the front cover of arguably the country’s finest food magazine, Gourmet Traveller.  I am talking about, of course, French macarons.

My family, friends and work colleagues have been subjected to a barrage of commentary relating to my trials and tribulations with the French macaron.  I have only come across a handful people in Australia who share a similar passion (read: obsession).  But the masses?  Many people (well, in Brisbane anyway), are unfamiliar with the French macaron.  Most connect the word macaron to the equally delicious, but considerably less tricky to make, coconut macaroon.

Does this front cover exposure mean French macarons could swiftly gain popularity here in Australia?  Could the French macaron rapidly become the new cupcake?  The cupcake is undeniably popular and continues to reign in many circles.  The surge in cupcake celebrity, however, has brought with it the inescapable poor, cheap imitation.

Is it inevitable that sub-standard macarons may start appearing across the country?  There is a risk.  But I am happy for the attention to be elevated on these little treats.  It would be a dream to have just fraction of the range and quality of macaron available here in Brisbane that equals Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and Gérald Mulot.  Could it happen?  We will see.

For now, I will continue to make my own.  Given my recent focus on macarons as favors for my upcoming wedding (and my obsession in general), I have been getting considerable more practice on my macaron recipe.  I thought I would put together some tips and hints for budding macaron aficionados who want to tackle these delicate little sweets for the first time.

{ French macarons :: My ‘how to’ }

Mini macsThe first time I made French macarons, I simply picked up a recipe and followed the instructions line by line. When the shells I produced did not mirror the accompanying photo in the cookbook, I was a little miffed. Since then I have made countless batches of macarons, I have fiddled with seemingly minor details to ‘perfect’ the recipe for me.  Looking back on that first recipe, I realise how much is not often explicitly explained.

{ Methods }

There are three methods of making macarons.

French :: Beaten egg whites (French meringue) added to almond mixture.
Spanish :: Beaten egg whites (with higher sugar content), added to almond mixture.
Italian ::  Cooked sugar added to egg whites (Italian meringue) added to almond mixture.

The most successful macarons I have made have been with the Italian method.  This is the most stable macaron recipe.  The focus of my tips and hints is around this version, though many of the techniques apply across all three versions.  (NB: all the images of my macarons featured above have been made using the Italian method.)

{ Standard macaron recipe }
Italian meringue method

* Ingredients *

100g egg whites
3g egg white powder
125g almond meal
125g icing sugar
Food colour (optional)
For the syrup:
150g sugar and 50ml water

* Directions *

Process the almond meal and icing sugar together.  In a mixer, add half the egg whites with the egg white powder.  Whip to soft peaks.  Meanwhile, in a saucepan bring the water and sugar for the syrup to 117C (or 242F) on a candy thermometer.  Once ready, slowly add the boiling syrup to the egg whites and continue to whip on medium speed until they thick and shiny and are completely cooled (about 10 minutes).  At the final changes of whipping the meringue, add the food colouring (if using).  Mix the remaining egg whites to the sifted almond mixture and fold into the meringue in four parts.

Pipe macarons on lined baking sheets. Double up your baking sheets if you do not have professional grade quality.  Let your macarons sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Bake at 140C or 280F for 15-18 minutes (depending on size).  Fill with ganache or filling of your choice.  Refrigerate to set.

Depending on your size, the standard macaron recipe should make between 20-25 finished macarons – around 40-50 unfilled shells.

{ Tips on the ingredients }

1. The egg whites must be aged.  That means separating your eggs and leaving the egg whites uncovered at room temperature for 24-72 hours (preferable 72 hours) before using.  This provides an element of evaporation while still maintaining the protein level.
2. Egg white powder.  For extra insurance, I always use additional egg white powder to provide further stability. 
3. The almond meal ideally is allowed to dry at room temperature for up to one week prior to using.
4. The icing sugar must be pure 100% sugar.  No added starch.

{ Tips on the directions }

1. Pay careful attention to processing the almond meal and icing sugar (tant pour tant) together.  Do not over mix.  With the fat content of the almonds, too much processing can make the mixture oily.  Tip – add vanilla in tant pour tant to reduce oil leakage.
2. I begin to mix my egg whites (and egg white powder) in a stand mixer on medium speed just before I bring my water and sugar to the boil.  They need to come together at the same time.  The coordination is critical.  Do not stop mixing your egg whites if your sugar is not ready.  Turn the mixer down to the lowest speed until your sugar reaches temperature.
3. The temperature of your sugar and water is key.  Too low and the meringue will not be stable enough.  Too high and the meringue will be too stiff.  When the thermometer reaches 115C I turn it off.  By the time the saucepan reaches the stand mixer, it has continued cooking and reached 117C.  This is my magic number.
4. Incorporating all the final ingredients together is the trickiest part I have found.  Severely under mix and you get stiff, ugly, bumpy macaron shells.  Slightly under mix and you get dull but flat macarons.  Over mix and you get ill-shaped, cracked macarons with no feet.  Mix perfectly and you get a shiny shell with perfect little feet.  (Can you see how it is easy to become obsessed?)  It is sometimes hard to gauge, but practise does help.
5. I usually mix the first quarter of my Italian meringue in the almond mixture quite roughly.  This is mostly to break up the mixture.  The next additions are a little more careful.  The technique that works best for me is one that I learned at Savour.  Apparently you can tell if someone is mixing their macaron mixture correctly by the angle of their elbow!  Your elbow should be close to your body and moving back behind you as you work the mixture.  You need to lift the mixture away from you starting from the centre / middle of the bowl.  You need to make quarter turns each time.  Basically you are pulling up and dropping down the mixture each time.  You often hear that the mixture is ready when it ‘flows like magma’.  I do not know what that really means.  I look for a shine to the mixture.  I also test by lifting up a spoonful and seeing how it flattens out.  You want the mixture to flatten but still hold its shape a little.
6. Piping can be tricky.  I now pipe my macarons by eye.  They are not all 100% completely uniform, but they are close now.  When I first started, I needed a little guide.  I drew up a ‘circle template’ with a dark pen and put under the parchment paper I was using.  Believe me, when you are making 100 of these at a time, you do not want to draw 100 circles!  Once you are more confident, you will pipe with more ease.  I usually hold a piping bag directly over the baking tray and pipe out for a few seconds.  I pull the bag away quickly once I am done to diminish the likelihood of a peak.
7. The ideal way to pipe your macarons is to alternate the rows.  This helps airflow in the oven.  For example, pipe six macarons on the first row and then five macarons between the six on the second row etc.
8. You know when your macaron mixture is at the right consistency once you have piped.  When you pipe them out, they should have a slight peak.  However, this peak should slowly disappear to a smooth finish.  By the time you have finished piping one complete tray, the first few rows should be sitting perfectly.
9. I always tap the tray when I have finished piping.  This helps eliminate potential air bubbles.
10. Rest time can vary.  I usually leave my macarons about 30 minutes before baking.  But with a few batches, some are baked sooner, some are baker later.  The main thing is that there is a bit of a skin formed on the macaron before you put it in the oven.  Delicately touch the macaron.  If your finger does not leave a mark, then they are ready.
11. Always, always, always use double baking trays if you do not have professional grade.  If you do not double up, your macarons will burn too quickly.

{ Tips on experimentation }

1. You need to check your oven temperature.  If you do not have one already, buy an oven thermometer.  You may be surprised how different that temperature reads to the dial on the front.
2. Watch out for hot spots.  I have some in the back of my oven where it is extra hot.  You will need to test for your own.
3. Experiment baking macarons between 140-160C.  I have the best success at 140C but others equally so at a slightly higher temperature.  Each oven can be different.
4. Experiment with resting time.  I sometimes have success popping in a batch of macarons just after piping but also let others rest for 1-2 hours.
5. If you are using colour, note that this will fade ever so slightly in the oven. So if in doubt, add a little extra.
6. Humidity can cause havoc with macaron making.  Ideally make these tricky little treats on a dry day.  Well, your first time anyway!

I will endeavour to keep this updated as I test new recipes and techniques.  I have a new recipe that I am about to tackle.  Not sure if I should tempt fate, but I am too excited by the prospect of experimenting further.

To everyone that has left me comment in the past on one of my macaron posts saying they have never tried to make macarons, please give them a try.  I would love to see how you go.  Though be warned.  Once you start, it is hard to stop.  It is infectious.  Bonne chance!

{ Acknowledgements }

I need to acknowledge the following outstanding and accomplished chefs who have shared some of their secrets of macaron making with me.

Chef Patrick Leclercq :: Head Patisserie Chef @ Gérald Mulot, Paris
This man is responsible for creating many of the macaron flavours at Gérald Mulot.  Gérald Mulot is an institution in Paris.  I was fortunate to experience macaron making first hand in the 13th arrondissement boutique.  And with the aid of a translator (!) was able to glean considerable tips.

Chef Andreas Stossel :: Head Patisserie Teacher @ Southbank Institute of Technology, Brisbane
This Swiss trained Chef not only has given me valuable tips on pastry making, but also many tips and tricks to fuel my macaron obsession.

Chef Paul Kennedy :: Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School, Melbourne
A complete fountain of knowledge, Paul has explained, in depth, macaron making including the three key methods that are typically used.  My full day macaron class in Melbourne earlier this year truly solidified my obsession (yes, I would fly interstate to attend a macaron class!), and some outstanding questions.

I would also like to acknowledge some great web-based macaron references that I have also used in my macaron endeavours.  These references have been invaluable for me to gain understanding the real science behind the macaron.

This is a tremendously comprehensive reference to macaron making.  This English version provides a great overview of how to tackle these tricky little petit fours.

Helen not only provides easy to understand direction around her macaron making, but she always produces such imaginative creations.  Her enthusiasm for macaron making shines through.  A pleasure to read.

Syrup and Tang
Duncan’s detail on the different macaron methods is so inclusive and clear.  I found his step-by-step guides vastly helpful in understanding the technicalities of macaron making.

And a special thank you to Y, at Lemonpi who has given me countless tips and encouragement throughout my macaron endeavours!