I realised that macarons have a love-hate relationship with people. People either love them a lot, or hate them a lot.
People who love them thinks they are pretty and dainty, while people who hate them think they are often too sweet. For me, they are absolutely one of my favourite things to bake.
The French macaron is a small sandwich cookie made with almond flour and meringue, and can be sandwiched with many types of fillings such as ganache, jam or buttercream. These fillings are typically where most of the flavour comes from. A good macaron shell has smooth tops, with ruffled bottoms, which is referred to as “feet”. Perfect macarons are a delight- dainty and elegant with a light crisp outer shell with a melt-in-your-mouth filling.
Here’s what to look for in a perfect macaron:
– Shells with a slight shine & a light crunch
– Soft & slightly chewy on the inside
– ‘Skin’ which is the outermost layer that forms as the piped macaron bakes in the oven
– ‘Feet’ which forms around the base of the shell as moisture turns to steam & start to rise
I’ve baked a lot a lot of macarons, trying out different recipes etc to get to where my macarons are today. In this post, I’ll be sharing more of what I’ve learnt- basically almost everything about macarons. Above all, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
KEY INGREDIENTS – Only 3 ingredients needed!
- Almond flour (or ground almonds)
This is basically natural blanched almonds ground into a very fine powder. Go for the extra fine ground almonds- this will give you the smoothest batter. Almond flour is not the same as almond powder. You can get almond flour from baking speciality stores.
- Egg Whites
There’s always this debate on ‘aged’ egg whites or not. I often do not age the egg whites, and my macarons are fine. In other words, I don’t find it necessary. However, it is entirely up to you. To ‘age’ egg whites, simply separate your egg whites, store them in the fridge covered for 2 to 3 days, then bring them to room temperature when you need them. (But AIYAH, so troublesome, don’t need la!) Just make sure your egg whites do not have any traces of egg yolks in them.
There are two types of sugar- 1) Fine sugar 2) Icing sugar. Fine sugar is used to make the meringue, while icing sugar is mixed with almond flour. One thing to note though, is that sugar is an important structural ingredient in macarons and therefore it cannot be decreased without comprising on the structure. Yes I know, it’s very very sweet- and always asked if we can decrease the amount of sugar. I’ll say better not- you do not want to play around with the ratios. It’ll be better to balance out the sweetness with the filling.
- Optional- Colouring
Food colouring can be added in the macaron batter. It’s not really good to substitute with natural colouring as you’ll not be able to achieve that bright and vivid colour. You will want to use gel paste or powdered food colouring because liquids will weaken the meringue. You can look out for americolour or wilton brands- it’s what we use.
- Measuring scale
To weigh all your ingredients correctly. If you find it a hassle, why not purchase our macaron baking kit, it comes with all the pre-weighed ingredients- simple and fuss-free!
- Electric Mixer
An electric mixer is indispensable if you want to make a meringue. If not, you can also whip a meringue by hand, but it’ll take a very long time, and your poor arms will be tired. Either a stand mixer or handheld mixer is fine.
This is needed to sift your almond flour and icing sugar mixture. It’s important to get out any lumps and make sure there aren’t any large bits of almond in your batter. Else, your macarons might not have a smooth top.
A spatula is used for mixing the batter. It’ll be great to have one that is flexible, and comfortable to use- one that is flexible to scrape the sides of the bowl but stiff enough to fold the mixture.
- Piping bag and tips
For perfectly piped macarons, you will want to use a piping bag (to contain your macaron batter) and a round metal piping tip. A piping tip helps you to pipe perfectly round macarons. We recommend disposable piping bags (so you don’t have to wash it after use), and a wilton tip no. 12 piping tip.
- Baking trays and parchment paper
You’ll need a baking tray to put in your oven to bake, as well as baking paper to bake your macarons on. Alternatively, you can also use silicone mats. But I find parchment paper is easier as it can be disposed of after use. Some people claim using parchment paper is better, while some claim parchment paper is better- but I’ve not tried it although I think the difference is very slight to the naked eye only.
You need to have a good working oven, and it’s even more important for you to know your oven well to figure out the best way to bake your macarons on it. Sometimes, it’s a lot of trial and error but once you get it… bingo! A convection setting works well as macarons get their iconic feet because the tops crust over, forcing steam out the bottom as the shells bake.
Perhaps the most important aspect of making macarons- a properly whipped meringue!
The first step to ensure a well whipped meringue is to start with a clean mixing bowl and room temperature egg whites. Why a clean mixing bowl? This is because any presence of fats will inhibit the meringue from forming, so be sure to wipe down your bowl prior to placing your egg whites in them. Why room temperature egg whites? Strictly speaking, it’s not a must, but it’ll make the process so much easier. The goal is for the sugar to dissolve into the egg whites while you are whipping it, which is why, sugar dissolves easier in something warm, than something cold.
Types of meringue: French, Italian and Swiss. The focus will be on French and Italian meringue in this post.
1) French meringue is the most common and most straightforward- all you do is whisk your sugar directly into your egg whites.
2) Italian meringue is much more technical and involves a sugar syrup that has to be cooked to the right temperature, before adding to your egg whites.
You must have heard people telling you that Italian meringue and macarons made with Italian meringue is more stable. Yes, there is some truth in it because of the way the meringue is made. For Italian meringue, the sugar syrup poured into the meringue adds heat to it, which will cause the proteins to coagulate and hold their structure. However, Italian meringue is trickier, with more steps, as you’ll see from the recipes.
The next important aspect is the stage to whip the meringue till- stiff peaks. Stiff peaks are when you pull out the whisk, and the meringue trails off such that it can stand on its own. If you invert the bowl, the meringue stays as it is. This is the goal for making meringues in macarons.
Macaronage is the process of folding your dry ingredients into your whipped meringue. The goal here is to evenly incorporate the dry ingredients into the meringue while deflating the batter just a bit. The finished ideal batter will stream off the spatula in ribbons and slowly sink back into itself. You want it to be folded to the stage such that the batter is loose enough that the shells smooth out as you pipe them, but not overfolded to the stage where the batter does not hold its shape. This is a very crucial step to making perfect macarons- so please do not overfold. Just remember, it is better to unfold the batter than to overfold, because overfolding means there is ‘no way to return’.
When piping out the macarons, it is crucial to hold the tip at a 90 degrees angle to your parchment paper. You can use the macaron template to piping out even circles if needed. So, with your piping bag squeeze from the back of the bad with your right hand, and use your left hand to guide the piping bag if needed. Also, you should start piping with the tip in the centre of the ‘circle’, pulling up just a bit as the macaron batter comes out. To get very smooth tops, you will need to flick the piping tip away as you stop squeezing. Unfortunately, all this takes practice, so go bake your macarons now!
- Getting rid of air bubbles and imperfections
After piping all your macarons, you’ll need to bang your baking trays on the counter. This will release any air bubbles that has form in the batter. Do not be afraid to bang your trays, just make sure that you securely hold your parchment paper else your hard work will be ruined! If there are any more bubbles that has popped and surface, what I’ll like to do is use a toothpick to go through and un-pop it.
- Drying macaron shells
This is a huge question- some people say that you don’t have to dry them, some people say you do. Some say you can dry them in low temperature in a oven. Personally, I’ll like to rest them until a skin develops, I,e until they are matt. It’s best that the surface of the macaron dry out to a certain extent such that the crust will trap steam and force out the bottom of the shell to form feet. However, please do not over dry your macarons. In short, macarons are ready to bake in the oven once they feel dry to the touch and their surface does not stick to your fingers.
- Baking macarons
You will need to ‘experiment’ with your oven to determine the baking temperature and time. Macarons are temperature sensitive, and some ovens are not calibrated properly hence affecting the end result. In general, I bake macarons at 140-degree celcius for about 15 minutes. But please do try it out on your own oven, because many a times macarons do not turn out well because the temperature of the oven was incorrect (too high or too low). An oven thermometer will be good to help to set it right.
Are you inspired to bake macarons now? Drumroll for……The Best Macaron recipes!