Macaron appreciation post

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cassis macarons

My obsession for baking macarons (not to be confused with macaroons, the coconut-y blobby/domed soft cookies) started in the summer of 2013. I still remember my first ever batch, which I split into 3 separate bowls and flavoured with vanilla, lemon (filled with lemon curd), and strawberry (filled with strawberry jam). I think I only got about 3 full in-tact macarons out of the entire batch, which led me to be incredibly frustrated that more of them didn’t turn out well. So, I rolled up my sleeves and got hell-bent on perfecting them, and let me tell you, when you get them right, they’re one of the most satisfying things to bake. They’re also incredibly addicting; once you’re hooked there’s no turning back.

So, once I got the hang of the actual method, I explored with different flavours:

  • cassis (blackcurrant)
  • orange
  • raspberry
  • raspberry & chocolate
  • raspberry & mango
  • strawberry & mint
  • blueberry & earl grey
  • salted caramel
  • mocha
  • nutella
  • s’mores

And now I want to help other aspiring macaron-bakers with some tips and tricks that I, personally, have picked up along the way. So sit back, sip your tea, and learn one or two (hopefully) new things that will help give you that perfect macaron.

*Note to readers – these are tips that I personally have found useful; everyone’s kitchens are different humidities and temperatures, and everyone’s ovens are different strengths. What might have worked for me doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you too*

Tips:

  • Macaron batter + water = disaster. Try to keep your macarons as dry as possible! Having a dry bowl and whisk is essential if you want those egg whites to reach stiff peaks. Also, adding too many wet flavourings or colourings will alter the nature of your batter, and you may end up with flat discs instead of domed shells.
  • Don’t under-whisk – it’s much harder to over whisk egg whites than to under whisk them.   If you want your macarons in a pipe-able condition and to hold their shape, ensure your egg whites are whisked enough to hold their form. A sure-fire test is to hold the bowl upside down above your head. If under whisked, the macarons will spread out and appear very flat and ‘floppy’. (Although you don’t want over-whisked either. However, it’s better over than under-whisked.)
  • Sieve your almonds. Ground almonds that come in packets naturally have larger and smaller chunks, so sieve them to get rid of the larger ones; you want your macarons to have a smooth texture, not bumpy.
  • Bake ’em low and slow. Obviously you want your macarons to be crisp, but you also want them to have that chewy texture inside which only comes with low and slow baking. Richard Burr’s BIY baking book recommends baking macarons for 18-20 minutes at 130C fan (150C/gas 2), and I have found these temp and timings great, though obviously it will depend on your oven – know your oven! (Our one at home is incredibly hot and I may have taken them out a minute or two before the recommended timings.) This also prevents them from browning due to cooking too fast and ruining a beautiful colour you might have incorporated.
  • Use the middle shelf in the oven. This may be a quirk of my oven specifically, but I feel like it will probably apply to a lot of people’s ovens too. Quite simply, the top shelf is too hot and they burn. The bottom shelf (not really even the shelf, the bottom of the oven, which I never recommend using) is too cool, so macarons cook slower and end up too soft, with the edges burning/browning. Middle ground is perfect. But, as I mentioned in the last bullet point, and which I can’t stress enough, know your oven!
  • Use a ratio! This is one of the more recent tricks I have learned, though I don’t know why – every macaron-baker should be aware of this. As with pretty much all things in baking, macarons use a ratio. I like to think of macarons as heavier, almond-ier meringues – of which I always use a 1:2 ratio of egg white:sugar. So, why should macarons be any different? As egg whites are a major component in this recipe, you are never going to get perfect, identical batches of macarons by following a recipe (e.g. 3 egg whites, 75g caster sugar, 175g icing sugar, 125g ground almonds). Your eggs are always going to be different sizes (even if they’re classed as ‘medium’ or ‘large’ etc.), therefore the egg whites will always weigh different amounts. To keep one ingredient in exact proportion to the other, it is best to use a ratio. Weigh your egg whites first – this will be your baseline as to what the other measurements need to be. The ratio I use is:
    egg white : caster sugar : ground almonds : icing sugar
    1 : 1 : 1.25 : 1.25
    and they turn out great for me.
  • Use gel colourings if you can get your hands on some. As mentioned previously, macaron batter is extremely sensitive to water, and liquid food colouring (or flavourings) will change the water content of the batter.
  • Allow enough ‘resting time’. This is a part you really don’t want to scrimp on. Resting allows the macarons to form a nice dry ‘skin’ on top, which, if baked correctly, will give a lovely shine on your finished macarons at the end. Some recipes say 15 minutes is enough, but personally, I would say at least 30 minutes. Normally, I leave mine to rest for 1hr, which seems to do the trick every time in my kitchen. Resting time is pretty controversial in the macaron-baking world, and every baker is different, but I say the longer the better.
  • Don’t use silpat – I don’t know if this is just me, but in an experiment to test which material was best to bake macarons on (greaseproof paper VS macaron silicon mat VS silpat), silpat turned out absolutely disastrous for me. Good old greaseproof paper turned out the best, and none of them stuck to the tray. (A specific macaron-mould mat was good too, but restricted the macarons during baking if they were overfilled, causing a small bulge by the feet. Also, a few stuck to the tray.)
  • Use a piping bag. Macarons are such delicate little buggers, and to get them looking as perfect as they do in those patisserie shops you’re going to need every help you can get – and piping bags take the whole fuss out of wonky edges or mismatching shapes.
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s’mores macarons

There we have a fair few tips on how to bake a bloomin’ great macaron. I hope they work as well for me as I did for you.

do plan on posting up an actual recipe at some point, so if that tickles your fancy, stay tuned 😉

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strawberry & mint macarons, a little rough around the edges from my earlier days

 

 

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