I wanted to bake French macarons because I knew how much of a challenge they were. That only makes sense to me, so bear with me here. I had seen these pretty treats on TV and Pinterest and I knew I had to have them. I had no idea that a harmless looking cookie that needed only four ingredients would consume like it did. I went through numerous online recipes and bought two books to arm myself with information. When I had finally procured that magic dust they call almond flour, I confidently set out on my journey. A few of my kids helped me out along the way, but only Sommer persevered along the lonely path to success. I failed miserably, publicly and shamefully over and over and over and . . . well, you get it. Rather than tell you everything I think you need to know to bake macarons, I’ll share a basic recipe and a few things that saved my life. Literally. My macaron tainted life.
What you’ll need:
2/3 cup of finely ground almonds or almond flour
1 ½ cups of powdered sugar
5 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large egg whites
A pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 280 degree and place the rack on the bottom shelf.
Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar at least twice. If you’ve got tiny clumps left over in your strainer, don’t force them through the sieve, that’s just ghetto. They’re almonds, so plop ‘em in your hand and consider that your little low carb treat for the day.
You’ll need egg whites that have been aged. I used to not care about this and I got horrible results so now I keep egg whites in a little container in the fridge because it really does make a difference. I don’t know why, I’m not a scientist, I just know it works. Beat the egg whites on medium until they become frothy and then increase the speed.
When the meringue starts to get stiff, add one tablespoon of granulated sugar at a time. Oh my God, I can totally see my foot in the reflection of the bowl. Snap! Don’t get distracted here.
Keep beating until the meringue gets firm. You’re waiting for what’s called stiff peaks, but you don’t want to over whisk or you’re doomed. This is the thing about macarons. You can’t undermix, overmix, underfold, overfold, under dry, over dry, underbake or overbake them. They’re finicky like that. The only way you’ll learn is to do it over and over and over and . . . well, you get it.
Add a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness of the meringue. You can’t do anything about how sweet macarons are, there’s no substituting for the sugar at all. Add the vanilla too and when you finally have it firm and glossy, add two to three drops of gel food coloring.
Okay, this is good and stiff. If the peak doesn’t droop when you take the whisk off the mixer, you’ve done well. Give yourself a pat on the back and take a deep breathe because there’s more. You might want to get out your rosary for this.
I like to dump the entire bowl of sifted sugar and almond flour into the meringue. Lots of folks will tell you to add it little by little but it hasn’t really made any difference to me. You don’t trust me because you know I’m impatient but really, if it mattered I’d do it.
Here’s where you can either make it or break it. Use a rubber spatula and fold the meringue into the sugar-flour mixture, pressing down when you get to the middle.
It will be a little grainy at first, but after about 30 or 40 turns your arm will feel like it’s about to fall off and the mix will look shiny and sort of like molten lava. This is what they call macaronage. I refer to it Extreme Arms. Go ahead, show us your guns!
You’ll know it’s ready when you can let the “lava” flow off the spatula and it blends back into itself. If it’s too runny or too thick, you’re a goner. There’s no fixing that, you might as well start all over. You know, move to another country and reinvent yourself.
Put the mixture in a piping bag and pipe circles onto your parchment paper or mat but don’t use a baking dish and never grease your mats. The macarons need a dry surface to hold on to. This lets the feet form.
Time to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen folks, because you’ll need to exercise some delayed gratification. Leave your trays out for about 30 minutes to an hour so they can dry properly. This is critical. You’ll know when they’re dry when you can touch them with the tip of your finger and they have a hard shell. This shell also helps those pretty feet to form by acting like a dome to trap heat. I think I read that somewhere. Don’t skip this part!
Now, about the mats. I have experimented with silicone mats, parchment paper and fancy mats made specifically for macarons. I would rather have imperfect circles than macarons that stick to my baking mat and if you know what’s good for you, you would too. Sticky macarons always happen when I’m using the fancy mats, but never with silicone or parchment. When baking with silicone mats, you have to watch the time. You macarons will cook a lot faster and tend to brown if you aren’t careful. Parchment paper is my official choice.
Place your baking mat in the oven. After about a minute, crack the oven door a bit and let them bake that way for two minutes. After two minutes, shut the door and wait another 13 -15 minutes.
Purdy huh? Let your precious little beauties cool and put them in a container in the fridge overnight to mature. I know, more waiting, but they’re really good when they’ve aged a day or two. In the meantime you can look up some filling recipes because you can’t just stick peanut butter in between these works of art.
Here’s where I tell you the secret to not losing your mind. This is all the stuff I learned to do in order to make yummy macarons with shiny tops, pretty feet, flat bottoms and nice full insides.
1. Use aged eggs.
2. Wait until your meringue is stiff before adding the sugar-flour mix.
3. Fold the mixture into the meringue until it’s super flowy like lava.
4. Let your macarons dry before baking them.
5. Pop the oven door open for two minutes before shutting it for 13-15.
6. Let the baked macarons cool and mature before you fill them.
This post would not have been possible if it weren’t for the countless mistakes I made along the way. I’m not proud of them, but admitting to them is a good first step.