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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

French Macarons - the Pierre Hermes method



French Macarons (or just Macarons) are the unicorn of the pastry world. They're the new cupcake, but on steroids. The texture is divine and the unending flavor possibilities are off the hook. Nobody can resist them. I've just started teaching friends how to make them and hopefully soon there'll be private classes in the neighborhood and maybe even at the local college extension.  I do it for love. This deliciousness must be shared with others!

What is a macaron? It's a light airy cookie sandwich. If a marshmallow, a merigue and frangipane had a baby, it would be a macaron. The outside has a thin light crisp and the inside has a moist chewy cake texture. One cookie and you'll be hooked. (It's pronounced with a long "o", like "macaroni" but without the "i". This should not be confused with a "macaroon" which is actually a coconut type cookie that's very popular in America.)

My first encounter with them was at a local Winter Park bakery called Le Macaron and it was love at first bite. Hundreds were consumed during a recent month long trip around Northern France, which ended with a macaron class in Paris.

Immediately upon arriving home, I was ready to begin making them. Batch after batch. I made, remade, tweaked and learned. They're easy to make as long as you follow these steps to the letter. During my journey, I discovered that there's a whole lot of misconceptions and bogus information on the net. I'll write another post debunking and clarifying macaron myths.

This post; however, is all about how to make delicious authentic macarons.


Special Tools:
  • Scale for weighing ingredients
  • Sieve (for sifting)
  • 18" piping bag (you can use a standard grocery store / craft store size, but the larger size is much easier to work with because you'll need it to hold a LOT of batter) *
  • 1A piping tip (The piping tips have different size charts for US vs Europe. The one you use should have a 1/2" opening) *
  • Stand mixer (you can use a hand mixer, but it would be difficult to pour the hot syrup into the egg whites while beating)
  • Macaron Stencil - Unless you're really good at piping, it's difficult to get macarons the same size. Since you're making a sandwich, size matters because the two sides have to match. :) Print out a few copies of this stencil, then tape together and trim to fit whatever baking sheets you're going to use.

    * I couldn't find the piping bag and tips in the needed sizes at my chain craft stores, but I was able to find them at a local professional cake decorating supply place. You can also find them easily online and they're extremely cheap. If you use a smaller tip, the macarons will come out very flat and won't quite set up correctly. 
Ingredients:

You can change the desired number of macarons in the box below and this recipe will automatically update all ingredients for you. :) All ingredients are measured in weight.

Yield macarons

220gaged egg whites at room temperature (usually from about 11-12 eggs before aging in fridge for 3 to 6 days. Make sure not to get any egg yolks in them and do not store them in plastic!)
300gsifted almond flour (after sifting through sieve twice, measure out 300g. Save any pieces that did not pass through for another use. Do not be tempted to push them through!)
300gconfectioners powdered sugar (it's fine if it has corn starch in it)
300ggranulated white sugar
75gwater (tap water is fine, but if your water doesn't taste good for drinking, use bottled)
Powdered food coloring (found at specialty bake stores, online and sometimes craft stores. You can add gel coloring with a toothpick, but do not use liquid coloring, it will ruin your cookies and your life!)
Directions:

 
  1. Use a sieve to sift the entire bag of almond flour into a large bowl in 3 separate batches. (If this is your first time making macarons, you may want to sift the almond flour twice just to make sure you get a perfect smooth top.) Any flour that's too large to fit through the sieve can be placed in a sealed bowl in the fridge for another use. (Once you've made a few batches of macarons, you'll have probably saved enough of the larger pieces to make a delicious, moist gluten free chocolate cake.)
    Store the pieces that don't make it through the sieve for another purpose
  2. Wash and dry the sieve. Use it to strain the eggs. Discard the jelly-like egg white mixture that doesn't go through the sieve. (It takes a while to strain the eggs, so normally I'll complete these first two steps and leave the eggs whites to strain on the counter for several hours at which time they'll be at room temperature.)
    Discard any jelly-like egg whites that don't make it though the sieve
  3. Using a scale, measure 300g of the sifted almond flour into another large bowl. Put any leftover flour in a ziplock for your next batch of macarons. The excess almond flour will last up to two months in the fridge.
  4. Sift the powdered confectioner's sugar and almond flour together twice. Set aside.
  5. Put 130g of the aged egg whites into the mixer bowl. Reserve 90g in a small non-plastic bowl. Discard any extra egg whites or save for future macarons. (You can freeze them for a couple of months.). Put the mixer bowl on the stand mixer but do not turn on.
  6. Place the granulated sugar into a very small sauce pan and add the water but do not stir.
  7. Turn the heat on medium and cook until it begins to boil. Once the sugar mixer is clear and no sugar grains can be seen, use a thermometer to check the temp.
    
    Checking the syrup temperature
  8. When the syrup reaches 239F (115C), turn the eggs on and begin to beat them on high. (They should at no point pass the soft peaks stage and it will happen quickly.)
  9. As soon as the syrup is 244F (118C), reduce the mixer to low and begin pouring it in a slow steady stream into the egg meringue right at the edge where it hits the eggs.
    Slowly pouring the syrup in, right at the edge of the gg whites. Make sure not to pour down the side of the bowl or it will cool too quickly!
  10. Once all the syrup has been added, turn the mixer up to high and beat for anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. (If you want to dye all the macarons the same color, you can add the powdered food coloring while mixing here. If you want two different colors of macarons, you can put in the coloring during the macaronage step.)
  11. The meringue will get an extremely stiff glossy look and eventually the bowl will cool to a temperature where you can comfortable keep your hand pressed against it.
    When they're done, you should be able to hold the bowl upside down and have them not fall out. Actually doing this for a picture was still a little scary!
  12. Pour the reserved egg whites on top of the almond/powdered sugar mixture. DO NOT STIR! Scoop the meringue on top of the almond/powdered sugar and fold all ingredients together gently. You do not want to collapse the meringue so remember to fold gently, do not stir! Make sure to scrape all dry mix off the bottom of the bowl during folding. It should not take more than 20 to 30 folds, max.
    When you finish folding (no more than 30 strokes!), it should look extremely thick and clumpy
  13. If you want two different colors, put half the batter into another large bowl and add the appropriate powdered colors to each of them, it will be mixed in the next step.
  14. This step is called the "macaronage" and should not be confused with the Macarena dance craze which I'm pretty sure did not hit France. You basically use a sturdy spatula to slap the batter against the side of the bowl. The purpose is to evenly reduce the amount of air in the batter so the cookies still rise perfectly, but do not have any large air bubbles inside. I'll put together a video of doing this, because it's difficult to picture. It is similar to folding in that you use the spatula to scrape around the side, then towards the middle. But when you head towards the middle, you accelerate the spatula and slap it against the opposite side of the bowl. It's an awkward movement to get used to at first, but you pick it up quickly. The final result should look like lava, a very thick mixture that just barely flows like thick lava.
  15. Scoop half of the mixture into a piping bag with a 1A (1/2") tip.
  16. Holding the bag *exactly* at a 90 angle in all directions to the parchment paper lined trays, pipe out macarons about 1 1/2" in diameter. Try your hardest to make them all the same size because they'll be sandwiches so you want matching sides or the filling will ooze out. If you start tilting the piping bag to the side, you'll end up with use holes in your cookies.
    I printed a template to slide under my parchment paper to ensure they are all the same size.
  17. As soon as you finish piping a tray of macarons, drop the tray on the counter twice to remove any excess air bubbles. Then turn it 90 degrees and repeat. Continue piping the next tray and repeating this step after each tray until complete. Once you run out of batter, refill your bag. If you are using two different colors, use a new bag and tip for the other colored batter.
  18. Let the macarons dry on the counter for about half an hour. I've never had a problem doing this on a rainy day as long as I've turned down the air conditioner to dehumidify the air. They're ready to go when you can gently touch the side of the cookie and your finger doesn't stick to the batter. You may even want to give it another 5 minutes at that point just for safety.
    Notice how much more dull the ones on the bottom right corner are. That was the first tray piped and they're almost ready for the oven.
  19. If using a regular oven, use a wooden spoon to barely prop open the oven door so humidity can escape. If using a convection oven, leave the door closed. Bake for 315F (154C) for 8 minutes.
  20. Gently swap trays and rotate them, then cook for approximately another 8 minutes. They're done when the top feels firm if you try to gently wiggle it.
    This is how you would prop the door open if not using a convection oven
  21. Right before you remove them from the oven, you should notice that they look sort of like little atomic bombs with "feet" around the base. Remember that this is a meringue cookie and most of the feet should collapse as soon as it starts cooling. Ultimately, you should have a very small "foot". A lot of macaron recipes on the internet show completed cookies with a very large foot. This is incorrect and is either caused by using too much powdered sugar in the recipe or by over-baking the cookies.
    Right before removing from the oven. Notice how the tops are a bit flat? That's because I used gel coloring. If I use powdered coloring, they're very round and poofed. If I'd used liquid coloring, they'd be ruined!

    Immediately after cooling. Notice the feet have shrunk and are very tiny.
  22. Wait for a couple of minutes for the oven to completely reheat before adding the next batch.
  23. Peel the paper off the cookies and pipe in your favorite filling.
    
    Key-lime white chocolate ganache. Notice how the bottoms of the cookies are perfectly smooth and flat? Success!
  24. Voila! And now you have perfect macarons.
    Get in my belly!
I'll make other posts on different delicious fillings, but while you're trying to perfect your shells, I'd stick with simple fillings like Nutella or warmed jelly.

The macarons can be stored in the fridge for up to a week and are best if brought to room temperature before eating. They can also be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 4 months. It's easier to store them stacked sideways in a container because the tops are very delicate and crush easily.

I love making these and am happy to help you with any problems you encounter in this recipe. Just leave a message below and I'll respond as soon as possible. If you can post a picture of the specific problem, that would be most helpful.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Bon Apetit!

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for teaching us how to make macarons.I've been wanting to make them for a long time, but knew they weren't as easy as some cooking shows try to tell you. I finally made my first batch today! Yahoo!!! They came out ok for my first try but they were flat like your photo of the ones you used gel coloring. I used powder coloring. I aged the whites for 3 days. I used the"Dominoe" brand powder sugar. Which one do you use?
    My batter seemed a bit thin as when I was piping it I had to work fast because the batter would come out fast. Maybe I should have whipped the whites a tad longer to be as stiff as possible. I did the bowl over my head test, but it was scary. Any more hints on what could have gone wrong. Thanks again
    Christine (cmenton@forthefun.com)

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    1. I am so glad you all liked the class! It makes it so much fun when there are great people attending. :)

      I also use the Domino brand of powdered sugar. Usually when they come out a little flat, the most likely reason is that they were macaronaged just a wee bit more than necessary. (The macaronage is the step where you slap them against the side of the bowl to get some air out and thin it down). If you're only making one color, it's easier to put the powder in with the egg whites, that way you don't risk being stuck with having to macaronage any more than necessary while trying to mix in the color.

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  2. I forgot to ask this question. When you seive the almond flour and the powder sugar together do you just throw out the tiny things that did not go through the seive? You have to do this twice?
    Thank you.
    Christine

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    Replies
    1. Since the almond flour should be sifted by itself first, there should only be a few crumbs left in the sieve when sifting to mix it with the powdered sugar. If you're finding a lot left over, it may be that too much escaped through the sieve when the flour was sifted. A safe bet is to sift the almond flour twice before using. (I would discard any left over even though they'd only affect the macarons aesthetically by making the tops a bit rough.) At most there should be a teaspoon left over when you get to the mixing step.

      Another option for mixing it with the powdered sugar (if you don't want to sift again) is to put them in the food processor together. It's very effective for mixing them, but really doesn't break up the almond pieces so don't try to do this in place of sifting the flour.

      I store the leftover pieces in the freezer. Once I've saved up two cups of the larger almond pieces, I put them in the food processor to break them up as much as possible and use them make the gluten-free cake in the link below. (Cake is more forgiving than macarons!) :) Gluten-free is never as good as the real thing to me, but this cake is pretty tasty and really really easy to make. It asks for agave nectar (which can be found locally at Cost Plus Market and most grocery stores, but it's a little expensive so I just use a thick simple syrup instead. To make simple syrup, bring 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil just until the sugar dissolves, then remove from heat to cool. You'll have a bit more than needed for the recipe below (the leftover can be used to sweeten tea or cocktails):

      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Chocolate-Cake-367670

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  3. Thank you Christopher. I will keep trying to make these. Everyone loves them.
    Christine

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  4. Gee thanks for sharing your recipes by weight. I've been scouring for recipes for this one and I've come across a lot that are just 'fails.' Dad tells me that a 'sign' of a good recipe (one that is not hit or miss) is one that uses weights (even the liquid ingredients). He used to work at the baker's and he said everything is measured by weight (it is more practical for them as the scale of baking is massive and it's more uniform that way). So I would definitely try this one. Cheers! :)

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    Replies
    1. Terrific! I hope you enjoy them. :) Thank you for the comment.

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