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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Top 10 Macaron Tips

There's a lot of information on the interwebz about macarons that's a bit dodgy. After learning to make them in a class, I couldn't wait to get home and re-create them. The horrid frustration that followed was staggering. It seems many people had the same experience, and by the time someone is able to produce something even remotely resembling a macaron, it seems they call it a success and post the steps. The problem is, they're not. A macaron isn't just a meringue-like cookie with filling. It's has a unique heavenly texture that is like no other.

Here are my top 10 tips for making macarons:
  1. Tant pour tant: Regardless of the other recipe ingredient proportions, the base should always be "tant pour tant" (TPT), meaning one part almond flour to one part powdered confectioners sugar by weight. Many people get frustrated with getting the cookie to set and start dumping in loads of powdered sugar to try and make them stiff. The texture will be very undesirable.
    As an experiment, look up a couple of recipes on the internet and check to see if they're "tant pour tant". If they're not, go through the rest of the recipe and see how they had to change the steps to try and get the recipe to work. You'll probably notice in the photos that the macarons are shaped really odd, sometimes like a golf ball.
  2. Aged egg whites: The egg whites must be aged for 5 to 6 days. It allows the proteins to break down so gel bits can be strained out and you get an extremely stable merigue. I tried an experiment where I made all my egg whites and using them at 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, etc all the way up to 6 days and the quality difference was staggering. At day 1, you can barely make a macaron. By day 6, they look like something in the window at the Neiman Marcus cafe.
    My favorite shortcut is to place a sieve in a bowl and crack 8 or 9 large egg whites directly into the sieve. Then put plastic wrap over the sieve and the pan and let them strain for 4 to 6 days.
  3. Can I buy storebought egg whites?: No ma'am! They put preservatives in there to keep them from breaking down, which is the opposite of what you want. If they don't break down, the meringue won't be stable. Also, my friend Ann introduced me to vegetarian eggs. (Chicken diets are often supplemented with fish meal which gives their eggs a slight fishy taste. The vegetarian chickens are fed only grains so their eggs don't have that smell.)
  4. Powered food coloring: Some recipes say to use gel. Well, it works... but not well. It still causes the meringues to be a little flatter Notice in this pic that the feet are formed but the tops are kind of flat. If powdered food coloring had been used, they would be perfectly dome shaped. And never ever use liquid food coloring for macarons. It'll be the cookie-pocalypse!
  5. Silpat vs Parchment Paper: I have loved and been loyal to my Silpat mats since seeing them on Martha Stewart in the late 90s, but when it comes to macarons, Silpat just doesn't work. They're actually too slippery and the cookie won't grip. Instead of developing little feet, the edges of the cookies roll over like mushroom caps. Standard parchment paper is the way to go. It's right next to the wax paper in the grocery store. It helps to cut it just 1/4 inch short of the pan on all sides. If it hangs over the pan, heat or blowing air from the convection oven will lift up the sides of the paper and cause the cookies to be misshaped. Putting a small dot of meringue under each corner of the paper helps to hold it down while in the oven.
  6. Confectioners sugar: In the US, corn starch is added to the powedered sugar to keep it from clumping. There's been some discussion on whether or not this causes a problem, but it's never caused a problem for me. 
  7. Scale: Dry ingredients (especially powdered stuff) should always be weighed. See the experiment of weighing vs using a cup in my post on Perfect cakes every time in 8 easy steps.
  8. Type of almond flour: Blanched Almond flour is available at the grocery store and Super Target for about $7 USD a bag which is just barely more than enough to make this recipe. When they blanch it, they remove the skins so it's a night light almond color without any specs. You can also buy it for way cheaper online. Trader Joe's has a brand that isn't blanched (so they still have their outer skin). They make macarons just fine, but they're not nearly as pretty, especially if you want to die them. When you open the bag for the first time, you'll find that there are some pieces that are kind of big. I don't know why, but you will definitely NOT be chopping these in your food processer. It won't work, I've tried. Pass the Almost meal through sieve to weed out the large pieces. It's easy if you hold the sieve with one hand and firmly tap it against your other hand while over a bowl. For the Bob's brand Almond flour, it's easier to the whole bag 3 batches and it only takes a couple of minutes. Toss the larger pieces that don't fit into another bowl and save for another use (like gluten-free chocolate cake) If you skip sifting it, the larger pieces will poke holes through the cookie air bubbles and cause them to collapse and/or have huge holes in them. Not num-num! :(
  9. Will humidity mess up my macarons?: If you have an air conditioner, it won't. The only effect humidity has on macarons is that the top might not dry out enough to form a skin. That skin is needed because it's what holds the top of the cookie in a perfect shape as the inside rises and the feet are created. If that skin is too thin, it will crack. The cookie with still be delicious :) The way to avoid this is turn your A/C down on humid days and also avoid boiling water for pasta, etc. Worse case, you can gently blow dry your macarons until the skin is formed before putting them in the oven. They're ready to go in when you can touch the side of the cookie without it sticking to you. Another tip is to dry out the almond flour and powdered sugar in the oven for about 30 minutes at 200F before using.
  10. Italian vs French meringue: To make a french meringue you simply whip egg whites with granulated sugar. To make an Italian meringue you whip the egg whites partially then pour in hot syrup (244F) to partially cook them before beating the bejesus out of them. Why use the Italian version? Because it is stable. You want macarons, right? Stability is everything.
This sums up what I believe to be the 10 most important tips for macarons.

Good luck! And let me know if you have any questions. :)

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