I think I live in a bubble.
Up until a year ago I had never heard of french macarons. Sure, I’d heard of meringues and of macaroons, but never the elusive french macarons. I think it has to do with the fact that up until a year ago I really didn’t know food blogs even existed. My world was wedding photography and I was immersed in all things love and sparkles. Today I’m up to my armpits in flour and sugar, with a kitchen splattered in chocolate and marshmallow. How things change in a year.
Of course, I am still documenting weddings this year, but at the moment I’m all about baking and food, trying my hand at a little blog and working my way through some of the many (too many) cookbooks I own and love.
You see, french macarons are naturally gluten-free and I figured they would be the perfect dessert at my daughter’s wedding, so I wanted to give them a whirl. How hard could they be, right?
When I tried making macarons for the first time it took me 5 batches to get it right. Thankfully I had purchased a big bag of slivered almonds and I could keep going, since I was determined to not let them get the better of me. The first batch was too runny, the second batch was too stiff, the third batch cracked in the oven, the fourth batch cracked in the oven, but less than the third, and the fifth batch was just right. It took some reading, so fiddling with the temperature in my oven, so more reading and a lot of patience, but I did it.
At that time I officially voted myself the “Queen of Macarons” and I proceeded to make dozens and dozens and dozens of them last summer. All flavours, all colours and all wonderful.
Then I moved.
The other day I pulled out my almonds and went to whip up a batch, and my crown fell off. I had a pan of completely cracked cookies. I baked a second batch, and they were half cracked and half alright. What was up? I realized that since I was baking with a new oven I was going to need to figure out what temperature would work best for me and where the racks should be placed. One more try and all was right with the world again.
I have plans to whip up every flavour I can think of this summer, and love all my friends and family by giving them all away. I like to make people smile with delicious little colourful cookies. I am also going to try out different recipes for making the macarons cookie itself, with different amounts of almond flour and different techniques. Should be fun.
For macarons you need slivered almonds, egg whites, powdered sugar, white sugar and some patience. I would highly recommend a food scale and a food processor for this endeavour. You can buy almond flour at the store, already ground up, but you pay a premium for it, so I grind my own. You grind the almonds with the powdered sugar to make a soft and messy powder, that you then push through a strainer to make sure there aren’t any chunky bits that will cause your cookies to crack.
One more thing…… to make sure all of your cookies are the same size, trace a round cookie cutter (or a lid to a bottle) with a Sharpie marker on parchment paper. I made my macarons about 2 inches wide, but you can easily make them smaller if you’d like.
Flip the paper over and voila!!! Instant template. It’s worth the work.
Now comes the tricky part. It’s called the “MACARONNAGE”.
This is the part where you dump all of the flour mixture into the meringue and fold it until is becomes lava-like. Not too stiff, not too runny, but lava-like.
Yeah, I didn’t really get it the first time I read it either.
At first you won’t even believe that the flour and meringue will even combine, since they seem to fight against each other the whole time, but then it starts to happen. When you’re folding the batter, make sure that you do a 360 degree swipe of the bowl and fold it gently. After 25 folds of the batter it will be mostly blended but with big chunks of flour and it’ll probably still be a bit stiff. Keep going for another 10 folds and see if the batter ribbons off your spatula the way your want it too (like lava). If the batter holds it’s shape too much when you scoop it up, then fold it another time or two. If the batter is runny and doesn’t hold its shape at all, then you’ve overmixed it and you’ve lost the battle.
I find that 35-40 folds is perfect for me, so trust that you’ll find the right rhythm for yourself. It may take a try or two, but it’ll be worth the effort and lost almonds.
Fill a large icing bag (fitted with a 1/2 inch tip) with the batter and squeeze gently onto the template you’ve already made. The batter will spread a little, so be careful or you’ll have runaway cookies.
Once you’ve piped out the cookies you need to bang out the bubbles, so drop the cookie sheets on the counter about 4-6 times to release the air out of the batter. Air bubbles will make the macarons crack. Allow the macarons to sit on the counter for an hour before baking, so that they form a light skin. This will help your macarons to form their ‘foot’.
Now, I made three different kinds of macarons the other day, and you can make whatever flavour you’d like. The cookie shells are all plain but coloured, and I used a swiss meringue buttercream for each of them as well, but I filled them with jams and curd. You can make the lemon curd ahead of time, as well as the buttercream, so that you don’t get overwhelmed with every little detail the day you’re trying to put together a batch of macarons that don’t crack. This day I used strawberry and blackberry seedless jam, and a fresh lemon curd.
Pipe some buttercream around the edge of the macaron shell and then fill the empty spot with seedless jam or curd. You can even just use a creamy chocolate ganache or dulce de leche if you’d like. Feel free to get creative.
Basic French Macarons~
110g Blanched Slivered Almonds or Almond Meal/Flour
200g Icing Sugar
100g (approx. 3) egg whites, room temperature
food colouring, optional
In a food processor, grind up the almonds and the icing sugar until it becomes as fine as you can get it. Sift the mixture through a sieve and you shouldn’t have more than a tablespoon of pieces that can’t fit through the fine strainer. If you have more than two tablespoons of large chunks, try to grind them again. Set this mixture aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer place the egg whites and sugar, beat on medium speed they start to become foamy and then increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks.
Add the food colouring and mix until blended.
Pour the entire bowl of almond flour into the egg white mixture and proceed to fold the two together, using large swipes of the bowl to make sure everything gets incorporated. Continue to fold the batter about 35-40 times, or until the batter forms thick ribbons when you lift the spatula (or lava-like). Don’t mix anymore.
In a large icing bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip, scoop the macaron batter and pipe into circles on the prepared template. Drop the cookie sheet onto the counter 4-6 times to release any air bubbles from the batter. Allow the macarons shells to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the batter forms a nice skin.
Bake at 300F (I have to use 295F) for 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, remove from parchment paper. If the macarons shells are sticking to the paper, place the cookie sheets into the fridge for 1/2 hour and the cookies should come right off.
Fill the macarons whichever way you’d like. Place the finished macarons in an airtight container and place in the fridge or the freezer for 1-2 days before serving. Serve at room temperature.
(if you don’t wait a day or two to eat them the flavours won’t be as nice and the macaron shell will be crunchy)
SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM~
5 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature cut into 1 tbsp pieces
2 tsp vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the egg whites, sugar and salt. Place the bowl over simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 140F and all the sugar is dissolved. Remove the bowl from the stove and with a whisk attachment beat the egg white mixture on med-high speed for 10 minutes, or until the mixture has cooled down and it is glossy and stiff peaks have formed.
Replace the whisk blade with the paddle attachment and on medium speed start adding the butter 2 tbsp. at a time. Beat well between additions. Continue to mix until all the butter is added and the buttercream becomes creamy and light. If it becomes curdled looking, just keep beating and eventually it will all come together. Add the vanilla and blend well.
If you’re making this ahead of time it can be stored in the fridge for a week, but allow to come to room temperature and beat with a whisk before using.
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Juice and zest of one large lemon
3 egg yolks
In a small sauce pan over medium heat combine the butter, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt, whisk to combine.
Add in one yolk at a time until combined. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes until thick and it begins to cling to the back of the wooden spoon. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap over the top resting on the curd to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate overnight or up to 1 week.