The macaron (mack-a-ROHN), not to be confused with the coconut macaroon, is a sweet, delicate confection made from almond flour and meringue. This gorgeous dessert comes in a variety of flavors and colors, and the possibilities for creativity are endless. At about $3 per treat, the macaron does not come cheap. However, the pricing is not absurd considering the cost of the ingredients and how difficult macarons can be to prepare.
A baker must be dedicated to getting the consistency and presentation of their macarons just right every single time. A weak meringue, a poor folding technique, high humidity, a short drying time, an inconsistent oven temperature, or residue in the mixing bowl could all result in a complete disaster.
Learning how to make macarons takes time, practice, and patience. Don't beat yourself up if you don't make perfect macarons the first time; even the best bakers end up with cracked tops or hollow shells sometimes.
A macaron is a cookie-like sandwich. It consists of two uniform meringue shells. The shells are usually colored and can be flavored. The exteriors of the shells should be smooth and have a crispy texture, while the interiors should be full (not hollow), soft, and chewy. There are ruffle-like "feet" on both shells, giving the macaron its iconic, sophisticated look. Between the shells is a filling of buttercream, ganache, curd, or jam. The filling should come to the edge of the macaron -- it should not spill out of the sides.
Since macarons are so expensive, it's a good idea to know what makes a perfect macaron. A macaron that is lumpy, bumpy, or hollow is not a good macaron.
There are a few different ways you can make macarons. What differentiates the methods is the way the meringue is made.
French Method: The egg whites are whipped with granulated sugar until they make stiff peaks.
Italian Method: Boiling sugar syrup is gradually incorporated into the egg whites, cooking them as they whip.
Swiss Method: The sugar and eggs are beaten together over a double boiler. The mixture must be continually stirred so that the eggs don't cook.
Using a fine-mesh strainer, sift both your almond flour and confectioners' sugar into a glass bowl. Set aside.
Prepare your meringue. Begin by whipping your egg whites on low speed until they are frothy. Add your cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium and continue whipping. When the whisk is leaving lines in the egg whites and the meringue begins to look soft and pillowy, slowly pour the granulated sugar into the mixture.
Add your vanilla extract. If you're adding gel color to your shells, add it to the meringue at this point as well.
Increase the speed to high. Continue whipping until your meringue is creamy and glossy and has stiff peaks and clumps inside the whisk.
Gradually add your sifted dry ingredients to the meringue. Using a flexible silicone spatula, incorporate the almond flour and confectioners' sugar into the meringue with a folding motion. Press the spatula against the side of the bowl to release any air bubbles and achieve the proper consistency.
The consistency of the batter should not be too runny or too stiff. Check the batter often by picking up the spatula and letting the batter run off. If the batter falls into the bowl in a ribbon-like way, disappearing back into the batter, you're done mixing.
Prepare your baking sheets. If using silicone mats, place them on the baking sheets. If using parchment paper, put a bit of macaron batter in the four corners of each baking sheet to help adhere the parchment to the sheets.
Transfer the batter to a pastry bag with a pastry tip. Pipe the macarons onto the baking sheet so that they are 1 1/2 inches wide and 3/4 inch apart. Once you are done piping, tap the baking sheet against the counter a few times to dislodge any air bubbles in the batter.
Allow the shells to dry. This should take 30 minutes to 1 hour. Your macarons are dry when they're no longer sticky to the touch and have developed a skin.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Use an oven thermometer if your oven is unpredictable. When the macaron shells are dry, bake them for 12-18 minutes. It's difficult to give an exact baking time for macarons, since every oven is different.
Keep a close eye on your macarons as they bake. If you touch them and they wobble, they may need a little more time in the oven.
Remove the shells from the oven and let them cool on the pan. The shells should pop off the sheet with ease once they are cool.
Pipe a filling onto half of the macaron shells, and gently sandwich the shells together. Enjoy!
A basic macaron recipe serves as good base for experimenting with different flavorings and colorings. This recipe can be tweaked to produce many different flavors. Macarons can be filled with buttercream, ganache, or jam.
The French method is the most beginner-friendly method, since it requires the least tools, steps, and time.
Macarons are known for their beautifully smooth surfaces, and those surfaces are the result of perfectly sifted ingredients. Some bakers even go the extra mile and put their ingredients through a food processor in addition to sifting the dry ingredients using a fine-mesh strainer. Avoiding this critical step will result in lumpy, unsightly macarons.
Liquid color cannot provide the same vibrancy as gel color. Using a liquid color will also ruin the texture of your macarons. Keep in mind that when you're adding color to your meringue, your macarons will come out lighter than the batter.
To test your meringue, lift your whisks from the bowl. The meringue should have a stiff tip that points upward. The mixture should be creamy and glossy. If you're brave, hold your bowl upside down. If your meringue doesn't slide out, you're all set. If your meringue is broken up and clumpy, you've overbeaten it. Underwhipping or overwhipping can cause hollow shells.
Macaronage is a folding technique used to deflate the air in the mixture when incorporating dry ingredients into the meringue. A lot can go wrong during this stage of the process, from overmixing to undermixing. Check your batter every so often using the ribbon method. If the batter falls into the bowl in a ribbon-like way, disappearing back into the batter, you're done mixing. Improper macaronage techniques can cause hollow, lumpy, lopsided shells or misshapen feet.
It's essential. If you don't allow your shells to dry and form a skin, your macarons may not develop feet during baking. The humidity level will determine how long it takes to dry your macarons. It can take 30 minutes to an hour.
Macaron baking times are somewhat unpredictable, given that everyone's home oven is different. The best tool you can invest in is an inexpensive oven thermometer to check the actual temperature of your oven. You may be surprised to see that your oven is baking 25 to 50 degrees hotter than you thought. Depending on your oven, your macarons will bake at 300 to 350 degrees for 12-18 minutes.
If your macarons were baked correctly, they should pop off the baking sheet without a spatula once they're completely cooled. If they do not, they're most likely undercooked. Let macarons come to room temperature before eating them for the best flavor.
You can refrigerate your macarons, but be sure to consume them within 3 days for optimal freshness. You may also freeze macarons in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Some of the most popular flavors of macarons are:
Macarons are often filled with buttercreams (French, Swiss, or American), ganache, curds, or jams. Check out our delicious vanilla and chocolate buttercreams to use as a filling for the macaron shell recipe is this article.
Making macarons may take some time and patience, but these showstopping beauties are quite the luxurious treat. Once you master the art of making these delicate cookies, you'll always know what to bring to your next company party.