Oh, macarons. These little babies have been frustrating me for months. This was attempt number 4, and I think I’ve finally got it down. My previous attempts have run the gamut of macaron dilemmas, including over-mixing (spread too much), under-mixing (didn’t smooth out enough), and under-baking (which led to a whole host of problems, including collapsed and hollow centers). It took me months to actually decide to make them the first time, and when I finally did I made them twice in one day trying to work it out. Those 2 attempts both tasted good, but just didn’t look as “perfect” as a macaron should. I had a good sense of what had gone wrong, and expected trial #3 to be a breeze – but it wasn’t. After that attempt didn’t work out correctly, I started getting pretty irritated. There was a lot of “never again!” and “I hate these stupid macarons!” being thrown around (even though I knew in the back of my mind I was totally going to end up giving them another shot). I’m not really used to things going that badly in the kitchen (I’m not trying to sound arrogant here; I’ve just spent a ton of time baking and I’ve got a good handle on general techniques). I was especially frustrated that they kept turning out under-baked. I feel pretty strongly that knowing when something is done makes a huge difference in the end product, and I have a pretty good feel for this when it comes to cupcakes, cookies, etc. Macarons are a little more difficult to tell with, and it was completely throwing me off. I think the trick here is that contrary to most baked goods, you’re actually better off slightly over-baking macarons than under-baking them. Everything I learned from my previous attempts really came together this time, and I’m very happy with the result.
The past few times I’ve made macarons I used the French method, which involves folding dry ingredients into a whipped meringue. This time, I gave the Italian method a shot; this technique incorporates a sugar syrup when whipping the egg whites. It’s hard to tell if the method itself made a huge difference, or if I just had a better idea of what everything should look and feel like. I will say I liked the flexibility the recipe allowed for when adding the meringue, and I think that made a difference in getting the batter to the correct consistency. I was also happy to do away with all the finicky steps you usually see in macaron recipes. There was no aging egg whites or letting the piped batter rest for hours before baking. These are things I don’t think I will do anymore regardless of French or Italian method; BraveTart’s Macaron Mythbusters has convinced me that they are totally unnecessary steps.
The most important elements of macaron-baking for me seemed to be making the meringue, folding the meringue into the dry ingredients (called the macaronage), and the baking time. Make sure your meringue has nice stiff peaks before moving on. It should stick between the bars of the whisk attachment and should hold a peak when turned upside down. Next, the macaronage is crucial for getting your batter to the right consistency. The batter should run in thick ribbons off of the spatula, and should reincorporate within about 20-30 seconds. Your best bet here is to Google macaronage and watch some YouTube videos It’s so much easier to know what this should look like when you see it for yourself. Finally, make sure your macarons are fully baked before removing them from the oven. Check them by gently wiggling the top of one; it should be set on its feet and shouldn’t really wiggle back and forth. If the center is under-baked it’ll collapse while it cools, leaving you with a hollow center. You’re actually better off slightly over-baking them, since the filling will moisten the shells back up.
Some other things to keep in mind: the ingredients here are listed by weight. Macarons are (obviously) pretty finicky, and volume measurements really aren’t precise enough. I love my kitchen scale and use it for all of my baking anyway; I definitely recommend getting one if you don’t already have one. As far as coloring your macaron shells, it’s important to use gel or powdered food colors as liquid food coloring will change the consistency of your batter. I use AmeriColor gel colors; just a few drops gives you a nice vibrant color. For additional information about macaron technique, I would recommend checking out BraveTart’s Ten Commandments; she has some really great information (and clearly has plenty of experience making macarons).
Now that I’ve written a novel up here, let’s get started making some macarons!
*To see the full recipe without pictures, click on “Print This” at the top of the post.
for the shells:
- 212 grams almond meal OR blanched almonds
- 212 grams confectioners’ sugar
- 82 and 90 grams egg whites, divided
- 236 grams granulated sugar, plus a pinch
- 158 grams water
for the filling:
- 13 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp. heavy cream
- zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 1/2 tsp. lemon extract or 1/8 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
If using blanched almonds, combine the almonds and the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Sift the mixture through a fine mesh sieve placed over a large mixing bowl to ensure that no large chunks get into the batter. You may have to re-process the leftover almond bits until they are ground small enough. If you are using almond meal, you can just whisk that together with the confectioners’ sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Weigh out 82 grams of egg whites in a small bowl. One large egg white should weigh about 30 grams. Be careful not to get any yolk into the whites.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg whites. Mix until thoroughly combined. The resulting mixture will be very thick.
Combine the water and 236 grams granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Begin heating over medium-high heat, monitoring the temperature with a digital or candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 90 grams egg whites and a pinch of granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the sugar syrup reaches 220°F, begin whipping the egg whites on medium speed. Continue whipping until the egg whites form soft peaks, then turn the mixer to low just to keep the whites moving.
As soon as the sugar syrup reaches 248°F, remove it from the heat and turn the stand mixer back to medium speed. With the mixer running, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream. “Slowly” is the key word here – you don’t want to accidentally scramble your egg whites by adding too much heat too quickly.
Once the sugar syrup is fully incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and continue whipping until stiff, glossy peaks have formed.
If you would like to color your macaron shells, add gel or powdered food coloring into the meringue and continue whipping until the color is evenly distributed. I used AmeriColor’s appropriately-named Lemon Yellow for these shells. Add gel colors in small amounts as a little goes a long way (I’ve never used powdered so I can’t speak for those).
Add about 1/3 of the meringue into the dry ingredients and fold in until combined. Continue adding in the meringue in parts, folding gently but firmly (if that makes sense). You don’t want to overmix the batter, but you do need to use enough pressure to deflate the meringue. You use a kind of folding/smearing motion to do so – again, just look up macaronage on YouTube :) Keep adding in meringue until the batter runs off the spatula in thick ribbons and reincorporates within about 20-30 seconds. I ended up using all of the meringue, but you may not need to.
Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip. Pipe rounds of batter about 1-inch in diameter onto your prepared baking sheets. If the batter is the right consistency, it shouldn’t spread much, so you can pipe the shells fairly close together. You may see small peaks right after piping, but these should smooth out within a minute or so.
Once your shells are piped, rap your baking sheet hard against the counter to get rid of any air bubbles. You might get some air bubbles that rise to the surface but don’t break; I popped these with a toothpick. Don’t forget to do this step, or you might end up with shells that look like this: volcano macarons! Oops.
Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are set on their feet (not too wiggly). You can also test their doneness by trying to peel one off the baking sheet; if the top comes off of the feet, they’re not done. Let the shells cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
When your macarons are baked correctly, they should have feet and solid bottoms.
To make the lemon buttercream filling, put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Add in the confectioners’ sugar and mix until combined. Blend in the heavy cream, lemon zest and lemon juice. Continue beating on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. If you would prefer a stronger lemon flavor, add in the lemon or Fiori di Sicilia extract and beat until combined.
Transfer the buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip. Pipe rounds of buttercream onto half the macaron shells and top with the remaining shells. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Macarons actually taste better the next day, when the filling has had a chance to soften the shell.
If things don’t turn out perfectly the first time, don’t worry about it! It’s a learning process. And, unless you just totally burned them, they probably taste great anyway!
Yield: about 42 macarons
Source: macarons from Bouchon Bakery; filling straight from Solano’s Kitchen