Recently, my friend, Lillian, and I had the opportunity to learn how to make French macarons from our friend, Denise. Of course we jumped at the chance! Denise is an incredibly creative lady, who not only bakes and cooks, but crafts, too. Her husband, Ed, is an incredible cook and baker himself, so we not only spent the day baking, but eating, too :0)
As we got started, Denise warned us that macarons are temperamental, and that it is best not to make them in humid weather, although she did have a friend who was able to successfully make them in foggy San Francisco. That was good news for me :0)
The first thing we learned about making macarons is that the eggs need to be separated at least 24 hours in advance. Eggs separate more easily when cold, so separate the egg whites from about 3 eggs when you remove them from the fridge, and store them refrigerated, covered, overnight. (The key to separating eggs is to not let the whites come into contact with any fat, including the fat in the egg yolks. If you get even a smidgen of yolk in the whites, the whites will not whip up to the proper volume). The morning of the day you will be making the macarons, remove the egg whites from the fridge and let them come to room temperature before using. Denise actually let her egg whites sit out overnight, covered.
The second thing we learned about making macarons is to use a scale to weigh out the ingredients, including the egg whites, for greater accuracy.
Weigh out 100 g of egg whites, which is about the amount from 2 to 3 eggs.
Next, weigh out the dry ingredients, including 110 g of almond meal. We used Bob’s Red Mill brand.
We were making mango and strawberry macarons, (along with mint chocolate ones), so we used unsweetened, freeze dried fruit and blitzed each one in a food processor to yield 2 tablespoons of powder. (Okay, so there was one ingredient we did not weigh, but measured).
Next, weigh out 200 g of powdered sugar.
Add the almond meal and powdered sugar to the freeze dried, powdered fruit in the food processor and pulse to mix and combine everything.
Weigh out 50 g of granulated sugar and set aside.
Using a mixer, whip the egg whites until they start to foam. (To avoid getting any fat in your egg whites, do not use a plastic bowl, which has a tendency to accumulate trace bits of oil over time. Use a stainless steel or glass bowl instead, and wipe down the bowl and whisk with a little bit of vinegar to remove any possible trace amounts of fat or oil).
Once the whites start to foam, slowly add the granulated sugar and continue to beat the mixture until soft peaks form, i.e., until the egg whites are opaque and shiny, and the meringue droops in peaks that hold their shape when the beater is lifted. The meringue should also stay in place when you lift the bowl and flip it over. Do not overbeat! Otherwise your meringues will deflate and not puff up nicely in the oven.
(If you want to color your meringue or add a flavor extract, add them to the egg whites as the meringue approaches the soft peak stage. Use gel food coloring, which is much more concentrated than liquid food dye, to color your meringue. Be careful; a little goes a long way)!
Add the dry ingredient mixture to the meringue and start folding, using a rubber spatula. You want to combine everything together without overmixing, to avoid deflating the meringue.
The meringue may seem light and airy, but once you start folding in the dry ingredients, the mixture gets surprisingly pretty dense, and you’ll find yourself really using your arm muscles.
As you keep folding, the batter starts to thin out a bit and flow a little. The consistency you want to end up with is something “magma-like” that flows in thick ribbons for about 5 seconds. Never having seen molten rock, I had to trust Denise when she said the consistency was right ;0)
Next comes the piping! Fill either a disposable pastry bag or plastic ziplock bag with the batter. Line the bag inside a container for easier filling.
By the way, if you’ll be using a reusable bag – i.e., the kind that is a mess to clean up – here’s a cool tip on how to fill it without making a big mess:
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Do not substitute with silicone sheets. According to Denise, the latter don’t work so well for macarons. Snip the tip off the plastic piping bag, and pipe the macaron batter onto the lined baking sheets about an inch or so apart, releasing the pressure when the circle of batter gets to the right size, about 1.5 inch in diameter. Make sure you don’t swirl your hands as you pipe; the batter will come out in nice rounds if you just keep your hands steady. (Ed: “Don’t make them come out like poop.” LOL!)
Once the batter is all piped out, give the baking sheets a couple of taps to help remove any air bubbles and set aside for about 45 minutes to an hour to allow the exterior of the macaron shells to harden and form a crust.
The rounds of macaron batter will actually feel solid to the touch when they are ready to be baked. (Don’t poke them to test; just gently touch them along the edge).
When the macaron shells are ready, bake them in a preheated 300 F oven for about 8 to 12 minutes. Take them out when they are baked through, but not browned.
You can see the little feet on the baked macarons, caused by the steam that’s released while they are in the oven.
One thing we did discover after baking the macarons, was how temperamental they can be. We had a few cracked shells,
which is why you always want to make extras, just in case.
We also had some that slightly sank upon cooling.
Another thing that happened, was that some of the shells were underbaked, as we discovered when we tried to remove them from the parchment paper. Back into the oven they went to dry out some more!
After the shells have all cooled to room temperature, sort them and pair up similar sized ones together to form a sandwich. For the peppermint macarons, we filled them with Nutella, using a piping bag.
For the mango ones, we filled them with a basic butter and powdered sugar buttercream with a little mango butter added for additional flavor.
You can fill your macarons with any flavored filling you like to match or complement the flavor of the shell.
We didn’t get to fill our strawberry macarons while at Denise’s, so we divvied up the shells among the three of us – Denise, Lillian, and me – and brought them home to be filled later. Lillian ended up filling hers with chocolate ganache – yum! I filled mine with a cream cheese filling flavored with strawberry jam.
Gumdrop immediately took a liking to them.
As good as they are at room temperature, I think they’re even better cold – or even frozen.
Having learned how to make French macarons, I have a much better appreciation for how much work goes into making these dainty little treats and an understanding as to why they are so expensive to buy. (They can cost more than chocolate!) They definitely take practice to perfect, and I’m glad I got to see everything in person.
I had such a blast learning how to make French macarons with Denise, who, along with her husband, Ed, graciously opened their home to Lillian and me. Thank you, Denise and Ed, for your wonderful hospitality and patience while we made a mess of your kitchen :0) You truly exemplify generosity of spirit! *
Have you tried your hand at making macarons? Did I discourage you with this post? ;0)
* Having expressed my gratitude to Denise and Ed, I of course forgot to take a photo of them (and Lillian) to share with you guys, so focused was I on learning how to make macarons!