Macarons are one of the few desserts every person…or at least every female…seems to be absolutely crazy about. Unfortunately, satisfying this desire can get quite expensive. In all fairness, I realized after trying to make them that the cost is not all THAT inflated. First of all, a key component of macarons is almond flour, which is really hard to make on your own at the consistency required for good looking macarons. Almond flour/meal by the pound is pretty expensive by itself. Plus, add the delicate flavorings, and the reputation of these cookies for being extremely temperamental, and you can see why these are a ‘delicacy’. BUT the good news is that many bloggers (and people in general) have tried recreating these cookies in their homes, to great success, and sharing them online 🙂 So making them yourself is totally and completely possible.
When I went to Canada to visit my cousin this weekend, he brought up the idea to make macarons. He had tried them once but failed to get ‘feet’ (the little puffed layer on the bottom of macarons), and was eager to try again. I can’t say no to making macarons! For the recipe, we used a combination of tips and ingredient proportions from Bake at 350, Food Nouveau, and FN’s SUPER comprehensive troubleshooting guide to making macarons.
Things about macarons that make them so fickle all have to do with maximizing the potential of the cookies to puff up properly (form proper feet). These include the need to…
1. …maximize the potential of your egg whites to incorporate air. The classic way is to ‘age’ them, aka separate them in advance to allow moisture to leave, then allowing them to reach room temperature. The idea is that the less moisture in the eggs, the easier they will incorporate air when whipped. However, since we didn’t have time to age the egg whites this time, a 10 second zap in the microwave turned out to do the trick. (according to Bake at 350, you don’t need to age the egg whites at all!)
2. …sift the almond flour and powdered sugar, to eliminate clumps that will collapse air pockets within the egg whites and make for smoother cookies. This definitely helps.
3. …actually whip enough air into the egg whites. You need to first get them to be able to form soft peaks before adding granulated sugar a bit at a time, and then beat the eggs to the point where they form pretty stiff peaks. The volume of your egg whites should have doubled by the time you’ve finished whipping, and the mixture should be so stiff as to pass the ‘flip bowl over test’ — aka not budge even when you flip the bowl upside down. BUT as soon as you reach this spot, STOP. Don’t overmix!! (however, if you do overmix, Foodnouveau directs you to how to fix that :P)
4. …carefully NOT overmix when adding the almond/powdered sugar ‘flour to the egg white mixture. The key is to mix JUST enough so that the dry ingredients are JUST incorporated. The two recipe links explain the process quite well. I usually use anywhere from 10-20 strokes. Don’t worry about not mixing enough because as long as the ingredients are JUST incorporated, they will mix together in the pastry bag you end up using to pipe the cookies out (or, in my case, a gallon-sized ziplock bag with the corner cut off).
5. …leave cookies out for at least 20-30 min before baking them in the oven, so that they form a hard shell outside that will stay intact as the cookies puff on the bottom
6. …be careful not to overbake! Usually as soon as the tops are hard and the feet have formed, the cookies are ready. When we made these, 11 min at 300 F was perfect.
7. …make sure the cookies are cool COMPLETELY before trying to assemble them. Otherwise, they might collapse! Being patient is worth it 🙂 For the buttercream, we made a batch by combining 1 ½ cups softened unsalted butter with 2/3 cup icing / powder sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. But honestly, you can fill the cookies with anything! (as long as the consistency is that of softened butter or jam…otherwise it can get runny)
Finally, according to Bake at 350, “macarons taste best after 24 hours, so place in a container between layers of wax paper and be patient. 🙂 After 24 hours, remove from the refrigerator and let the cookies come to room temperature, or close to it, before serving.”
If you find yourself with some food coloring and want to add some flair to your macarons, you can take a small paintbrush or rolled up piece of paper, dip it in food coloring, and then ‘paint’ the macarons to your desire!
Again, for full recipes and tips, check out Bake at 350, Food Nouveau, and FN’s comprehensive troubleshooting guide to making macarons–they all are great guides with awesome comments and beautiful photos to match!