How to Make French Macarons

how-to-make-macarons

Cute little macarons, ready to eat!

Easter is right around the corner, and for me, macarons come to mind. Not because my family’s ever had a macaron at Easter time, but because when you see the little sandwich cookies at a bakery, they’re typically available wide array of easter-egg pastel hues. They’re so adorable all lined up perfectly in a rainbow. They’re almost too cute to eat.

Almost.

If you’ve never had a macaron, these aren’t the coconut drop macaroon (rhymes with racoon) cookies. French macarons are meringue sandwich cookies, are are usually filled with ganache or flavored buttercream. If you’re feeling particularly cultured, try the french pronunciation “mak-a-ruh” with your snootiest up-turned nose. Either way, you’ll love their delicate crunchy exterior, and chewy cookie center.

Absolument délicieux!

french-macarons

Piping the batter.

 
The world’s most famous macarons are from Ladurée Bakery and Pierre Hermé Paris but alas, neither have US locations. Stateside, you’ll have to venture to Napa, NYC, Beverly Hills, or Vegas to find Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. But chances are, if you have a decent french bakery in your neighborhood, they’ll have these little beauties, too.

how to make macarons

Drying the pre-cooked cookies.

After you’re done ogling over how cute the little cookies are, you will probably do a double-take at the price tag. At Bouchon, a single cookie will easily cost you a few dollars. And that’s because they use almond flour, which is much more expensive than all purpose, and they are fairly complicated to make. They’re finicky, temperamental, and will flop on you for no particular reason other than your kitchen karma was off. (I’ve heard this about the French in general.)

But don’t let this discourage you – even when they are flat, or your pied (the little bubbly “foot” at the base of the cookie layer) is missing, they still are chewy and crunchy and delicious. If you’re a brave kitchen soul, give them a try. I recently took a class at Sur la Table to learn from the pros. I’d made them a handful of times and couldn’t get them fluffy enough. The class is hands-on and runs in most store locations, so if you have a Sur la Table near you, check out their schedule.

Macarons are a neat cookie to add to your recipe box because they look tricky, and they come in myraid flavor combination, so it’s fun to experiment and make some really unique cookies. Add in some powder or gel food coloring, and you’ll have cute little cookies lined up on your own kitchen counter. As long as you use the base recipe, (see the tangerine recipe below, minus the tangerine zest) you can add in pretty much any flavor to make them unique. Just look for very flavorful ingredients – like extracts – because you need to keep the wet to dry ingredient proportions pretty close to the original recipe. Or, opt to replace up to half of the almond flour with ground coconut, hazelnut, pistachio, or coco powder. Just make sure that whatever you sub in is very finely ground, and dry. (Lay it out on a cookie sheet and dry in a 200 degree oven for a few minutes if necessary.)

I’ve listed a few different cookie and filling options below for you to mix and match. But first, here are my favorite tips, and common pitfalls, for making french macarons.

Tips for Perfect Macarons

  • Use a spice grinder instead of a food processor to get the dry ingredients really fine (unless you use pre-ground meal).
  • Almond and coconut meal are just pre-ground almonds and coconuts. You can find them in the baking asile of the grocery store, but they’re both expensive! Many bulk food sections carry these ingredients, and may be a more economical way to go since you can purchase the exact amount that you need.
  • Use powdered sugar that has little or no cornstarch in it (check the ingredients). Less expensive brands typically have more cornstarch as a cheap filler.
  • Use a digital scale to measure your ingredients (it’s much more precise) and weight the ingredients post-sifting.
  • Use old eggs, separate them a few days before, and bring to room temperature before you start making the batter. Make sure when you separate them, there is absolutely NO yolk in the whites – you’ll never get them to peak if there is any yolk in there. If you don’t plan ahead enough to separate and age the egg whites, you can microwave them for 10-20 seconds on medium heat. This will help eliminate some of the moisture – the point of aging them.
  • Use powdered or gel food coloring so you don’t throw off the batter consistency.
  • Add the cream of tartar at the very end of egg white beating. It’s a stabilizer, and helps keep the whites fluffy. If you add it at the beginning, you’re not going to benefit from the full effect.
  • When piping the cookies, hold the piping bag 1/2″ above the paper, perpendicular to the sheet, and hold it still. (The picture above isn’t correct – the bag is slightly off-balance. You can see how the cookies are piping at an angle.
  • After piping the cookies, whack the trays with the heel of you hand to get the bubbles out.
  • If you’re making multiple trays, jot down the time you piped them on the parchment sheet. Then use this as a guide to note how long it took them to dry, and use the same drying time for the rest of the batch.
  • Use box fans to dry the cookies before baking. Also, beware of over-drying. Once you can run your fingers along the top and they are dry and not sticky, you’re ready to go. Unless it’s very hot or humid out, it only takes about 20 minutes to dry the cookies.
  • The finished macarons will be better after a day in the fridge – this allows the filling and cookie flavors to meld a bit.
chocolate macaron recipe

Fresh out of the oven.

Common Macaron Mistakes and Troubleshooting

  • My macarons are flat. (They still taste great though!) You probably over-folded the batter. Did you use cream of tartar? It helps stabilize and strengthen the egg white structure.
  • There are air pockets in the cookie. You possibly under-baked them. If that’s the case, you may need to lower the oven temperature so they can bake longer without burning, or cover them lightly with aluminum foil for the last few minutes of baking. You may also have not had fine enough dry ingredients.
  • The bottoms of my macarons are overcooked. Try doubling up your baking sheets – placing the one with the cookies on it on top of another that’s turned up side down. This gets the batter an inch or two off the oven rack, which is metal and will be hotter than the oven air.
  • My macarons stick to the pan. Try cooking them for another minute or two. They should lift off the parchment paper easily straight out of the oven.
  • What are stiff, firm peaks? Lift the whisk out of the batter – the egg white peaks should not fold over off the tip of the whisk. You should also be able to turn the bowl upside down and the egg whites should stay put.
  • My egg whites have started to separate into chunks. You over-beat them. If you do this, simply add another unbeaten egg white and beat until you get to the right consistency. Then just remove 1/4 cup of the egg whites from the bowl and continue.
  • I can’t get the meringue to stiffen up. Make sure the egg whites are at room temperature, you’re using a stainless steel or copper bowl, and there are no traces of egg yolk in there.
  • My cookies don’t have feet. Your batter was probably under-beaten, or your meringue was broken. You may have baked them at a too-low temperature, or over dried them, too
  • My cookies are lopsided You probably didn’t pipe them straight – hold the piping bag perpendicular to the counter, or they dried on an uneven surface. Also, they may have baked on an uneven surface – i.e. thin baking sheets that warp in the heat.
  • My cookies are all different sizes and shapes. Use a template – print out this sheet, and place it UNDER your parchment paper. Pipe the cookies to fill these circles, then gently slide the paper out and use it on the next sheet.
  • I think I over-baked my cookies. They are really hard and crunchy. That’s okay, pipe the filling and leave them in the fridge for 24-48 hours. The moisture from the filling infuses back into the cookie, and they’ll probably be just fine. And it’s better to overcook these cookies than undercook them.
macaron-tips

Ready to be filled – note the little bubbly “pied” or foot.

Chocolate Macarons

From: Sur la Table
Yield: 35 sandwich cookies
Time to prepare: about 2 hours, active time: 30 minutes

6 ounces powdered sugar, divided
4 ounces almond meal or flour
2 ounces Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 large (5 ounces) egg whites, at room temperature
1 pinch cream of tartar
3.5 ounces granulated sugar

Tangerine Macarons

5 ounces almond meal or flour
7 ounces powdered sugar
1 tablespoon very finely grated tangerine zest
1.5 ounces granulated sugar
3.5 ounces egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375. Prepare parchment paper-lined baking sheets, using piping templates if desired.

Pulse 1/3 of the powdered sugar and all of the almond flour in a food processor to form a fine powder. Then in a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

Sift the mixture twice to make sure it’s uniform in consistency.

In a dry, clean bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar. Once incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to high, and whisk until stiff, firm, glossy peaks form. Add in the cream of tartar at the very end.

If using food coloring or other add-ins (like the tangerine peel), add before you fold in the dry ingredients. Don’t worry about mixing it in, when you fold in the dry ingredients it will even out.

Add the almond flour mixture 1/3 at a time to the egg white mixture and fold, using a large silicone spatula or bowl scraper. Keep folding until the mixture is smooth and shiny. It’s done when it’s firm, and drips slowly from the spatula. The egg whites will start to deflate quickly, so immediately add in the almond mixture.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag with a #12 1/2″ plain round tip. Pipe 1.5″ rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Work quickly – your hands will warm the batter as you hold the piping bag, which can lead to runny batter and flat cookies. Whack the bottom of the tray with the heel of your hand or on the counter to eliminate any bubbles.

Dry, preferably in front of a box or window fan set to low, until the tops are smooth when you touch them lightly with your dry fingers. If you don’t have a fan, just leave them in a cool, dry corner of your kitchen. Check them frequently – you don’t want to over dry them or else they might not rise.

Bake the cookies 10-15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets half way through.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If they don’t release off the parchment paper easily, increase baking time on the next batch by a minute or two.

Chocolate Ganache Filling

From: Sur la Table
Time to prepare: 1 hour (includes cooling time)

6 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy (optional)

Orange Chocolate Ganache Filling

6 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed tangerine juice

Mocha Ganache Filling

6 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1.5 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon warm water

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat to a simmer.

Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot cream over top of the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute.

Slowly stir the chocolate mixture with a silicone spatula to combine. Add the butter and whisk the mixture until smooth. Add the flavoring if using.

Let cool to room temperature, stirring every 10 minutes.

Raspberry Buttercream

From: Sur la Table
Yield: about 2.5 cups
Time to prepare: 15 minutes

2 large egg whites at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, thawed, drained, pureed, and strained

Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and hand whisk to blend. In a medium sauce pan, add an inch or two of water, and bring to a simmer. Place the bowl over the sauce pan, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl. (Double boiler) Whisk continually until the mixture reaches 140 degrees.

Immediately remove the mixture from the heat, and attach the bowl to a stand mixer with the whisk attachement in place.

Whip the mixture on high speed until it cools to room temperature, is light and billowing, and resembles marshmallow fluff. (Touch the side of the bowl and to measure the temperature – it should be room temp.)

With the mixer on medium-high, add the softened butter, a tablespoon or two at a time, blending completely before the next addition. Scrape down the bowl half way through the butter. Continue beating until all the butter is added, and the mixture looks like velvety mayo.

Switch to a paddle attachment, and with the mixer on low, add the raspberry puree. Beat until smooth, 3-5 minutes.

Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Bring to room temp and beat on low speed until smooth before using.

Assembling the Macarons

Once the macaron cookies are cooked and cooled, and the filling is prepared and cooled, you’re ready to pipe:

  • Match up similar sized cookies in pairs.
  • Place the filling in a pastry bag with the same 1/2″ (clean) tip, or in a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.
  • Pipe the filling onto the bottom side of one of the cookies, piping enough filling to cover about 1/2 the cookie.
  • Sandwich the other half of the cookie on top, pressing down slightly so the filling comes to the edge.
  • Hold in the refrigerator overnight to meld the flavors.

Macarons may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week (if they last that long!!). You can also freeze them with decent results, but be sure to separate rows with wax paper, and get a very tight seal on your container. They’re very vulnerable to humidity.

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