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October 21, 2010

The Making of Macarons (Sucre Cuit Style)

Macaronscup

I'm so excited this post has come to fruition. A couple months ago Stephanie of Wasabimon sent out a call asking if anyone would like to do a step by step tutorial on making macarons. I'm not one to turn down a chance to make these dainties, so I responded with a yes. A short while later, Stephanie came by my place with her fancy new camera to document me making macarons using the Italian meringue (or sucre cuit) method.

The simplest method of making macarons is the French method, which is basically a combination of almond meal, confectioners' sugar, and a meringue of egg whites and sugar. The Italian meringue method takes the extra step of cooking the sugar into a hot syrup first before adding the the egg whites, creating a much thicker and stiffer meringue. Although it seems more complicated and troublesome, I've become a big fan of the Italian meringue method, as I believe it produces much more consistent results with less stress (and I've had my share of deflated, misshapen, soggy, and just plain ugly macarons).

I was especially excited to be able to have this method captured step by step, as the macaron-making process is best shown in a combination of words and pictures. Stephanie also has a writeup on her blog; please check it out! All the photos in the post without the watermark are courtesy of her. The full recipe is at the end of this post.

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At the start: Almond meal and confectioners' sugar, ready to go. Having all the ingredients weighed out beforehand will make your baking process go more smoothly.

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Almond meal and confectioners' sugar being processed together.
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Almond meal-confectioners' sugar mixture. If you happen to have a Robot Coupe, finely ground almond meal will not be a problem for lucky you, but if you have a regular old food processor like I do, you can sieve out any of the large almond bits still remaining.
 
Making-macarons-09

Next you want to combine your sugar and water in a saucepan; mix until the moistened sugar is the consistency of wet sand, making sure there are no stray crystals on the sides of the saucepan. Heat the mixture until the sugar is melted and reaches 118 degrees C/245 degrees F. Yes, that is a probe-style meat thermometer I have in there; I often find the amounts I work with at home are small enough that the bulb of a traditional candy thermometer won't reach the liquid. You can also use those small instant-read thermometers; be sure with any thermometer you use that hold it so you take the temperature of the liquid, not the bottom of the pan.

Making-macarons-07

Meanwhile, my other favorite kitchen appliance gets put to use whipping up half of the egg whites. Regarding whether to age egg whites: while it can help keep them stable when whipped into meringue, it's not necessary for successful macarons. Do let your egg whites come to room temperature before using them, though.

Making-macarons-10

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. It's a timing game to bring the egg whites to perfect peakage just as the sugar syrup has reached the right temperature. I find that erring on the side of whipping up the whites too fast is better than too slow, as you can always stop the mixer, but you don't want to be caught with still-liquidy whites when you've got hot sugar ready to use.

Making-macarons-11

Remember to turn down the mixer speed before adding the hot sugar syrup to avoid getting splashed! Pour the syrup in a slow stream down the side of the mixer bowl into the egg whites, then turn the speed back up to high and let it run until a beautiful billowy white meringue forms and it has cooled slightly.


Making-macarons-12

A little "beak" formed of meringue. If you get this your meringue is in good shape. It should be stiff and shiny.
Making-macarons-13

Place the remaining egg whites on the almond meal mixture and mix in to moisten. This makes it easier to fold in the meringue. Don't worry if it looks all dry and rough, it'll improve!


Making-macarons-14

Now it's time to achieve macaronnage - that perfect synthesis of meringue and meal into a homogeneous, thickly flowing consistency. The main thing to remember, of course, is not to be overzealous in folding and deflate the meringue. Again, I find that I like the Italian meringue method better because it seems to be a little more forgiving than the other methods, making it easier to achieve more consistent results. The flipside is that combining the stiff Italian meringue with the almond meal results in a thicker mixture to manipulate than the French meringue method, so you'll have to work a little more to get a fully combined mixture. Try to make each stroke count, and press the batter against the bowl to help incorporate the ingredients.
Making-macarons-15

I'm using a spatula here but you can also use a dough scraper to get better leverage. I ended up holding the spatula down near the bottom anyway (see where it is in the photo?). When you achieve macaronnage, the batter should fall off the spatula in a thick, solid ribbon that slowly disappears back into the rest of the mixture. Again, with the Italian meringue it's less likely you'll overmix to a soupy melty (no good) consistency, but still be careful to stop once the batter looks right. Remember the batter will soften more as it sits there and as you manipulate it in the piping bag. It's always easier if the batter is too stiff to let it sit and loosen up, than to try to save an overmixed batter.

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Piping out macaron shells. A couple tips: fill the piping bag about halfway so it's easier to handle; hold the tip vertically over(not touching) the sheet and let the batter flow out into a round puddle; release the piping pressure and make a quick circular flick of your wrist to break off the batter flow cleanly. The little bumps on top should sink back into the batter after a few minutes; if they don't, you can push them back in with a finger.

Steph and I tried out a couple of baking setups: I found that letting the shells sit for about 20 minutes and double stacking the baking sheets produced the best results. If you look at the photo above you can see the shiny new (flat!) sheet on top of an older, uh, battle-scarred sheet.


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We found that if we didn't let the shells sit at all and put them right in the oven, the batter had no time to form a "skin" and the tops cracked and puffed up and out almost like meringue cookies. If we let them sit for a while, until the tops felt almost solid when we touched them, they puffed up evenly and perfectly contained.

Double stacking the baking sheets served a similar purpose: to help the macaron shells bake up more evenly. I found if we only used a single sheet the feet did not form as nicely, and sometimes the tops cracked as well, which I'm guessing is from the bottoms of the macarons heating up too much and pushing the batter up through the not-fully-baked top. A lot of factors to consider, but all these help you to understand and achieve more consistent results!


Making-macarons-20

So now we've got baked and cooled shells, and the only thing left to do it fill them! Our balcony is now home to a thriving lemon verbena plant (entirely thanks to husband's green thumb), so I took some of the amazingly fragrant leaves and infused them into some cream and white chocolate to make a ganache.  (I know lemon verbana is a little out of season now but we did this a couple months ago!) 
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Hopefully you were able to pipe your macaron shells all about the same size so you get nice little match-ups easily! (hint: you can always eat the lopsided ones and no one will be the wiser).
Macaroncurve

When I worked at the bakery, we made macarons every week using the French meringue method, and it quickly became very apparent, in a non-climate-controlled space, just how tempermental these little guys are, and how the most seemingly minor of variances in humidity, temperature, length of mixing time, etc. could have dramatic effects on the results. After using the Italian meringue method several times, I'm a happy convert: anything that lets me focus more on using them as a medium for creative flavor expression and worry less about disastrous results is fine by me. I also hope you enjoyed the step-by-step look at the process; a big thanks to Stephanie again for a fun collaboration!

Macaronlineup

Italian Meringue Macarons

200g almond meal or ground blanched almonds

200g confectioners’ sugar

200g sugar

50g water

150g egg whites, divided into two 75g portions

 

Stack two baking trays on top of each other. Line with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Process almond meal with confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. Sieve out any large bits of almond.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on medium until all the sugar is dissolved.

Meanwhile, place 75g of egg whites in a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment.

Continue cooking until the sugar syrup reaches 118 C/245 F. While the sugar is cooking, begin whisking the egg whites. They should reach stiff peaks by the time the syrup is at 245 F. If it whips too fast, turn down or turn off the mixer.

Turn the mixer speed to low. Carefully pour the sugar syrup in a slow stream into the mixer.

Turn the mixer speed to high and let the meringue for several minutes until it has cooled and appears glossy and firm.

In a large bowl, combine the almond meal mixture with the remaining 75g of egg whites until partially combined.

Scoop the meringue on top of the almond meal mixture. Using a spatula or dough scraper, carefully fold the meringue in, trying not to deflate it.

The final batter should be thick and flow slowly like magma. Do not overmix.

Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a ½” diameter plain tip.

Pipe 1 ½” rounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Let the sheets sit for about 20 minutes to let the shells harden.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160 C/320 F.

Bake one set of macarons for 15 minutes, rotating once.

Let tray cool for a few minutes before removing from the silicone mat. Let finish cooling on wire racks.

 

Lemon Verbena Ganache

 100 ml heavy cream

½ cup (3 g) lemon verbena leaves, washed and dried

250g white chocolate, coarsely chopped

 

In a medium saucepan, combine the lemon verbena leaves with the cream.

Heat on medium until warm. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for an hour.

Place chocolate into a bowl.

Strain the leaves from the cream. Reheat the cream until it just comes to a boil.

Slowly pour the cream over the chopped chocolate, stirring to dissolve the chocolate. Continue stirring gently until mixture is smooth. Allow to cool and thicken before using.

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Wonderful post, very informative. Macarons are one of the few pastry challenges that actually scare me. The lemon-verbena cream has a stunning colour, does it come just from infusing the leaves? Thanks!

This tutorial is just great! I'm running out of excuses for not attempting macarons...

Great tutorial. Thanks to you and Stephanie.

Anita, YOU are totally awesome. Totally. And I love you. Best tutorial evar! xoxo

Great post. Thank you! Now I want to give the Italian method a try.

I love this!

I usually use the French method, but I've used the Italian method a few times... You're really making me want to convert, too :)

I have been making these using the French method and have been getting pretty varied results on a daily basis. I think on the next go round I'll try it this way and see what happens. Your photos are great and the tutorial is really well done. Thanks so much for sharing!

I was curious if you've ever tried macaroons with Swiss Meringue (double boiler). I've done it a few times with success but I'm curious if I'm just lucky...

PS Sorry if this double posts.

Great Tutorial.
I love macarons and your blog too. Or maybe on firt your blog and then macarons...
I knew macarons 8 year ago at newsletter Marie Claire Idées.
I invite you to know my blog. It is write in catalan but there are a translater at the bottom.
Mglòria

These are beautiful macs! How did go get them to stay so bright and light? Mine always have a beige look to them...

Great post. I love all the step by steps! Someday I'll have to attempt these.

Laura

Lovely lovely macarons. Gorgeous photographs. I'm definitely bookmarking this.

Now I feel encouraged to try macarons again. This is a wonderful post with excellent process pics.

thanks for that information.keep it up.

Yay! I have never heard of the Italian method, only knew of the French method! What a wonderful tutorial! Thanks!!! Now I know what I'm going to do with those 60+ egg whites I have frozen in my freezer...once I have some spare time...

Anita -- can you recommend a good source for almond meal in the east bay?

Anita, thanks for the step by step photos! Baking always intimidates me and you have made making macaroons less scary in my head!

What a great post, Anita! Thank you so much for showing how to make macarons using the "other" method. I've always wanted to try it this way. You've made it look way less intimidating.

The macaroons we have in the PI are somehow coconut based, my boyfriend loves those! These are different though but then again the Philippines has a different style hihi :)

great tutorial Anita! as always, your creation looks scrumptious and quite delicate, this macarons :)

Thanks for such a great tutorial! Just curious, taste-wise, which do you prefer - french or italian?

Utterly inspiring! I feel like I can now accomplish a feat I never before dared.

Bravo!

http://fivetdsisters.blogspot.com/

i haven't made macaroons in a while and these look fantastic! i need to use up some egg whites. thanks for inspiring!

I have made French macarons and have had more failures than successes! Should try out this method next time. Your macarons look gorgeous.
Just a couple of questions.
How many egg whites are 150gm and hoow many macarons does this recipe make?
Does lemon verbena (never seen this herb) give your filling the yellow colour, or did you colour it?
Thanks.

Thank you!!! This is so helpful. I have been trying to make these with not so good results, and this method is a bit hard to find. Thank you for taking the time (and pictures) to explain it. They look wonderful!

Thank you!!! I have been looking for this method for some time now and you make it look very easy. Having tried my hand at the "french method" to not so good results, I will try them very soon. They look perfect. And I have the exact same mixer.(so we are mixer sisters).

Caffettiera,

Lemon verbena will add a slight tint (see my post on lemon verbena ice cream for an idea of the color), but for this filling I boosted it with a little food coloring:)

Eitan,

I have never tried that method, although I do make swiss meringue buttercream often. If it works for you, that's great!

Adi,

Thanks! Hmm, my macs don't come out pure white - if you look at the photo where they're on the sheet, that's a better indication of their color: slightly off white, since the almond meal is yellow. I'm sure yours are fine!

BarbF,

Are you planning on making large batches of macarons? If yes, I'd look for a commercial restaurant supplier for the best prices. If not, I recommend Bob's Red Mill almond meal, which you can find in specialty stores like Whole Foods. Hope that helps!

Hi Kristine,

Maybe you're referring to the macaroons made with coconut and egg whites? A different cookie but delicious too!

Hi Leah,

To be honest, I used to prefer French style because the shells were more delicate - Italian style can be sweeter because of the extra sugar and the shells can be thicker, but I found that it's really a matter of adjusting the recipe and the baking process. I like Italian meringue macarons just fine now:)

Hi Aparna,

Thanks so much! One egg white is about 30 grams, so 150 gm = 5 egg whites. Lemon verbena will add a light yellow tint to cream or milk, but I added some food coloring to increase the color:)

Thanks all for the wonderful comments - I'm really glad you all enjoyed this and found it useful! Happy macaron making!

wow, this is so helpful! i have tried the french method several times, with mixed results. i'm about 50/50 success rate right now, and very excited to try something that might be a bit more consistent! also lemon verbena is one of my favorite flavors. thanks for the lovely recipes!

www.icyviolets.blogspot.com

Hi Anita,
I haven't been back here in a long time. This was a nice post to re-orient myself with your blog again. I love macarons but would never attempt them on my own. Still, it was nice to "bake" them even vicariously through your tutorial.

best,
lori

Thank you so much for the beautifully detailed pictures and recipe. I think anyone who enjoys cooking could make these after your helpful instructions.

Meringue is one of those things that starts out easy - but it can get a little tricky - cracking, etc. Love the use of almond meal. They sell it at Trader Joes - pre ground. Just measure and pour. Thanks again.

Gorgeous photos and post! Macarons are one (of the only!) pastries I've been too chicken to try. This post makes me feel like I can do it. : ) I'm also a huge lemon verbena fan. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I have yet to be successful at making macarons, but I enjoyed your tutorial and one day I'll try making them again! One day...

i make macarons exactly the same way AND funnily enough that the next ones i want to make are lemon macarons AND you posted this post on my birthday. this must be a sighn ... love your inspiring blog.

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