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.
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.
Almond meal and confectioners' sugar being processed together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A little "beak" formed of meringue. If you get this your meringue is in good shape. It should be stiff and shiny.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!)
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).
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!
Italian Meringue Macarons
200g almond meal or ground blanched almonds
200g confectioners’ sugar
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.