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Monday, May 16, 2011

French Macarons

This post is going up quite late - actually I had planned to have it up before Mother's Day! Oh well, too late now. I hope all of you mothers out there had a great day, my boys gave me some great gifts... all baking related, so you'll be seeing those soon! Although there is probably going to be a lag in posts in the next couple weeks... I'm not making as many cookies, but for good reason! I'll be able to you guys in a couple weeks, and until that time hopefully I'll be able to put out some more recipes instead.

For Mother's Day I wanted to make something extra special for the moms in our life.

Has anyone out there not heard of French Macarons?

Are these the new cupcake or something? They seem to be gaining in popularity like crazy! It's no suprise though, as they are both unique and incredibly delicious! Maybe one of the things that make them so desirable though, is their rarity. Unless you are in Paris (I wish), you are probably going to have a hard time finding somewhere to buy these. I've seen a few bakeries that will ship them, but I've never ever tried that route. Of course if you can't buy them, the next obvious option is to make them. Macarons are known for being finicky though, so they aren't something you can just decide to whip up one afternoon.

I'm no expert on macarons - far from it. Mine are not perfect. Yet. I have only made them a few times, and my first time was a complete disaster! They came out great the second time, except I had run out of parchment paper (and didn't have silpat at the time) and used wax paper to cook them on thinking it was my next best option. Wrong!

{EDITED TO ADD: I receive a surprising number of google searches looking to see if wax paper is ok to use with macarons. Although I never addressed it directly in this post, I think the context is clear. In any case I will spell it out for anyone who is looking for a direct answer. DON'T DO IT! The macarons cooked beautifully, but when it was time to take them off of the wax paper... it was like they were superglued down. I just barely soaked the paper in water and was able to peel about half of them off... but unless you are VERY careful you will ruin the macarons... plus it took forever. Trust me on this, just invest in parchment paper or silpat.}

If there is one thing I've learned about making macarons, it's that you have to be extremely precise in every aspect of the recipe. After my first failure I did a lot of googling (this is what I do when I have a question about anything!) to find reasons why I had failed. There is a lot of information out there with tips and tricks and some of it is even contradicting... the perfect way to make macarons is not as elusive as it seems though.

Most of the recipes I have come across are very similar, and my two favorites come from BraveTart and Tartelette. I like BraveTart's view on macarons... which is that they are only a cookie. In my opinion, with some planning and prep... anyone can make these! I won't put a recipe on here, as I only like to put up my own recipes... but check out both of the links above and you will find some great recipes.

If there is interest out there, I can do a step by step post on how to make these. For now, I'd just like to mention some of the thing's I've learned along the way!

* Aging your egg whites - To age egg whites you separate the egg whites into a bowl and cover with a paper towel, leaving out on the counter for 24-48 hours. Some people are weirded out by leaving eggs at room temperature... to which I say: chickens don't lay eggs in a refrigerator. In many other countries, eggs are not even stored in the fridge. The purpose of aging is to let some of the water evaporate out of the whites. Some people say you should do this, some say it's not necessary. In my opinion, you will have a much easier time if you do... but I think it depends more on where you are cooking than anything. Moisture (excessive, at leaste) seems to be an enemy of the macaron, and as I live in the Seattle area - where moisture in the air is to be expected - the less moisture in the egg whites from the start, the better. I suggest you try it different ways, and see what works best for you.

* Measuring - If you have it, use a digital scale to measure all ingredients (in fact, that's how I bake 100% of the time). Also be sure to sift your almond flour and powdered sugar together (the powdered sugar will keep the almond flour from sticking). I recommend sifting at least twice.

* Almond Flour - Almond flour is nice, but expensive. For those who don't have access or don't want to spend the money, you can grind your own almonds (watch it carefully so it doesn't turn into butter!). I go the middle ground and buy almond meal at Trader Joes. If you grind your own, you will want to dry it out either on the counter for a few days or in the oven (be careful not to burn!). You want it to be dry enough that if you try to pack it into a ball, it will not hold together.

*Humidity - As I said, moisture seems to be an enemy of the macaron and the more moisture in the air, the more likely your macarons will fail. On a particularly wet day, I make the macarons in the kitchen with the oven door slightly ajar so as to dry out the kitchen. Also macarons release moisture as they cook, and I've found it helpful to put a wooden spoon in the door of the oven while they are cooking so that there isn't too much moisture. Excessive moisture leads to cracked tops on the shell. I've heard that if you have a convection oven this isn't as much of an issue... but I really don't know how true that statement is!

*Mixing/Batter Consistancy - I think one of the key aspects of getting a macaron to come out right is the consistancy of the batter. It's all in how long you mix for. You don't need to be particularly gentle while mixing, but you do have to watch the consistancy of the batter closely. Ideally it will be the consistancy of magma. Or at least, that's what every recipe will tell you... however I don't know who all these people are who seem to have first hand experience as to what magma is like! That term has always confused me... and I will say that this step is the one area where I still need improvement. I tend to leave my batter just a little too thick most of the time. Mostly I think I'm afraid of it ending up too thin, at which point there isn't much you can do to save it. I've read that you can add small amount of almond flour to thicken it, but I really can't say if that would work.

*Piping - An easy trick to get your shells all a consistant size: trace circles on a piece of parchment paper and then flip it over and pipe onto the other side. Don't make the mistake and forget to flip the paper over... I did that once and ended up with pencil marks on the underside of my macaron shells!

Well that's about it for the moment. If anyone has any questions or needs any help, feel free to comment or email me with questions! Also, are there any particular recipes or baking help anyone is interested in? If there's something you'd like to see here on the blog, be sure to let me know!


  1. I just tried macarons for the first time at a farmer's market in Hilsboro. They were okay, but the bakery that served them made some way better cookies. I think they are sort of a fad that might go out of style pretty quickly. What do you think?

  2. Mel, thanks for the tips. Second time was a charm. They turned out great and I made the vanilla filling from the book Kathy gave you, do try it very yummy! With the left over filling I dipped strawberries. I can't wait to try making more.

  3. Oh and next time if you draw circles, turn the paper over first. You can still see the circles from underneath. I thought about the samething happening.

  4. These macarons were so yummy - I was one of the lucky Moms!! They all looked so perfect and were the perfect little treat - best savored nice and slow:)

  5. One seldom hear about aging the egg whites so it's great to see you mention this key step. The other key step is the macaronnage, or using a pastry scrapper to press down the batter a dozen time to release extra air (not all!). See this good video about this key step:

  6. Savorique~ that was a good video to watch.