The Macaron: A Dessert of Legendary Proportions
The macaron is a desert of legendary proportions, which easily transcends the cookie genre. Technically, it is simply a pastry, in which two shells made from ground almonds, egg whites, icing sugar and sugar encase a delicate filling flavored with a symphony of different flavors. In reality, its finesse goes far beyond that of cookies.
History of Macarons
It is believed that macarons made their way to the French court from Italy with the chefs of Catherine di Medici who married King Henry II of France in 1533. This dessert of all desserts really came into its own in 1792 when two nuns seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution baked and sold macarons to support themselves and became known as the macaron sisters! At that time, the macaron was just plain pastry no flavor and no filling.
It was not until the 1900s that Ladurée‘s Pierre Desfontaines revolutionized the macaron by taking two pastry shells and filling them with ganache. Today, besides Ladurée, there is, of course, Pierre Hermé, both whom have elevated the macaron to new heights and made them celebrated.
Techniques for Making Macarons
There are two methods one can use to make macarons. Some bakers prefer the Italian meringue method, while others favor the French meringue one. It’s not a particular method that will lead you to success, but how you master the technique of making your preferred method.
The Italian meringue method uses a cooked meringue, which is poured over egg whites that have been whisked to a medium stiff consistency. This meringue is then folded with the ground almonds and icing sugar. While the results of the baked macarons are shiny and smooth shells, the Italian meringue method is probably more intimidating for those making macarons for the first time.
The French meringue method will take less time to put together and is easier for people trying their hand at making macarons for the first time. Basically, the egg whites are whipped with granulated sugar until a medium stiff consistency is achieved, then combined with the ground almonds and icing sugar.
I prefer using the French meringue technique, and have focused on mastering the techniques. Practice, practice, practice and do not give up after a failure.
Tips and Techniques
I have put together a few tips I collected as I built my learning curve upwards to making a “good” macaron and hope that they will help you find success on the way to your perfect macaron.
Prep work: Macarons are perfect little circles and if you are not a trained macaron maker it might be a good idea to draw a stencil for perfect circles. You can flip your baking paper around and draw circles using a (mathematical) compass about 2.5 cm (little less than an inch) in diameter. Place some white parchment paper on the baking tray, flip the baking paper back around, and pipe the circles. Make sure you gently remove the white parchment paper from beneath the baking paper before you put it in the oven.
Macaron Template For easy piping, you might find this macaron template useful.
Sift your ingredients: If required, sift several times. What you want is powdery ground nuts with no lumps. The almond and icing sugar mixture may be pulsed in a food processor to make it finer. I sift my nut and icing sugar mixture again after it is pulsed in the food processor.
Use aged egg whites: Leave them to age for one to three days at room temperature or up to five days in the fridge. Fresh egg whites are more likely to result in macarons that are too fragile and flat. Moisture content reduces over time due to evaporation while keeping the same amount of protein bonds.
Consistency of magma: The final macaron batter should neither be too runny nor too stiff. When you lift your spatula from the batter, it should flow back in thick ribbons. The perfect test is to place a dab of batter on a plate and it should slowly sink back without leaving peaks. If it does form peaks, fold the batter a few more times.
Macronnage: This is the key step – the folding technique to achieve the shiny, smooth and pliable mixture. Once the meringue is added to the almond mixture, it needs to be incorporated properly. With a spatula start from the middle, work the spatula from the bottom toward the top, almost as if you were cutting the mixture, then fold quickly. After each fold rotate the bowl 45 degrees and continue to fold.
Let the batter rest and form skins: After the shells have been piped on the cookie trays, let them sit for 30 minutes to a maximum of 1 hour so that they form skins and dry. Although many recipes call for it, some say it’s not necessary. The skin that forms on top of the shells serves the purpose of keeping the macaron from floating away once it hits the heat of the oven.
Removing the macarons from the paper: Sometimes the shells may stick to the baking paper. You can put them back in the oven for an extra 3-5 minutes or pour a little bit of water underneath the paper. After a while, the steam will loosen the macaron shells. However, do not let them sit in the water or else they will become soggy.
Let the macarons rest for a day: They’re supposed to taste better with a bit of rest. However, I am not sure that will an easy rule to follow!
I hope these tips and tricks will help you to master the art of macaron making. You will see that there are no big mysteries surrounding macarons, but a few simple techniques that practice will perfect.
A few macaron recipes for you to try:
- Rooibos Chocolate Chai and Sweet Spicy Chocolate Cinnamon Macarons
- Raspberry Tea Macarons with Tahini Dark Chocolate Cream
- Campari Orange and Grapefruit Macarons
- Rosewater and Raspberry Macarons
- Lemon Pepper Hazelnut Macarons with Lemon Curd and Goat Cheese Cream
This article was first published on What’s For Lunch, Honey?