The Many Macaron Myths

Let me first start things off by saying that, unlike what I usually do, I will not be providing a recipe for today.  The reason for this is two-fold.  First the recipe I used for this little experiment is too close to the ones found in Pierre Hermé’s excellent book on the subject and secondly because I’m not wholly happy with the final result.  Most pastry chefs work for years on their own macaron recipe and mine is still in its infancy.  Besides which, the recipe is not the point of this particular excursion.  My purpose here is to examine the making of these mysterious confections to see if they are truly as complicated as you may have heard.

Most baking recipes break down in to about four simple steps.

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Placing (on a pan or the like)
  4. Baking

Even with the complexity of macaron, there can’t be that many more, right?  Well let’s just see what Pierre Hermé has to say: “32 Steps to Successful Macaron”  Oh, for the love of…

Okay, I’ll tell you right now that’s excessive.  After a quick flip though and I notice that three steps can be lumped together as “fill a piping bag.”  So let’s break down these steps and simplify them, hopefully reducing their number significantly and as a by product figure out what is important and what isn’t.

Many macaron recipes call for “aged” or “liquified” egg whites.  Basically you separate your eggs and let the whites sit in a bowl in the fridge for a couple of days to break down the albumin.  I’ve tried this and from what I can see it makes no difference how old your egg whites are.  Feel free to use freshly separated eggs for macaron.  The theory is that the older whites make for a better meringue, but again it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

So when making Macaron, the first step is to scale your ingredients and not to age your whites.  Right.  Let’s address the meringue portion of the recipe.  All macaron are meringue based and there are two main methods of making a meringue.  One is simply to whip together egg whites and sugar, the other is to cook the sugar with a bit of water to 118° first.  In this area I can say that there is a difference.  I made two batches of macaron, one with cooked sugar (an Italian meringue, if you will) and one without.  As much as I was hoping that the simpler method would prevail, it seems that the final product is superior in both texture and appearance if you take the extra time to cook up your meringue first.

The one on the right is better in every measurable way.

The one on the right is better in every measurable way.

I have also heard that if, when separating eggs, you get the tiniest bit of yolk in them, you have ruined your meringue potential but this is just plain wrong.  Just scoop out the offending yolk and you’re good to go.  Cook your sugar, whip into your egg whites and take the rare opportunity to set your mixer on Full Power.

When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're going to see some serious shit.

When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious shit.

Next up sift your ground almonds and icing sugar together into your meringue and fold in until the mixture is shiny and resembles pancake batter in texture.  Finally, pipe the macaron into circles (I use a template to ensure they’re the same size) and leave at room temperature for an hour and a half before baking.  This allows a skin to develop and leads to the “foot” of the macaron forming.  I’ve seen recipes that skip this step, but when I tried they all turned out cracked and not nice and smooth.  Bake at 350° for ten minutes, cool, then fill with either flavoured buttercream or ganache.

When making macaron here are your steps:

  1. Scale your ingredients
  2. Cook the sugar to 118°
  3. Whip egg whites and sugar to stiff peaks
  4. Sift in icing sugar and ground almonds
  5. Mix until shiny and slightly runny
  6. Pipe
  7. Rest for 1 1/2 hours
  8. Bake
  9. Cool
  10. Fill
  11. Devour

So there you have it.  Hopefully that helps with your macaron making mastery.

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