Cheatin' Wheat Gluten Free Baking Blog

Tips for Making Better Macarons

A few years ago, macarons were the next big thing. I ask you, how is something that has been around for over 150 years the next big thing? At this point, aren't they the tried and true - a classic not a fad? Yet from that craze, the beloved macaron has become something more. People approach the topic of macarons and macaron-making with a reverence, mythology, fervor and zeal almost exclusively seen in cults.

1. Macarons have magical properties.
2. They require spiritual rituals and a keen sense of barometric pressure as part of their mis en place.
3. There is a dizzying array of variables to track in order to make the holy grail of macarons.
4. And certainly, the supposedly exalted ends justify the manic means.

Hmm, is the macaron a cult? Is there a conference I could be attending? Would I get to wear a frilly little tutu to replicate the "feet" on a classic macaron? People, people, people, it is just a cookie; albeit a damn tasty one! It is still a thing to be made, eaten, enjoyed, shared and made again. Unfortunately, a lot of people avoid making them because they are supposed to be so difficult and the success rate so low.

Let me set the record straight, macarons are not difficult to make, they are difficult to perfect! And perfection takes time, iteration, incremental changes, observation and yes, more time. Since when did our culture assume a recipe wasn't worth attempting just because it couldn't be mastered on the first try? Does it matter if your macaron is a little cracked or dry, has a domed top or non-existent feet? Not really. I mean, are you making them to show off or are you making them because they are downright delicious? Yes, even the "ugly" ones.

Now, I get professional perfectionism and I like to strive to an ideal. So, here are the qualities, in my mind, that make a perfect macaron:

1. Perfectly round
2. Smooth, shiny, flat top
3. No cracks or pock marks
4. Small, ruffled circumference, aka the foot
5. Mildly moist, chewy inside
6. Thin crisp outside
7. No large air pockets or bubbles

Start with a recipe here and then use these tips to make each batch of macaron better than the last.

1. Pastry is Craft not Voodoo
AKA, Value Proper Pastry Technique Over Ritual! While humidity, age of egg whites, etc. offer nice scapegoats, no business I know gets to beg off making macarons because their egg whites are too fresh or it is raining outside. You actually need to execute basic techniques, such as meringue-making and folding properly in order to make beautiful macarons.

2. Use a Scale
It is only $30 and it is worth it; especially if you could put a price on frustration. This is a tip for better baking in general, but amply applies to macaron making. Measuring by volume is inherently inaccurate. For example, a cup of flour can weigh between 3.5 and 6 ounces depending on the way you scoop, who scoops and how compact the flour is at any given time. That is an astounding difference. Instead, imagine always weighing out 5 ounces of flour every time you make a recipe. Better yet, convert to grams - they are 28 times more precise. There is 28.6 grams in every ounce

3. Grind and Sift, Grind and Sift 
Even if you are using a pre-made almond meal/flour, you need to grind and sift the almond flour and powdered sugar in batches to achieve a finely textured mix. The average batch of macarons can’t handle more than 2 Tablespoons of chunky nut bits before it will cause cosmetic difficulties in the final cookie. To make an even better cookie, try drying the almond flour in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely then proceed to grind with the powdered sugar.

4. Honor thy Meringue
In any recipe, a properly made meringue serves as the foundation for a beautiful macaron. And not surprisingly, every recipe has a different approach, which is fine. Some like to use a Swiss meringue, an Italian meringue or a meringue beaten to very soft peaks. I prefer a very stiff French meringue. It is a meringue so stiff, you can hold the bowl upside down and the whip will not fall out. Find a recipe that works for you, just stay true to the meringue and do as instructed. 

5. Macaronage Matters
By definition macaronage is the act of creating macaron batter. Not very helpful huh? And yet it is an integral step in the process. It is what changes the recipe from almond meringue to macaron. The purpose of macaronage is quite simple - combine the dry ingredients and the meringue to form a batter. The process of folding these ingredients together deflates and loosens the meringue and the goal is to stop when you achieve the optimum texture. I would love to tell you there was a magic number of strokes, but the stiffness of the meringue you use, your technique and the batch size all create variables that mean you have to rely on visual rather than verbal cues. Some people say is should look and flow like lava. Having never seen that particular phenomenon, I prefer to say the batter should fall from the spatula in a wide ribbon. If this is still not helpful, there are videos that show the proper consistency. Most importantly, it takes experience to get this step right. Pay attention each time you make macarons and your macaronage will perfect itself.

6. Rap-a-tap-tap
The difference between an all-star batch of macarons and so-so batch can hinge on nothing more than three or four solid whacks of the sheet pan against the counter. Rapping a tray of macarons before baking dislodges stray bubbles that would otherwise rise up and crack or mar the shells.

7. Timers Lie
And I am not in your kitchen, and ovens have hot spots, and you may be heavy handed with the pastry bag, and… get my point. Different ingredients, different ovens, the size of the macaron, etc can change the bake time of a basic recipe considerably. So don’t blindly rely on a baking time. Be more engaged in the process and check on the macarons frequently. Also, try varying the bake time until you find what works for you. 

8. Wait for Perfection
Yes, you can eat one, but do not let anyone else nibble away. Once you’ve filled and sandwiched the macarons, put them in an airtight container and store them in the fridge. As with all things macaron, experts hotly debate exactly how long a macaron should mature, but most agree a minimum of 24 hours greatly improves their flavor and texture. Pierre Hermé points out an interesting aspect of his macarons. "As soon as they're made they're not ready to eat, but they're really at their best after 24 or even 48 hours," he says. "An osmosis takes place between the garnish and the biscuit. When freshly baked this is hard and crisp, but it absorbs some humidity from the filling and its inside becomes more tender while the crust on the surface stays intact."