My younger daughter is here, visiting before she heads off to start graduate school. Having her here means one thing…she and I will be baking. This daughter…you know, the one that makes the incredible cakes (and if you don’t know, head over to her Facebook page, Sweetheart Cakes and Treats and prepare to be amazed. It’s ok…I’ll wait…), this daughter loves to try new and interesting (and sometimes hard!) recipes. Actually, she’s like me that way, and she inspires me to try recipes that I wouldn’t necessarily attempt. Take French Macarons for example. I had a bunch of egg whites left over from making Lemon Curd for the engagement party last weekend, so my daughter decided that we should make French Macarons (note, if you just say Macaroons, people think you mean the treats made with coconut flakes…these are definitely not those!). French Macarons are dainty little confections with a crisp outer shells and chewy seductive centers. At their base, they feature little ridges called “feet” around the cookie that are the mark of a well-made macaron. And their reputation as a finicky cookie are well noted. Oh sure, we’ll just whip up a batch, easy peasy…NOT!
A quick Pinterest search yielded me with two recipes to try from two different food blogs. (Quick digression…I love Pinterest, and I use it constantly to search for new recipes and to pin those I find. It’s like my online recipe file. If you want to see what I pin, follow me at Scotch_Scones.) Anyway, the first recipe was from EntertainingwithBeth.com (Beth’s Foolproof French Macaron Recipe), and the second was from AheadofThyme.com (Classic French Macaron with Vanilla Buttercream Filling). The recipe from EntertainingwithBeth.com had some really good tips and tricks for making the macarons, and even a video to watch…that was really helpful for beginners. The recipe from AheadofThyme.com was more straightforward, but it also had good clear instructions and notes. Luckily, these blogs from which I had pulled the recipes had done all the failing for me, so I could just use their lessons learned and plow right ahead, right? No worries, mate.
Basically, to make macarons, you first mix finely ground almond meal and powdered sugar (preferably passing them both through a fine-mesh sieve). Next, you whip egg whites, sugar, flavoring, and color into a stiff meringue (one recipe had us add cream of tartar and a pinch of salt to the meringue. More on that later…). Finally, you gently fold the dry ingredients into the meringue. You then pipe the batter onto Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheets, allow them to dry 30 min, then bake for 20 min at 300degF. Voilà, perfectly puffed macarons with the distinctive feet. We felt like we knew what to do, so we dived right in…and failed. [insert tires screeching sound here]
These macarons tasted good, but the look and texture were all off. What happened, you ask? We think it was several factors. First, the egg whites had been sitting for several days in the refrigerator, so they weren’t as fresh as newly cracked egg whites would be (hmm…maybe a reason, maybe not). Next, I didn’t have any cream of tartar, which helps stabilize the meringue, so we proceeded without it (not a likely factor). Sieving the almond flour and the powdered sugar took a lot time, and since I had made the meringue, it sat for quite a while (maybe enough to deflate a bit?). Also, It was a humid day, and because the batter needs to dry out before baking (to increase the surface tension of the batter as it expands, thereby allowing it to puff up properly), humidity definitely had an effect (probably a factor, but not the main one). No, the real reason we think these macarons failed was because we overmixed the almond meal mixture into the meringue, thus deflating the meringue (and a well-noted stumbling block noted by both bloggers). ** SIGH ** Whatever the reason(s) were, my daughter wanted to try again. I was more hesitant, but she can be stubborn (again, like me). So the next day try again, we did. It was a beautiful (read: less humid) day, we had fresh eggs, I had bought the cream of tartar, and she counted the folding strokes. She piped the batter, we let it dry, baked it…and…AND…WE HAD FEET!
The recipe below is an amalgam of the 2 recipes I used. The ingredients are adapted from both CookingwithBeth.com and AheadofThyme.com, and the instructions were from CookingwithBeth.com (although I re-ordered the steps to make the flour/sugar mixture first). Please visit the links to see their original recipes.
- 1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar (100 g)
- 3/4 cup almond flour (80 g)
- 3 Egg Whites (at room temperature)
- ¼ cup white sugar (50 g)
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar (2 ml)
- food coloring (if desired)
- Preheat oven to 300°F degrees.
- TIP#1: Sift almond flour, and powdered sugar. What remains will be the larger lumps of almond pieces. Just discard those, or use them to snack on. You want a really fine powder mixture to create a smooth and pretty top to your cookie. This can take a while so be prepared.
- Beat egg whites until foamy, then add salt, cream of tartar and white sugar for 8-10 mins. TIP #2: egg whites should be room temp. To create room temp eggs, submerge in warm water for 5 mins.
- Whip until they form a peak that stands upright. Think Seattle Space needle.
- Then add the vanilla and food coloring (if desired). TIP#3: Color does fade as it cooks, so do a shade or two darker than you want them to be.
- Fold flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture. TIP#4: This is where all your hard work can really go wrong. Under mix and your macarons will be lumpy and cracked when they bake and won’t have feet; over mix and your macarons will be flat and still won’t have feet. In my experience 65-75 turns of your spatula when folding is about the right amount of time. But again, it can be tricky and depends on how strong you are, so it can take a few tries to get it right. But when you do, the trumpets will blare and you will feel so accomplished!
- Transfer batter to a pastry bag.
- Pipe out 1 inch rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- TIP#5: tap the pan hard at least 2-3 times to release the air bubbles. This will prevent the tops of your macarons from cracking.
- TIP#6: Let them sit out for 20-30 mins, or up to an hour if you want. This will allow them time to dry out a bit before hitting the hot oven. They should be “tacky” to the touch, but not stick to your fingertips. This is another important step to assuring your macarons develop feet! When they dry out they can’t spread out in the oven, and are forced to rise up. That’s what creates the feet!
- Bake for 20 mins. DO NOT UNDER BAKE, even if they look done! Otherwise they will stick to your tray.
Storage: You can refrigerate the macarons or store them in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week.
You’ll notice I didn’t include the filling recipes because there you can get creative…you can use classic buttercream frosting, but you can also use jam, caramel, peanut butter, or anything else you’d like. My daughter crushed up Oreo cookies with their filling for her cookies & cream filling, and used crushed graham crackers, melted marshmallow, and chocolate ganache for a s’mores variety. Also, you can flavor the meringue before folding in the flour/sugar mixture (think mint, fruit puree, coffee, cocoa…). The possibilities are endless!
These treats are finicky, and they deserve that reputation, but my daughter didn’t let me quit. You should’ve seen us dance about when our second attempt came out of the oven…we kept shouting, “we have feet!” over and over. She inspired me, and I hope I’ve inspired you. Let me know if you give it a go!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!