Concerning Macarons | The Basics

Macarons were for me, a bit of a hurdle. I tried many years ago making them in what was advertised as the easy cheats way and failed. The barriers to making them are many – the recipes long, the amount of equipment needed is higher than a normal recipe and the possibility of failing is tangible. A good friend of mine recommended to me the Vanilla Almond recipe that follows as a great basic macaron, from which you can go on experimenting with different flavours. Read the recipe well, and clean up after each stage. The recipe might not be short, but it is thorough and will save you purchasing them for $3+ at a café.

Serves: Makes 20 macarons, 40 shells *
Time: Preparation time – 50 minutes, drying time/making the filling – 30 minutes, cooking time – 14 minutes cooking per tray, 10 minutes to fill the macarons, refrigeration time – 2 hour (minimum, ideally 24 hours). 

* NOTE: Making half of this quantity is difficult, unless you have a sufficiently small enough bowl to make your meringue in.

Speaking the Lingo

  • Macronage: French for working the batter. More specifically, the incorporation of the meringue into the almond paste.
  • Tant pour tant: A French term for the mixture of equal portions of icing sugar and ground almonds.
  • Italian vs French meringue: Macarons can be made using one of two meringue varities – Italian or French. Italian meringue is made using a warm sugar syrup, while the French incorporates raw, ‘cold’ sugar. The sugar syrup results in a denser, more stable meringue into which you add your tant pour tant. It is less brittle and the macronage is more manageable. The Italian method also results in a shorter cooking time.

Essential Equipment

This is a list of essential, yes – actually essential, basic tools needed for successful baking:

    • Electronic kitchen scales (or digital)
    • Food processor and sieve
    • Electronic mixer (stand or hand held)
    • Sugar thermometer (or digital)
    • Rubber or silicon spatula
    • Piping bag and nozzles
    • Baking trays

Macaron Eqpt

Ingredients

+ 200 g ground almonds
+ 200 g icing sugar
+ 75 ml water
+ few drops of lemon or white vinegar
+ 200 g caster sugar
+ 2 x 80 g egg whites (~ 5 eggs) *
+ touch of vanilla bean paste
+ gel colouring in whatever colour you wish to make stripes * *
If possible, weigh your egg whites into separate bowls and cover with cling film and poke a few holes in the top. Allow these to age in your refrigerator for 24-48 hours prior to use. If you forget, you can buy liquefied egg whites from your local supermarket.

* * The gel colour is necessary to avoid your painted stripes eating into your shells, as it did in my first attempt in the picture above where I used a powdered colour. 

Almond butter cream
+ 250 g softened unsalted butter

+ 140 g icing sugar
+ 160 g ground almonds

Method

THE MACARONS

  1. Process the ground almonds and icing sugar together in the food processor, then sift together into a bowl to make your tant pour tant. Sifting should not be skipped, as this step gives you a smooth batter, and smooth shiny macaron shells. Set aside. 
  2. In a saucepan, bring the water, caster sugar and a few drops of lemon juice to the boil without stirring. Make sure the temperature of the sugar syrup does not go above 115ºC. Meanwhile, gently beat 80 g of egg whites to soft peaks in your mixer. Increase the speed of your beater when the temperature of the syrup passes 95ºC. These need to be beaten until they hold the pattern of the beaters, so they can hold the weight of the sugar syrup. When the syrup reaches 115ºC, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the syrup in a thin stream into the beaten egg whites. Continue to beat the meringue for about 10 minutes, so that it cools.
  3. Combine the tant pour tant and the remaining unbeaten egg whites, making a smooth almond paste. Add the vanilla to your almond paste.
  4. Using a flexible spatula, incorporate about a third of the meringue into the almond paste to loosen the mixture a little. Then add the rest of the meringue mixture, working the batter carefully to ensure it is a consistent texture. 
  5. Fill a piping bag with an 8 mm circular nozzle with batter. To stop batter from leaking out, twist the piping bag above the nozzle several times, then fill – the batter will only fall to the twisted part. Untwist when you are ready to pipe.
  6. Line around three trays with baking paper. If your piping skills are not great, trace 3.5 cm circles about 2 cm apart, otherwise – go for it freestyle. After piping, lightly tap the bottom of the trays and allow the macarons to form a crust at room temperature for 30 minutes. This is essential to form the feet on your macarons. The crust is formed when you can run your finger over the top of the batter. No batter should stick to your finger.
  7. Preheat the oven to 150ºC fan-forced.
  8. Bake in the oven for 14 minutes. Look under the baking paper to see if your shells are cooked. When ready, there should be no darkness showing through the baking paper. If they are not ready, check again in 30 seconds. When you take them out, carefully slide the baking paper onto a dampened bench: the shells will be easier to remove.

THE BUTTER CREAM

  1. Beat the softened butter vigorously, to give it a smooth and creamy texture. Add the icing sugar and beat again, to combine. 
  2. Finally, incorporate the ground almonds and whisk again for a few minute to aerate the cream and give it lightness. 
  3. Refrigerate until just before it is needed for assembly.

THE ASSEMBLY

  1. If you choose to paint stripes on top of your shells, combine a few drops of your gel colour of choice and water. Allow the shells to dry after painting. 
  2. Using a piping bag, generously fill half the shells with butter cream. Then assemble the macarons with the remaining shells.
  3. Store in a closed container in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours. 24 hours is ideal, as the more time that passes the more melded your flavours will be.
  4. Remove from the fridge two hours before you want to serve them.

Original recipe sourced from José Maréchal’s Secret’s of Macarons cookbook, with additional guidance from Pierre Hermé’s tome on Macarons.

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