A foray into France – making macarons

Who doesn’t like French macarons? Those chewy discs redolent of almonds and sugar, sandwiching a delightfully rich creme of a favorite flavor du jour.  I’m such a fan of these tiny treats that I find it difficult to pass them by whenever I’m near La Boulange or Miette and cannot count the number of times I’ve been easily suaded to part with a buck fifty for one little piece of heaven.

I’ve always wanted to try them at home but found it daunting. Last month, the Chronicle ran an article on macarons touting them as the next cupcake (as if they are interchangeable, puhlease!. It ran quotes from bakers calling the production “temperamental” and “time consuming”.  But included with the article was a recipe for chocolate macarons and being that I just bought almond meal from TJ’s on a whim, I decided to try my hand at taming those temperamental suckers and the result was a mixed success.

Here are some of the trials and tribulations from my very first attempt at making macarons using the recipe in the Chronicle from Kelly Manukyan of Pamplemousse.

First up, the batter

On the surface, it’s a fairly simply ingredient list using only almond flour, powdered sugar, egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar (plus cocoa powder for the chocolate batter).  There’s not much variation in this recipe compared to others that I saw online.  I used almond meal from TJ’s which had some large particles so I had to throw out the remainder that couldn’t be sifted through.  It was a waste of a good quarter to a third cup of almond meal. I didn’t even think to grind it in my food processor to make it finer until I read David Liebovitz’ post on macarons.

I had no trouble sifting the flour, cocoa and powdered sugar, making sure to sift at least twice. The beaten egg white with sugar was easy going as well, though I had to keep my eye on it to make sure it wasn’t overwhipped. This is probably only the second time I’ve ever beaten egg white for a meringue preparation but I think watching all those cooking shows helped me to visually assess the consistency I needed.

At first I was concerned that egg white mixture would not be enough to wet all the dry ingredients but once I got the hang of folding it in, everything was fine.  What did give me pause was the all the cautions against over mixing the batter.  Because according to all the instructions out there, if you overmix the meringue into the batter, you won’t have that requisite risen foot at the bottom of each macaron and the result will be a dense hockey puck.  I always find it very frustrating whenever a recipe warns me not to overmix because there’s no way to tell until it’s too late if you’ve wielded that spatula one too many times.  I know it’s a matter of experience and intuition but you are always at the mercy of physics and chemistry and even the best bakers crash and burn on occasion.

But I had to trust myself to yank out the spatula when I didn’t see a single dry speck left and not a moment sooner or later.  The next step was to pipe it onto parchment paper, in my case silpat, and I couldn’t draw uniform circles onto the silpat like I could with parchment paper so I just did my best to squeeze a uniform size for each cookie. I only had enough batter to make 15 macarons and not 20 as the recipe suggested so I probably made them too big.  I realized later that the batter will spread and puff up about 30% bigger after it’s baked.

After baking the macarons, I found that all of my shells were cracked. I’m still not sure what the cause is since the perfect macaron should have a smooth, shiny shell, devoid of any cracks. Some websites say that you have to leave the piped batter on the cookie sheet for a couple of hours before baking and others say it’s a matter of oven temperature and not the time left out. If anyone out there can enlighten me to the cause, I would appreciate it. However, despite the surface cracks, all of my macarons had the little foot at the bottom so I was happy.

cracked top but i have the little foot!

cracked top but i have the little foot!

Chocolate filling

This one was easy but the instructions said to chill the ganache overnight before using and then whipping it into spreadable consistency. I really don’t understand why it needed to be chilled overnight because after letting it cool, I put the ganache in the fridge for an hour and it became hardened and was difficult to turn it back to spreadable consistency. Other recipes don’t require chilling so I’m wondering if it was just an error on the Chronicle’s part.  Again, enlighten me if there is some magic chocolate mojo being done in the fridge overnight but I think the ganache just needs to be kept to a point where it is thick and set enough to be spread without being too liquid. Perhaps only half an hour in the fridge.

The whole thing probably took me about 2 hours from start to finish, including time for cooling the macarons and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  The ingredient list was simple and the cooking time wasn’t too long. I think the only tricky part is folding the wet and dry ingredients together and ensuring the smooth surface and little foot. No one should shy away from trying to make them since the end result is worth the effort.  Next time, I’m going to try one of Martha’s recipes or go with David Liebovitz to see if I get better success with the macaron surface. In retrospect, I think these two write up their recipes more clearly and give more detail on their preparation than what I had from the Chronicle.

chocolat macaron 2

Visually, my effort was slightly amiss but Neen’s verdict was that the taste was all there so I guess if you close your eyes, my macarons were perfect.

macaron closeup

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4 responses to “A foray into France – making macarons

  1. You are soooo brave!
    I”ve been wanting to do this for ages.
    And I must get down to it eventually no matter what or walk in shame forever!!!
    Must try at the very least.
    BRAVO

  2. Thanks Carol! I hope you do try making macarons, at least ones you can eat instead of frame on a wall. =)

  3. I had the same problem the first two times I made macarons…the cracked top….and then realised after doing even more reading that I was probably too careful mixing my meringue (I was also worried about over mixing!)….Apparently if you don’t mix it enough macarons can be too puffy and crack….and if you mix it too much they go flat and chewy….so next time I tried and just mixed the mix a whole lot more (but not too much) and it worked wonderfully!

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