This post is part of a series I have written on the intricate delicacy that is the Macaron. I give you the insights behind the history, the recipe and of course how to incorporate it into your perfect English Afternoon tea time.
I get so many people asking me for tips on how to really get it right when they make Macarons and so I thought it would be handy to share what my tips are. And…they may not be what you think…
1. Remember this is FOOD not an artwork
My recipe is a slightly adapted version of one I found in “How to be a Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson. She described them as ‘the most elegant macaroons in the world‘. They are delicious, beautiful and have far more visual character than those of the Parisian bakeries. They don’t look like the very regular shapes of those found in Ladurée or Pierre Hermé because she has not worried about creating something that aspires to someone else’s level of perfection. They taste delicious and are as they are.
2. Dark brown, mid-brown and beige coloured Macarons have flavour
Most of us do not use our ovens for eight plus hours every day as in a commercial bakery. Thus our ovens will perform differently. This is all to do with how metals heat up and how often they are heated up which has an impact on the evenness of heat throughout the oven. An ‘underused’ oven is more likely to have uneven heat until the oven has been heated long enough for the shelves and oven sides to all be the have reached the optimum temperature. Once this is reached then you can bake batches without the later ones burning or finding that one area of of a baking tray cooks faster than another. Regular and constant oven use (i.e. a few hours every day) will find the oven reaching that point more easily and quickly (like your body when going to the gym – with regular exercise you become more flexible as your muscles remember the actions whereas a trip once a month is quite an effort.).
If you are a domestic cook you are more likely to find your oven behaves slightly differently each time. I find that colours need a perfect and identical oven temperature each time to gauge down to minute precision for perfect pastel colours. If you can give yourself a bit of leeway (i.e. go for chocolate, ginger, coffee, cinnamon) you will be less disappointed if some become tinged with brown.
3. The all important smooth top and a ‘foot’ at the base of the Parisian style Macaron
This is created by letting a skin form on the top of the Macaron after piping. Ideally it should be touch dry. The skin can be created by leaving out in a room that is well ventilated and without humidity. Alternatively you can create the skin by placing in the oven for about 15 minutes at the lowest possible temperature before cooking. Either way, check there is a skin. Then either turn up the oven if you have been skin forming in the oven, or put your air dried Macarons in to cook in a pre-heated oven. The ‘solid’ top will rise up and the ‘foot’ is your expansion layer at the bottom (think how a cake rises up – same principle). If you don’t have a skin, you won’t get the foot. Usually you will get lots of little cracks. If they crack – just continue and then sandwich together and eat! They will taste exactly the same and look like Nigella’s ‘most elegant macaroons in the world’.
4. Every time you bake them – imagine you are using new ingredients
These will all vary in some minute way. Ground almonds from one supermarket will be different from those bought from another. Likewise your ground almonds will be different from season to season even if from the same supermarket. This will have an effect when making your ‘macaronage’. The oilier the nuts, the quicker you get to the optimum folding point. I have also found if I use different food processors to combine the nuts and sugar this will have an effect – the sharper the blade the more finely ground the almonds become and more oil is released into the sugar.
5. Your eggs will also have an effect on your outcome
Try not to use eggs that are too fresh – like teenagers, they are quite frisky and your results might be a little variable. Ideally you want old eggs and under perfect circumstances you would age the eggs. This means separating them up to 7 days in advance of baking and putting your egg whites in a bowl in the fridge. The oxygen in the air breaks down the proteins in the egg whites. Then when you whip the egg whites with the sugar they will behave in the same way (like adults, perhaps we become more measured in our behaviour). I now feel the difference if using newly broken eggs and old aged eggs when whisking and then doing the macaronage – the more aged eggs whites have a slightly more viscous consistency.
With both tip 4 and 5 I am really saying be aware that you are doing something new each time with living organisms…take their foibles into account if you are working towards a predictable outcome.
If you have any questions about your attempts at baking a macaron, please feel free to ask me below in the comments section, tweet me on @Caroline__Hope, or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d be happy to help if I can.