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Macaron Fail

27 March 2012

Despite the fact that I have posted many a recipe for baking, I suck at baking. S-U-C-K. There’s just something about it… Maybe it’s the precision or patience required. Cooking just seems a lot simpler to me. Not as much measuring and things can be adjusted during the cooking process. It may not seem like I have a lot of trouble with baking, but, trust me, I do. Something always seems to go wrong. My most recent failure was with macarons.

Macarons have become somewhat of a phenomenon lately. Shops have been sprouting up all over the place selling the little French sweets. It was even “International Macaron Day” in Vancouver this past Tuesday. I don’t like to be a bandwagoner but I felt like it would be really cool if I were able to make macarons. Everyone seems to love them and they always seem to look really nice (especially if they are in a rainbow of colours).

Hollow macarons with sticky bottoms.

I naively thought that if I simply followed a ‘tried and true’ macaron recipe online, my kitchen would be abounding with beautiful perfect macarons. Not the case. An accumulation of several mistakes along the way lead to shaggy, hollow macarons with gummy, sticky bottoms. Definitely a sad face moment. The bright side is that they seem to taste okay (according to some esteemed taste buds) and they look alright. It’s just that they aren’t “right”. After conducting extensive research into the art of macaron-making, I discovered that I messed up my meringue, over-mixed the batter and baked them at too high a temperature. Now that I know what I did wrong, hopefully I will be able to perfect them next time. And there will be a next time. Stay tuned for my next attempt!

At least they have nice "feet".

Here is my edited recipe, which should work well if you follow the directions carefully:

French Macarons using Italian Meringue (adapted from Syrup and Tang):

  • 100 g egg whites (aged at least 24 hours and brought to room temperature)
  • 135 g almond meal/powder
  • 135 g confectioner’s sugar
  • 135 g granulated sugar
  • 33 g water

Using ingredients by mass is the only way to get reliable results and the above masses are just to show the ratio. Everything should be based off the mass you measure for the egg whites. You may need a calculator for this. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can use these conversions, just don’t expect perfect results: 1 large egg white is 30-33 g, 1 cup almond meal is about 110 g, 1 cup confectioner’s sugar is about 115 g, 1 cup granulated sugar is 200 g, and 1 mL water is 1 g. Expect 25 macaron shells per 50 grams of egg whites.

Directions:

1. Prepare baking sheets: Double-stack the baking sheets you’ll need (for even baking) and line with parchment paper.

2. Weigh egg whites and separate into two equal amounts (by mass).

3. Place granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan.

4. Process almond meal and icing sugar in a food processor until they are a uniform, fine powder (scrape down sides occasionally, if necessary). Sift into a large mixing bowl.

5. Heat sugar-water saucepan over low heat until simmering. Begin to measure temperature with a candy thermometer. Brush down sides of saucepan with water occasionally to prevent crystallization. The target temperature is 118°C.

6. Once the syrup temperature reaches about 100°C, start beating one portion of egg whites. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks. Timing is important; the egg whites should reach stiff peaks about the same time the syrup reaches 118°C.

7. While beating at low speed, add the syrup to the egg whites in a thin, steady stream on the sides of the mixing bowl. Then increase to high speed and beat until the meringue is just warm. It should be quite stiff and very shiny.

8. Pour the other portion of egg whites onto the almond meal-sugar mixture but don’t mix it in yet. You can add any colouring in at this point. Scoop the meringue onto the mixture. Fold the meringue in fairly quickly, until just combined. Make every stroke count, scraping the sides and bottom and pressing the batter against the bowl. You do not want to overmix! Many sources say that the consistency of the batter should be “like magma” (i.e. thick and flowing).

My too thick and over-mixed batter.

9. Anchor the parchment paper with daps of batter at each corner.

10. Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm circular nozzle. Pipe the batter evenly into 2-3 cm circles about 4 cm apart. Make sure you hold the piping bag vertically to ensure even and round shells. Tap the baking sheet firmly on the counter to remove any bumps or air bubbles.

13. Let unbaked shells dry for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 320°F.

14. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake the macarons for 12-18 min (it really depends on your oven) on the middle rack. They should cling slightly to the paper if they are done. I recommend erring on the side of over-baking, because you don’t want sticky macarons. The shells will eventually start to brown and then they are definitely done.

15. Allow to cool for a few minutes then transfer the shells to a cooling rack.

16. Once cool you can fill your macaron shells. The most common fillings are ganache, buttercream and jam. I decided to use lemon curd (recipe below). Allow to ‘mature’ for 1-3 days in the fridge if you want to eat them at their best.

Lemon Curd:

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed (room temp.)

1. Whisk egg yolks and sugar together well for a minute, until a smooth, pale mixture is achieved.

2. Heat a saucepan with water until simmering. Add the lemon juice and zest to the egg-sugar mixture and whisk over the simmering water constantly until quite thick (about 7 minutes).

3. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter cubes. Refrigerate until needed.

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