The magnificent macaron
Before you skip straight to the photos and delight in these beauties from afar, let me reassure you: these are not as finicky and difficult as they seem.
Now there are plenty of macaron recipes our there, and plenty of guides, but when it came to making macarons for the first time, I looked to two people who I would trust with my carefully saved egg whites: the macaron Queen, Helene from Tartelette, and the very knowledgeable and helpful baking Queen, Irina at PastryPal. Combining the tips and instructions from both made me feel so much more confident. While Helene goes into great detail in words, Irina shows you every single step of the process in photos. If you’ve ever been intimidated making macarons but are determined to try them, I absolutely recommend these two guides. Helene’s guide is on the right hand sidebar of her blog, and Irina has a post that directs you to the full guide. Both indispensable, with very thorough troubleshooting tips. Plus they don’t just give you the plain flavour, but ways for you to add flavors and colours safely. This allowed me to try vanilla bean and salted butter caramel filling on my first attempt. Win. EDIT: Here’s another fantastic recipe that skips all the finicky stuff from BraveTart, another pro pastry chef. She also has a “ten commandments” for macaron making success.
One thing I would have liked is a process/recipe that is entirely written, without pictures breaking it all up. That’s not to say pictures aren’t useful, but I work off my laptop screen so excessive scrolling is not ideal. I know, I should just write up the recipes already. Unfortunately I am often too lazy for that (there is after all a LOT to copy) and too lazy to print the recipe (especially when I don’t have my own). Plus I like some music to bop to while I bake. Am I alone? I think not.
So, based on my first experience, this is an all-text guide. I’m no expert and will likely have no idea why your macarons fail if they do, but I have obsessively read a lot of macaron recipes and incorporated key bits of information from both Helene and Irina’s guides.
Vanilla bean macarons
makes around 20, depending on size (mine varied quite wildly!). Basic shell recipe from Tartelette
- 100g egg whites (around 3) – I “aged” mine by letting sit in the fridge for two days, but not deliberately.
- 50g white sugar (regular stuff)
- 200g icing sugar (confectioners or powdered sugar) – buy the good stuff
- 110g whole blanched, or slivered, or ground almonds
- 1/2 long vanilla bean, split and scraped (or a whole bean for an intense vanilla hit)
1. Line 2 large baking trays with ungreased baking paper or a silicone baking mat.
2. If using non-ground almonds: place in a food processor, along with icing sugar, and let run on high speed until there are no large pieces of almond (ie. anything thicker than 2mm). I used this option.
If using ground almonds: In a medium bowl, whisk thoroughly with icing sugar (or pulse several times in a food processor).
3. In a separate medium-large sized bowl, beat the egg whites with the vanilla scrapings until the whites are foamy, then gradually add plain white sugar in between beating. Continue beating until you get a creamy but sturdy meringue. If you lift the beaters out of the mixture and turn the beater upside down, the point should stand up straight. Seriously – totally straight.
4. Dump the dry ingredients into the egg whites and start folding quickly by scraping the outside into the centre. Go quickly at first, then slow down once the dry bits are all incorporated. This should require no more than 50 strokes according to tartelette – I was done before 40. When you scrape the outside the mixture should stay together almost like a very very wet dough, but after a few seconds reluctantly sort of fill out the bowl like cake batter.
5. Fill a pastry bag with a plain round tip, then place in a large, tall glass, vase or jar, letting the end of the bag hang over the lip of the glass. Scrape/pour the batter into the bag. Twist the end of the bag so that stuff doesn’t explode everywhere when piping.
6. Pipe circles onto the baking paper, leaving just under 2cm between circles. They spread out a bit once piped, so keep that in mind. I found the best way to pipe was to hold the bag in one position and squeeze while keeping the tip about 1cm from the tray and then twirling ever so slightly at the end and halting pressure on the bag at the same time. At first I tried piping spirals – this made wonkier shapes, especially since I’m not a piping pro. Spank the bottom of the trays to release air bubbles (dooo iiitt – the second time I made these I realised that it did actually make a difference).
7. Let trays rest at room temperature for 30-90 minutes. Irina’s neat trick for testing if they’re ready: touch one lightly and it should feel dry, and not stick to your finger.
8. Once the shells are dry, fire up your oven to 150C (300F), with a rack centered (for softer shells try 140C/280F, but bake for 16 mins). Once up to temperature, add trays and close the door, letting bake for 10 minutes before checking. The edges should be slightly darker than the batter was. If not, bake another 2-5 minutes. Do not be tempted to take them out if the edges have not changed colour slightly, otherwise they will stick to the paper more.
9. Once cooked, let cool completely on the tray (15 minutes should do it), placed on cooling racks. The tray should feel cool.
10. If using baking paper: try not to get them off the paper by gripping the edges and pulling, as this will leave more of the cookie base slightly stuck to the paper. Instead, I find peeling them off gently works a charm. If they are stuck, Helene suggests either popping the cookies back into the oven (in the case that they may be slightly undercooked) for a few minutes, or spraying under the paper with water (only lightly!), then trying to peel them off. I’d then let them dry non-glossy sides up.
10. Make your filling and either pipe it onto the macarons or spoon on (I just spooned – flag washing the pastry bag again!). Spooning will be less neat but otherwise it’s fine. Then place similar sized shells on top, pressing down to make the icing come to the edges of the shells.
Salted butter caramel buttercream icing (sounds as ridiculously good as it is!)
makes about 2 1/2 c (I didn’t measure though) – you will have leftover, but you can either frost some cupcakes or put it in oatmeal or whatever. Lasts just under a week in the fridge, covered.
There are plenty of buttercream recipes, but this one is pretty easy even though you need to make caramel. It’s also relatively failproof and unfussy.
For the salted caramel (based on Irina’s dry caramel method in this mousse post – she has great step by step photos that you should check out before trying this)
- 1/3c plain white sugar
- 40g salted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1/2c (125ml) whipping cream
Start by getting out all your measured ingredients, a metal whisk, and a saucepan or semi deep frypan that has a lightly coloured cooking surface. Heat the pan on medium heat, and sprinkle a thin, even layer of sugar over the surface of the pan. Do not get impatient at this stage and leave, whatever you do.
Once the sugar melts, sprinkle another layer on – it should now melt pretty quick – and continue this process until all the sugar is gone. Swirl the pan around to ensure even browning. The sugar will go golden, then golden brown. Once all the sugar is melted and quite brown but not coffee brown or black, add the butter lumps and whisk in. Once mostly incorporated, add a splash of cream, and whisk in – be careful as it will bubble a lot. Repeat until all the cream is gone. Once cream is fully incorporated and things stop bubbling all crazy, remove the pan from the heat and let come to room temperature. It may develop something like a skin, but when you mix that through you don’t notice it one bit.
Now for the buttercream starter:
- 95g salted butter, cubed and softened* (or unsalted if you only want the saltiness to be a background flavour)
- a few Tablespoons of icing (confectioners/powdered) sugar
* I do this on medium low heat in the microwave, but if it’s a hot day you can let it come to room temperature while the caramel is cooling.
In a medium sized deep bowl, beat butter on high speed until paler and creamy. Add icing sugar and beat in until you can no longer see it (I say a few because I think mine were a tad sweeter than necessary, so next time I will start with one, rather than the 3-4 I used). Pour in the cooled caramel and fold in (just swirl your beaters around until it’s combined and incorporated). Then turn your beaters back on and beat until thick enough that, when lifted out of the pan, the beaters leave caves in the mixture. All done! Now just lick those beaters clean and fill up those macarons!
…oh and don’t forget to try one!