I consider myself to be a fairly proficient baker, but I’ve always been intimidated by macarons. They are so dainty and beautiful, so difficult to get right, and so easy to get horribly wrong. I’ve had dreadful macarons at very posh restaurants. I don’t care what anybody says, but it IS surprisingly hard to find a good macaron in the United States. On one memorable occasion I even had inferior macarons from Ladurée. And as for achieving perfection at home and hitting every note – the flawless shiny smooth patina on the shell, the well-risen feet, the ever-so-slightly crisp shell and perfectly yielding, tender interior . . . there is just so much to bollocks up. (I’d use a ruder word, but this is a family friendly site.) Literally for months I stalked macaron recipes online. There are hundreds, if not thousands. And SO much advice, much of it conflicting. To Italian meringue, or not to Italian meringue? Should I age my egg whites? What about the almond flour? Should I grind my own and/or air-dry it?
After loads more research I settled on a recipe that had numerous delighted comments from successful home bakers. It called for Italian meringue, meaning that a hot sugar syrup was beat into the egg whites. From lofty hindsight, I think I know what went wrong: I didn’t get my meringue stiff enough before adding the almonds and powdered sugar, and I added way, WAY too much food coloring paste. Whatever it was that I screwed up, my mixture was grainy, my macaron shells never dried properly before baking, and after baking what I produced looked like toxic day-glo orange cowpats. (Sorry, there are no photographs, as the finished product was relegated to the dustbin of history.)
In despair, I turned to that authoritative, unimpeachable source, Twitter. The lovely @whatjulookinat came to my rescue almost immediately with a recipe that she claimed had never failed her. She referred me to @thebravetart, whom I shall henceforth simply call, “my saviour.” So I should make this very plain: other than the flavourings, the recipe that follows is not AT ALL mine. All credit goes to The Brave Tart, AKA Stella Parks.
Even with my virtual friends cheering me on in 140 characters or less, my next effort still was a failure, by any objective measure:These, I think,were the result of undermixed batter, resulting in unsightly, lumpy macarons.
My third effort, however, were much better – so much so that I’m blogging them. They’re not perfect – the feet protrude, which is probably the result of overmixing.But the height and patina are right, the texture and flavour are lovely, and I now feel like macarons are achievable – all thanks to Stella’s fantastic recipe. So have courage! You can do it too!
It is crucial before you begin, however, that you read Stella’s 10 Myths and 10 Commandments of macaron-making. And since I want to give her all the credit she so richly deserves, this is the link to her recipe for French macarons, in which she brilliantly and with clarity explains exactly what to do. It is not that difficult, if you follow her instructions.
And here is her recipe for Swiss buttercream, which I also used.
I have the following notes:
a) I found that five ounces of egg whites is almost exactly equivalent to the whites of two large eggs.
b) You will need much less food colouring than you think, particularly if you’re using food colouring paste (which I recommend).
c) In London I don’t have a stand mixer. I still made nice macarons using a hand-held mixer.
d) To make orange blossom-saffron-vanilla macarons, (1) omit the vanilla bean/extract and add 1.5 teaspoons orange flower water and a bit of orange food colouring when you have finished mixing your meringue but before stirring in the almond/powdered sugar mixture, and (2) for the filling, add a generous pinch of saffron, bloomed in a tablespoon of hot water (which you have then allowed to cool), two tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar, and two teaspoons vanilla extract to eight ounces of buttercream base.
And here is a pictorial guide to my experience, mainly because photos are fun (and informative!):
Good luck! Go forth and macaron! And have fun!