This weekend, I decided to take on French macarons, which are those almondy little sandwich cookies you find in gourmet bakeries. They are often made in pretty pastel colors with all kinds of different fillings, like chocolate ganache, pistachio cream, or raspberry preserves. I think they look so wonderfully darling, and I've wanted to try making them so badly ever since I had my first macaron.
So I made them. Twice. Once, I spent a lot of time calculating everything, sifting and timing and measuring and leveling. It took about 2 hours from start to finish. The second time, I think I whipped them out in under an hour with a little less care and a lot more fun. So, I'm gonna share with you the pictures I took during Trial #1 (which probably contributed to it taking so much time), and then add some tips that I learned during Trial #2 when I actually knew what I was doing.
I used this recipe from Martha Stewart, because--let's be honest--it's Martha Stewart. The recipe is awesome. The pictures of all the mess and insanity are all mine. So here's my adventure!
So first, the ingredients list is like this:
3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 egg whites
a pinch of cream of tartar
1/2 cup superfine sugar
The two ingredients here that might stump you as it stumped me are the almond flour and superfine sugar. I knew kinda how to deal with superfine sugar if you don't have some in your pantry. Basically, you can make your sugar superfine by putting some regular granulated sugar in your blender/food processor, and pulverizing it a bit to make it more powdery.
The first time I did it, and the second time, I didn't make it superfine at all and just used regular granulated sugar. I saw no texture difference, so my recommendation is to not sweat it and just use regular sugar if that's all you got.
The almond flour was a more puzzling specimen. I did some reading, and apparently you can make your own almond flour by putting almonds in a coffee grinder or blender and grinding it until you have a nice fluffy powder.
I used blanched slivered almonds because I wanted to make it more uniform in color, but I'm sure you can use whole almonds and everything would be just fine.
So, then you're supposed to sift the almond flour. Twice. During Trial #1, I sifted once because I felt like I had to sorta obey the recipe (but apparently too lazy to obey completely?). During Trial #2, I said to heck with sifting, and just went with unsifted almond flour. Again, I honestly don't taste the difference between the two, and my friend even commented that he likes tasting little bits of almond in the cookie. Score! Less time sifting, more time for knitting later. [I totally acknowledge that I'm no French pastry chef and I'm not bucking French tradition; I just want to make my own life easier]
Here's me sifting like a fool during Trial #1. Loser.
Anyways, so now I had my almond flour ready, and I combined it with a cup of confectioner's sugar by pulsing it together in my food processor.
This part I do recommend doing, because the end result is a beautiful, homogeneous powder that doesn't look at all like it used to be two different substances.
Okay, so then I set that almond powder mixture aside in the fridge. I didn't want the almond oil to exude out (I'm really not sure that's the right verb, but you know what I mean) by leaving it out on the warm countertop, so I thought it best to stick the bowl in the fridge while I took care of the eggs. I think this was a good call; I did it both times.
Now, the eggs. I was very very careful to separate the eggs so that not a drop of yolk got into the egg whites. This is probably an important step, but I did manage to get a little smidgen of yolk into the mix the second time I did it. Eh. Whatever.
So if you have an electric mixer of some sort, go ahead and set it on super high speed and let the eggs get foamy.
Electric hand beaters are also excellent tools for this. Whip until the eggs get kinda foamy, then add in a pinch (I used 1/8 tsp) of cream of tartar.
If you don't have this stuff in your spice collection, I would really recommend it. It's a magic substance that helps make foamy eggs get super awesome and tall and fluffy.
Okay, so then I kept whipping until I got soft peaks (the kind that sorta slump over gently). Once I was at that stage, I added the superfine (or maybe not so fine...) sugar until it was dissolved, and whipped some more until you get stiff peaks (no slumping over). The egg whites should look kinda shiny and glossy.
Now, you want to do this part by hand. Gently sprinkle in little bits of the almond flour mixture into the egg whites, and fold fold fold. I fold batter by kinda inserting my rubber spatula into the batter like a knife, then take a spatula-full of batter and turn it over onto itself.
After you've done that, you should have a fluffy substance. This the point at which you can add color! I did yellow, green, and blue. Here are some of my colors...
Now, this part is kinda fun and messy. You want to use a piping bag fixed with a plain, round tip. Then, you fill the bag with your mix and gently squeeze out small circles of batter onto a lined baking sheet.
Here's where things went terribly wrong during Trial #1. So, when I say small circles, make them small circles. No more than 1/2 or 3/4" when you pipe it.
Because the batter will level out a little and make them wider. And secondly, if you make them too big, like these ones down here, you end up making them not structurally sound enough to hold its fluffy self up, and they'll collapse in the middle.
I kid you not. Consequences will become evident in the pictures to follow.
There's a little trick with the oven too. When you're preheating the oven, preheat it to 375F. But then just before you put your first batch into the oven, lower the temperature down to 325F. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the pan 90 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. Let the pan sit out for a couple minutes, then transfer the parchment paper or silicon sheets onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.
So remember when I told you about the size of the macarons when you're piping them? Here are the ones where I piped them small.
Here are the ones where I piped them bigger and bigger because I'm an impatient soul.
As my friend said, now we know there's a reason why macarons are so little. It's not because the French want their food to be dainty, it's because there's an actual scientific reason behind it. Le sigh.
But moving on. After the cookies have cooled and you have very gently removed them from the parchment paper or baking silicon (I ran a steak knife underneath each of them to coax the cookies off the sheet), you can construct them.
Fillings can vary hugely. I decided to use dark chocolate frosting, strawberry jam, and vanilla buttercream frosting. I liked the chocolate best.
So you want to put a tiny layer of filling in the middle. Don't overdo it. It's not a whoopie pie, you really need to be able to appreciate the almondiness of the cookies, so the filling should be minimal.
So, here is my first collection of macarons from Trial #1. All different sizes, super awkward like a middle school choir concert.
And here is my collection from Trial #2, where I basically (a) got lazy on sifting, (b) got lazy on making superfine sugar, (c) got lazy on color differences, BUT i piped them smaller. And I think it really paid off, they look much cuter and taste just as yummy!
Anyways, thanks so much for coming on this macaron adventure with me! I'm so glad I followed my instincts and made a second batch so I can reinforce the lessons I learned the first time. Hope you enjoyed this [too honest] tutorial!
OH, and by the way, I'm on Instagram. My username is sunnysideuprecipes (duh). Follow me :)
Here is the original recipe:
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 3/4 cup almond flour
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup superfine sugar
- Pulse confectioners' sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.
- Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.
- Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)
- Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.