veronimama bakes: the comprehensive guide to french macarons

Even though I have zero interest in starting a food blog of any kind, I love love love to bake, and it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’m pretty proud that I’ve reached the point that I can whip up a pretty rockin’ last minute sweet without any recipe, using what I have laying around. This definitely takes a ton of trial and error, and a solid understanding of how different ingredients work. That being said, one of my favorite things to bake is French Macarons, which follow none of the basic rules for baking. These babies need a special touch, and everyone’s touch is different. There are hundreds of different recipes floating around, each claiming to produce perfect macarons, but if you don’t know your own touch, they aren’t going to work. SO! I’ve compiled all my trial and error with macarons, and done my best to add my own tips and tricks to the vast internet corner devoted to all the people crying on the floor next to their oven while they watch their hard work crack and melt. (been there done that)

These pictures are from my most favorite instagram to drool over…. JennaRaeCakes. These girls have mastered the macaron and make some of the most beautiful pastries I have ever seen.

I’m not even going to try to explain why these are the best cookie on the face of the earth because if you don’t already know, go eat one. Then come back. It’s undisputable that these are the most gorgeous, most perfectly delicate but packed with flavor, cookie.

They are also the most pretentious, difficult to bake, fussy to eat cookie ever, which is why baking them is a total hit or miss for me. Sometimes I’ll have three perfect batches in a row, sometimes the first one will suck so I’ll just get pissed off and give up, or sometimes it’s like every other sheet tray goes in the garbage. Totally unpredictable and almost entirely based on luck. My success rate has gone way up recently, I hope I’m finally getting the hang of it!

That all being said, when they work, they’re great. Like angels-bursting-from-the-heavens-and-singing-your-praises-great. Which is why I am obsessed with baking them. They’re manic depressive cookies.

If for some reason you think the thrill and anxiety of these sounds like your kinda thing, here is the recipe I use, with all my techniques and tweaks I’ve made for myself along the way.

Disclaimer: This recipe is SO LONG. But I promise, if you want to make perfect French Macarons, it’s worth reading. (So are all the others floating around. Look around on Pinterest and read as many “how-to” recipes as you can. The more you know….)

Note: The base recipe I use comes from Beth’s Foolproof French Macarons on YouTube. I highly recommend watching it before attempting these. Out of all the videos and recipes I looked at, hers was the most detailed and gave me the best results. Most recipes are very very similar since macarons are all about ratios. Another really good recipe that uses the same ratios is from Not So Humble Pie.

  • 3 egg whites  –  set your eggs out on the counter at least 3 hours before you start baking, to bring them to room temp. Super important for getting a stiff meringue.
  • 50 g superfine (caster) sugar  –  since this is being added to the meringue, the finer the better so you don’t disturb the delicate chemistry of the eggs. If you don’t have any, throw normal granulated sugar in the blender and pulse for a few seconds til it gets a little more powdery.
  • 200 g confectioners sugar  –  do not use the cheap kind. buy the Dominos 10-x powdered sugar. I promise you it makes all the difference in the world. Cheap powdered sugar is the worst.
  • 120 g almond flour  –  all I’ll say is the finer the better. regardless of what brand you get (I use Bob’s Red Mill Super Fine Almond Flour), make sure you put it through a sieve with the powdered sugar and don’t use the big pieces that won’t pass through. Otherwise your macarons will be bumpy and more likely to not rise.
  • pinch of salt  –  again, finer the better. If you have popcorn salt, use that.
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar  –  don’t skip this.

Notes:

  1. Macarons hate fat/grease. Make sure that all the equipment you use is totally clean. If you want to be anal about it  (I am) you can wipe everything down with lemon juice. It eats up all the fat and leaves everything super clean.
  2. Weather is huge. If it’s humid, don’t even try. If it’s really hot, give it up. If it’s raining, forget it. A dry and cool day is the perfect weather for these. If I have to make them in the summer, we close all the windows and turn on the AC while I’m baking.
  3. Get all your supplies out and ready. I always tell Brian that he’s on-call while I make them in case I need some last minute help. Once these get going, they move quickly and you can’t waste any time fumbling around for a spatula or piping bag.
  4. I don’t own a stand mixer, so I use a KitchenAid hand mixer with the whisk attachment. I absolutely love it, and it really helps you get your meringues perfectly stiff. You don’t need the whisk attachment, but it definitely helps.
  5. Parchment paper. You need it. This will help with the fat issue, burning in the oven, and cooling the cookies. I’ve never tried using a SilPat, but I’ve heard horrible things.
  6. Food coloring/flavor is great, but it tends to mess with the consistency if you’re not careful. I’d leave it out the first few times. Believe me, these are great even when they’re plain.
  7. If you do use food coloring or flavor, use gel or powdered for both, and add it to your meringue right after you reach the perfect stiffness.

Here we go…

  1. Measure out your almond flour and powdered sugar into a bowl. Mix it a little with a spoon, then pass the entire mixture through a sieve. Weigh the leftover big pieces that are too big to pass through, and be sure to replace that same amount with the finer mixture. You want the final weight of your sifted flour/sugar to weigh 320g. Now, sift the mixture at least 2 more times.
  2. Separate your egg whites into a medium/large bowl that has no fat residue. With your mixer on low, beat the whites for about three minutes just to loosen them up and break all the membranes. Gradually increase the speed and beat til the eggs are foamy. Add your cream of tartar and beat til incorporated. Slowly add the caster sugar and salt in very small amounts while continuing to beat the eggs. Keep beating until you’ve reached a very stiff meringue. When you pull your beaters out of the egg, the points should not droop at all. Not even a little bit.
  3. Now is when I call Brian in. Shit’s about to get serious. This is where you can make or break your macarons. I get out my most flexible spatula (wiped with lemon) and he dumps 1/8th of the flour/sugar mixture in, I fold the egg into the flour, maybe 10 turns before I have him dump the next 1/8th in. You want to just fold the egg whites around the flour to incorporate it. Once you’ve added the last bit of flour, continue to fold a little more aggressively til it’s incorporated. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl while you work. You want your mixture to be like thick lava. Stretchy. Not too loose, not too tight. Not totally smooth, but not super lumpy. Precise, right? This is why these are a pain. You don’t fully understand what the consistency should be until you’ve done it right and wrong enough times to recognize what it should look like. All I can recommend is that you watch as many YouTube videos as you can find on this. Undermixing will leave your macarons bumpy and flat, overmixing will leave your macarons cracked, flat, and hollow. When you scoop some up, you want it to fall from your spatula in chunks that stretch a little. Perfect mixing will result in cute little smooth macarons with beautiful feet!
    1. What are feet, you ask? Only the most sought after macaron feature. These are how you know you’ve succeeded. Feet are the little raised section under the flat puffy part that gives macarons their signature style. These will start to show up about 6 minutes into the oven, and will make or break your day. Or week, if you’re like me. I may or may not have cried while sitting in front of the oven once. Brian may or may not have a video of it. (I actually don’t remember)
  4. So once you think you’re done mixing, you want to pour all your batter into a piping bag. You won’t need a tip for this, just cut the bag so you can pipe about a half inch thick. You’re going to pipe a bunch of little circles as big or as small as you want, but all the same size. Make sure your bag is totally vertical, and keep the tip in one place while squeezing so the batter spreads into it’s own perfect circle. (Don’t pipe in a spiral) Ideally, your circles will hold their shape, but any peak that you leave from piping should kind of “melt” into the cookie leaving a flat top. If it doesn’t, that’s an indication that you may not have mixed enough. If it doesn’t even hold a shape, you def mixed too much.
  5. This next step is super easy but super important. Once all your circles are piped, take your cookie sheet, place it on the floor, and slam it flat on the ground a few times. I like to keep one finger on each side of the parchment paper so it doesn’t slide around while I bang it. This will help all of the air bubbles rise to the top of the cookie. Good macarons don’t have air. If my batter seems thicker than normal, I’ll slam these trays like 30 times til they start to flatten out. The guys who live downstairs probably hate me.
  6. Next step, set your cookie sheets off to the side somewhere to dry for 30 min to an hour. You want the top of the macarons to be slightly tacky to the touch, but dry enough that they don’t stick to your finger. The tighter the top, the less chance of cracking. The idea is that when they bake, they won’t be able to expand out, they’ll have to expand up, giving you feet. (yay!) I’d say minimum dry time is 45 min, max is about 3 hours before I start getting worried.
  7. The oven. Ohhhhh the oven. So the recommended temp is anywhere from 290 to 320F. I usually go with 290F, but I can’t make any promises. You definitely don’t want any moisture in your oven, so I usually open and close the door a few times while it’s preheating. I do about 16 min total, sometimes I rotate after 9. Toward the end, I like to reach in and try to pick one off the sheet. If its loose enough to pop off, they’re ready. If its at all sticky, they need a few more minutes. The bottoms brown really easily, so watch them closely.
  8. When I pull them out, I usually slide the entire sheet of parchment onto the counter to cool, so the bottoms don’t have to sit on the hot tray, and so I don’t accidentally ruin one before it’s cool.

That’s about it! I can’t promise these will be perfect, but practice makes more perfect than if you didn’t practice at all 🙂

By this point if my macarons have worked out, I’m usually too stressed to deal with the filling, so I leave that for another day. And I’ll leave that for another post, too. Package your macarons really well in a tupperware with parchment between each layer, wrap it with saran wrap, and pop it in the freezer til the day before you frost. Let them thaw in the fridge for a day and that evening you’ll have a perfect macaron shell ready to frost.

Best of luck! May the odds be ever in your favor. May the force be with you. Boldly go where no man has gone before.

 

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