French Macarons 101

In this post I break down the steps of baking French Macarons, to make it as foolproof as possible. Troubleshooting, FAQ's, tips and tricks all on how to make French Macarons. 

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

French Macarons have become increasingly popular in the American baking world. I resisted making, and even trying some until I went to Paris this past January so I could try the real deal. I figured since I hadn't had any yet, I would hold off and get a taste of some official French Macarons to see what all the fuss was about. 

 I held off for months, while I schemed up how I'd buy them every day we were in Paris, trying all the different flavors I could manage. As soon as we were able to we went into a shop and picked out 6 different flavors, ready to taste the famous treats. Unfortunately, I was severely disappointed. I hate to sound extremely picky, but I was not impressed. Paul loved them, and I though they were disgusting. I wish I was exaggerating. I don't know what it was, but I decided that macarons were just not for me. 

It's been a few months now, and I can truthfully say I have had a change of heart! Lately I've been on a french pastry journey and have been trying more intimidating recipes that I've always wanted to try. I decided to try to make them myself once and for all, and have been working on perfecting them for a while now. Literally multiple batches a day. The first batch I made I was hooked! Maybe I just got a bad macaron in Paris, or maybe an off batch. But the many batches I have made myself have changed me for the better, and I am now officially a fan. Now, I want to share with you all the tips and tricks I learned through lots and lots of research, trial, and error.

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

Macarons are made up of only a few, simple ingredients. With recipes as small and simple as these, it's important to get your measurements right, and to follow the directions very carefully. Especially with French Macarons because they are very finicky

The basic macaron cookies (without any flavoring or coloring), are made up of egg whites, white sugar, powdered sugar, and almond meal/flour. Almond meal/flour is just blanched almonds ground up in the food processor until fine. You can blanch and blend your own almonds, or you can buy pre-ground almond meal/flour at the grocery store. I bought mine, but I plan on trying it out with my own ground almonds soon.

I want to break down the steps and go into detail with each one so you aren't left with any questions when you go to make them. Is it obvious that I have a fear of being unprepared? I just want to make the process as smooth as possible. 

The basic steps are: beat egg whites and sugar to stiff peaks, fold in sifted dry ingredients, pipe onto cookie sheet, let them form skins, and bake until they have feet and are set. Understand? No? Maybe you're wondering why on earth you want "feet" on you cookies. Just keep reading and I'll explain...

 Step 1: Beating the egg whites. It's important to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. This is probably the most important step. Beating them too little or too much will prevent them from rising correctly in the oven and creating feet, and can also cause them to spread and crack.

A few ways to know if you've reached the right consistency of meringue:

stiff peaks- when you pull the beater out of the meringue, the amount on the beater will form a stiff peak. The tip won't be stringy or bend to much, but will stand stiff. Makes sense, doesn't it? If it drips or droops still, it is at the soft peak stage, and needs to be whipped some more.

satin-y- the mixture will be shiny and satin-y.

holds in the bowl- you could literally turn the bowl upside down, and the meringue wouldn't pour out. In theory, of course. (If you do decide to try this, make sure to hold the bowl over your head to test it) ;-)

Here is what stiff peaks look like. 

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

Note: According to proper preparation of French Macarons, you should be using "aged" egg whites. As in, separating the whites and holding them a few days in a bowl, preferably 3-5 days before making the cookies. That's because they loose moisture, making a better macaron. Do I do that? No. They've turned out just fine, but if you have the time to plan ahead I say by all means do it. I try to separate the egg whites and let them sit a few hours if I can plan it. 

It is also said that your egg whites should be room temperature. This just helps them whip up faster, so I honestly don't think it really matters. I've tried both ways, and have not noticed any difference.

Step 2: Folding. Once the egg whites and sugar are beaten to a meringue with stiff peaks, the dry ingredients are folded in. Folding, is a way of gently incorporating the two mixtures together without losing the air bubbles you just worked so hard to create in the egg whites. But at the same time, this step is also necessary to reduce the air bubbles because they will cause the macarons to crack if you don't mix them enough. Did I mention these things are finicky? Very very picky, not too much or too little of anything or they will throw a fit. 

The dry mixture, made up of almond meal and powdered sugar, should be sifted through a sieve, not a sifter. If you have a blender or food processor, process the mixture AND sift through a sieve. Rule of thumb is that your batter can only handle about 2 Tablespoons of the big chunks that won't fit through the sieve. If you have more, process it again until fine. 

Most recipes will say that you want to fold the mixture until it resembles molten lava. I don't know about you, but I don't have too much experience with molten lava, so that is pretty useless to me. With macarons being as sensitive as they are, I think the instructions require a more detailed explanation than "molten lava". 

40-50 folds, if you feel like counting, should bring you within the right range. The batter will be thick, but runny. What I like to do is lift the rubber spatula out of the batter, letting the excess run back into the bowl, and watch to see if the ribbon of batter settles into the rest of the batter, or if the ripples stay after a few seconds. You want it to disappear back into itself, so when you pipe the macarons onto the parchment paper, the peaks you make when lifting up disappear into the macaroon after a few seconds. This way you don't get little peaks on them. 

The batter in this photo is still too thick:

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

This is a better consistency:

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

Step 3: Pipe. Once the batter has been folded 47 times, resembles molten lava, and has you questioning your judgment, transfer it into a piping bag fitted with a big round tip (I use Wilton tip #2A). With your cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, pipe the batter in rows like you would place balls of cookie dough, leaving at least half an inch between each one because they will spread a bit. Hold the tip 1/2 inch over the paper, and hold it there while you squeeze the bag until the batter is about the size of a half dollar. Let off pressure and as you pull the tip up, gently swirl it so you don't create a sharp point lifting off. This takes practice, but if you do end up with peaks on your cookies, wet your fingers and gently push them down. Don't wait too long because once they start to form skins this will be more difficult.

*Another part of the piping step, is banging the sheet on the counter a few times to get the air bubbles out of the cookies. This is really important to do, and will prevent them from cracking in the oven!

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

Step 4: Forming skins. Once you pipe the cookies out you have to let them sit out to form skins before baking them. This can take anywhere from 20-60 minutes, depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.  This step lets them lose moisture and form a skin over the tops, which helps to get those feet I mentioned. If you look at a macaron, it has that signature ruffly texture at the bottom of the cookie. That is what is referred to as the "feet". Never have I been so happy to see feet before. When the macarons are baked after forming a skin, they will rise up instead of spreading out to the sides, creating feet! The moisture and air inside them has to get out somehow, and the skin keeps it from coming out of the top. 

The prettiest feet I ever did see.

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.

How do you test if your macarons are ready to go in the oven? How do you know when the macarons have formed skins? Gently test one by touching your finger to the side of the cookie. It should not be tacky anymore. If they aren't ready it will feel sticky or tacky, and might stick to your finger. 

Step 5: Bake. Once you have gone through all the hoops and you've tested that the cookies have skins, they are ready to bake. Make sure your oven is preheated, and don't forget to set a timer. They bake pretty quickly, about 8-10 minutes is when mine are done. 

How do you tell if your macarons are done? They won't look wet anymore, but shiny is okay. Touch the top of one to see if it has hardened. The feet should not look wet. You can test one by trying to lift it off the parchment paper- if it breaks or collapses they aren't done yet. If it peels off easily that means they are done. Knowing when they are done takes a few batches to really get comfortable with being able to tell.

There you have it! French Macarons 101. I hope I cleared things up for those of you who have had problems with making macarons. Check back soon for a chocolate macaron recipe! 

Tips and tricks to making the perfect French Macarons.