Last week over the hottest ever July on record, I had the task of producing 350 macarons and a cake for a wedding that coming weekend. Not the most enviable task from my little kitchen with ‘air-con’ that consists of opening every door and window – lucky I like a challenge! On the morning of the big day I dressed the trees in foliage and flowers and decorated them with the colourful macarons; yellow with vanilla ganache and berry gel, pink with a rose and lychee ganache with raspberry and purple with a red fruits gel and ganache. The remaining adorned a macaron tower and topped off a blackberry and vanilla cake. It’s always a little nerve-wracking to produce something for such a special day but happily the bride and groom loved the results and I received some great feedback from guests, so job done!
The great thing about producing big batches of macs’ is the insight it gives you into finding a recipe that works. Certain factors like the oven and type of food colouring you’re using affect results and so it takes practice to develop a method that works for you. There’s a huge amount of information on the internet to be sought on de-mystifying the art of the macaron but it’s often contrasting and I find it can even have the opposite effect as you start overthinking and changing methods unnecessarily. At college when learning how to make macarons they always turned out perfectly. Granted we had a pastry chef for a tutor on hand and huge professional ovens that made for more consistent results but the main thing I remember is not perceiving the macaron as a scary, unpredictable monster but rather the relatively simple little baked almond shell that it actually is.
So, while I’m about to add to the pool of information out there with the recipe that I use, I just want to reiterate that if you’re trying it out start by taking a deep breath and relax! This the recipe I learnt at college, the quantities are the same as Pierre Hermes’ with techniques drawn from all over the place. The temperature I bake the macarons what works in my Stoves electric mini-range cooker – it’s low at 120’C but any hotter and I find they brown before they’re cooked. I’ve also noted that the more food colouring you use, the more it alters the length of time the macarons will need cooking so it’s an idea to start with paler colours. I also recommend you test small batches in your oven at different temperatures until you find the maximum then work out the length of time they need cooking from there.
Macaron Recipe – Makes 70
300g ground almonds
300g icing sugar
110g egg white
300g caster sugar
110g egg white
Food colour – I use Sugarflair pastes but powders work well too
- Start by lining your baking sheets with parchment and preparing a piping bag with a 7mm round nozzle. I’d also totally recommend making a template that you can reuse. I made mine by drawing around a shot glass onto paper, colouring the circles in then scanning the sheet so I could save it and print more as needed. Make sure the circles are not too close together so the mac’s don’t end up touching and have plenty of room for the air to circulate around them when cooking.
- Weigh out the two egg white quantities – one into a small bowl the other into a clean, grease free food mixer bowl with the whisk attachment added. If I’m making a large batch I use separated egg whites for the meringue and Two Chicks liquid whites into the almond mix – I simply cannot get pasteurised liquid egg whites to whip up as well and if the meringue isn’t stiff you’ll have a harder time getting the macaronage – this way it saves yolks too.
- Measure out the caster sugar and water into a medium size saucepan but don’t stir – even when boiling the sugar otherwise it just ends up stuck to the sides of the pan.
- Sieve the ground almonds with a little extra, massaging it through with your fingers if need be, then throw away the larger grains that won’t go through the sieve before weighing out the correct amount
- Weigh the icing sugar then sieve both together with the pre-sieved ground almonds into a large bowl. What you’re looking for is for the two to be completely mixed. I find one sieve and a stir with a spoon after is is enough to mix them evenly, if you’re not sure just give it another sieve otherwise if there are patches where it’s not mixed thoroughly you can end up with cracked macarons.
- Turn on the heat to medium under the pan and have a thermometer at the ready. You’re looking to bring the syrup to a temperature of between 118’C and 121’C to create your Italian meringue – I aim for 120’C. There’s plenty of advice online saying an Italian meringue isn’t necessary, personally I like it as I find it means more stable batches of macarons regardless of the weather and essential when you’ve 350 to make!
- When the temperature has reached about 115’C, start whisking the egg whites on slow. Number 4 on a Kitchen Aid mixer is ideal. Once the stabilizing bubbles have formed you can turn it up to 6/7 and keep whisking to soft peaks. Keeping an eye on your sugar, turn off the heat when you read 120’C on the thermometer and let the bubbles die down for a moment before turning the speed of the mixer down and pouring the syrup slowly and carefully down the side of the bowl.
- Once all the syrup has been added tune up the speed to high and keep whisking until the meringue is glossy with stiff peaks. If you’re colouring your macarons I like to add the colour now then you can ensure it will be evenly distributed. You might want to a dd a little extra as they will become paler once mixed with the almonds and icing sugar. You can see from my picture of the meringue that is is stiff and not falling off the spatula – that’s the consistency you’re looking for. If it’s runnier it’s not the end of the world, you just need to be careful to work the macaronage less so they don’t end up spreading and mis-shaping.
- Add the other bowl of egg white set aside earlier to your almond mix and with a plastic spatula mix it into a paste. Add a decent spoonful of the meringue and again beat this through to loosen the mix. The add the remaining meringue and start folding it in. Use the spatula to fold the mix and press down and through it as though you’re pressing the air out the of the mix, you can also scrape it agains the side of the bowl.
- Keep working the batter until it starts to get glossy and reaches the ribbon stage. This is when you drop the batter onto itself and it holds briefly on the surface before slowly sinking into the rest of the batter. Imagine that when you’re piping the macarons you don’t want the mix to spread immediately as it’ll lose it’s shape but you also want the peaks left from piping to sink back into themselves. The best description I’ve heard for this is molten lava.
- Once ready, fill you’re piping bag and with the bag vertical pipe into middle of the circles by just gently squeezing the bag until the batter has reached just shy off the edge then move to the next one. If you fill it to the edge they will end up spreading out over the lines and may end up joining forces with a neighbour. Once a tray is piped, slide the template from underneath then holding the tray above the table and dropping it flat onto the surface. By rapping the tray you’re getting any trapped air bubbles out from the macarons that would otherwise cause cracks or uneven rising.
- Next, (put your feet up) leave the macarons about 30 minutes or so until they have formed a skin on top. Once they are no longer sticky on top preheat your oven, I work at 120’C but I’d suggest starting 140/150’C and going from there. Make sure you’re timing them so after a few trays you should get an idea of the temperature and timing that works for your oven. Once they have been in and risen for about 15 minutes you can take out a tray and try removing a macaron from the corner. If the paper peels away easy they’re done. If the top lifts off they need longer. If they almost come off I take them out and leave them for a little while to cool on the tray then try removing them again as the residual heat may well finish them off enough.
- Once cooked and cooled they can be removed from the paper and stored if not using immediately between sheets of baking paper in an air tight container in the fridge, for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to a month. Before finishing with your chosen filling, pair the macarons up so each one has the right size partner and line them up so it’s easier to pipe.
Macarons filled, sit back admire your handy work and get tasting. Don’t despair and bin any that haven’t turned out perfectly, even the less than ideal ones are tasty. Practice makes perfect 😉