A work in Progress
There are fabulous macaron sites out on the blogosphere. You only have to do a search on 'macaron' to find a multitude of information.
Some of my favourite sites are: Audax Artifex; Mercotte; Mélanger; Mowielicious; Syrup and Tang; Tartlette; Trissalicious; For fantastic information, visit Bravetart1 & Bravetart2 (added 16-08-11). Great tips and info on problems including hollow macarons (macawrongs).
Granted, they're not the easiest thing to master, but if you are prepared to experiment a little, use a little trial and error, a little patience and persistence, you will eventually make the most delightful little macarons. In the process, even if they don't turn out picture perfect, they will still taste fantastic.
Some useful information:
(from information I have compiled off the web in the last 2 years and from my notes that I made from a class that I did at Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School in Melbourne Australia)
Almond meal (ground almond)
The almond meal we buy in Australia is too wet and has a coarse texture. To achieve the smooth flat tops typically associated with macarons, first dry the almond meal. Leave it out on your bench, covered, for a few days. Alternatively, you can spread it out on a baking tray and place it in the oven at 150˚C (350˚F) for 5 minutes and then cool it down completely. This also helps release the flavour from the nuts. Make sure you keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Other nuts also work perfectly well for macarons, but taste different to almonds. You can substitute any nut flour/meal such as cashews or hazelnuts. You can even add in sesame seeds or poppy seeds.
Tant pour tant (French for half and half)
Tant pour tant is a mixture of equal amounts of almond meal (ground almond) and superfine (castor) or confectioner’s (icing) sugar. It is ground in a food processor into fine granules or powder. The fine sugar helps to grind the nuts and also absorbs the oil from the nuts. Most recipes state, that to get a delicate smooth macaron, sift the almond powder through a fine sieve at least twice. I haven’t found this necessary, as my food processor is quite powerful.
Egg whites are usually aged out on the bench for 2 to 3 days. Place them in a glass container covered with plastic wrap and cut a small slit in the top of the wrap. This helps them to dehydrate. Alternatively, they can be microwaved for 10 - 20 seconds on medium high, which will give the same results. Egg whites must be at room temperature as they whip and hold better at room temperature. Dried egg white can also be added (2% of the egg white volume) to tighten and stabilize the meringue to give it slightly more holding time but this is optional. This is added at the soft peak stage. Three large egg whites will weigh approximately 100 grams.
Whipping egg white increases the volume and incorporates air. Because of its low surface tension and the stability of the surface, the egg white forms a foam. Start beating slowly, gradually increasing speed.
The stiffness of the meringue can be determined by it’s appearance, the height of peaks and the extent to which the point bends over when the egg beater is lifted out of the meringue, and also how it flows when the bowl is partially inverted.
Soft peak: When slightly whipped, air bubbles are large and the egg white appears foamy, transparent, and very runny. With more beating the bubbles become smaller, the egg white less transparent, whiter and still flows if the bowl is partially inverted.
Slip and streak stage: The egg white has soft peaks and it will hold the shape of a bird’s beak.
Stiff peak: The egg white becomes stiffer as it is beaten and as the air bubbles divide and become smaller. The amount of egg white utilized in forming films is greater. The small air bubbles with fine cell walls are stronger and more rigid than a few large cells. The eggwhite becomes very white, begins to lose a little of the moist, shiny appearance, and is stiff and rigid. When the bowl is inverted, the egg white does not flow and remains in the bowl and the end of peaks stand up straight.
Dry: If the egg is left to stand, the watery fluid collects at the bottom of the bowl more slowly. With longer beating the eggwhite becomes dry, loses its shine and becomes curdled and patchy.
Sugar increases the stability of whisked egg white. Either superfine (castor) sugar or confectioner’s (pure icing) sugar is used as the smaller particles assist with aeration. The best amount of sugar is approximately 4 (to 5) tablespoons per egg white.
Cream of tartar (an acid salt) is generally used to condition the protein of the egg white and also helps the structure providing tenderness and stability of the foam - 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar per egg white is used for this purpose. Lemon juice can also be used (1-1/2 teaspoons).
This must not be oil based, as oil will destabilize the egg white. The Intensity will depend on the food coloring used. Concentrated food colouring has more intensity than powdered food colouring. The cooked macarons will be lighter than the uncooked macronage, so don't be shy adding a little more than you think is necessary.
Some recipes say to add salt. Salt decreases the ability of the egg white to whisk, increases beating time and also decreases stability. It is better to add salt to the dry ingredients if you are adding it.
Humidity is the macarons enemy. Don’t make macarons on wet and muggy days.
Types of meringue used in Macarons
There are three methods for whipping egg whites for macarons; the uncooked meringue methods - French and Spanish, and the Italian meringue method using hot sugar syrup. All methods should produce similar macarons. The most important things are learning how to macronner and getting to know your oven.
For small batches, French and Spanish methods are faster and easier.
The French Method
The French method deflates quickly and is too unstable for large batches. This method involves whipping raw egg whites to a simple medium stiff foam (soft peak) then gradually adding castor sugar (1/3 at a time) to tighten and stabilize the meringue (stiff peak stage). You should end up with a glossy meringue that can be turned upside down without falling out of the bowl. The meringue is then mixed with the tant pour tant for the macronage stage as documented below. The texture of the finished macarons is very tender. French macarons are baked at approximately 150˚C.
The Spanish Method
The Spanish method is very similar to the French method except that the macarons are baked at a higher degree (160 to 165˚C) for a shorter time (approx 9 – 10 minutes) and extra confectioner’s (icing) sugar is added and sifted into the almond/sugar mixture (tant pour tant). The extra sugar gives the meringue better structure. The down side is that there is a tendency to get air bubbles in the finished batter.
The Italian meringue method is better for large batches. The egg whites are whisked until the volume is approximately 8 to 10 times the original. It is then combined with a hot sugar syrup. The meringue is more stable and gives more consistent results than the French or Spanish methods. There is more scope for playing with the batter. You can divide the batter and add different colours and flavours. The batter is softer and shinier and you don't have to dry the piped macarons as long. It may seem a little difficult at first, as the meringue and the sugar syrup must be ready at the same time, but it really is very easy once you have tried it and well worth the effort. Italian macarons are baked at approximately 150˚C.
(I prefer this method and have not had a failure yet)
Preparing the Hot Syrup for the Italian method
Get the hot syrup organized first. You will need to use a candy thermometer. The sugar and water are combined in a small pan then stirred continuously with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. It is then brought to the boil. It isn’t stirred once it has come to the boil. The heat is reduced to medium and the sides of pan brushed down with a clean, wet pastry brush. This is to remove sugar crystals and prevent grain forming. When the syrup reaches 115˚C (soft ball stage), start mixing the egg whites using a medium speed.
The egg whites are whisked until they appear foamy, then cream of tartar is added. Then it is whisked further until they reach the slip and streak stage and the volume is approximately 8 to ten 10 the original. It is important not to overbeat at this stage. Use a medium to medium-high speed to get a stable foam with uniformed sized air bubbles (speed 6 on Kitchen Aide). A small pinch of dried egg white can be added at this stage to tighten and stabilize the meringue.
Adding the Hot Syrup
When the sugar syrup reaches 118˚C, it is removed from the stove and immediately poured down the side of the mixing bowl into the whipping egg whites. Recipes I have read vary from 118 to 121˚C, so don’t worry to much if it goes over a little. Be careful not to get it on the whisk, causing splattering and possible burns.
The volume of the whipped egg whites visibly increases. Colour is now also mixed in. Mixing is continued at medium speed until the mixing bowl is cool to the touch and the meringue has thickened and reached a workable temperature of around 35˚C.
Adding the tant pour tant
Before folding with the meringue, the dry ingredients (tant pour tant) are first mixed with a small portion of raw egg whites in a separate bowl to form a relatively firm paste. This is continuously mixed with a whisk so it doesn’t ball.
How to ‘Macaronner’
(or mixing the tant pour tant and the meringue) - this technique is used for the Italian, Spanish and French methods.
The meringue is transferred to a large flat mixing bowl for the Macaronage stage. This is the most critical stage in mixing. The batter has to be mixed to just the right consistency where it is supple and shiny. If the batter is over mixed, too many air bubbles will be deflated. You'll end up with flat, cracked, tough and chewy macarons. Air bubbles are needed to expand with the heat in the oven. This pushes the top of the macaron up to expose the wet part of the batter. If stirred to little, the macarons won't have feet and they will have a peak on their tops.
You will need to do between 40 and 50 turns all up (sliding the spatula under the batter, then lifting and dropping the batter back on itself, always working in one direction and turning the bowl by 1/4 turns at the same time).
Use a spatula to first fold and deflate the batter, mixing the tant pour tant, one-third at a time, into the whipped egg whites. For the first few turns, work fast and be a little robust as you want to knock out some of the air as you mix the meringue and the tant pour tant together (it's different to making meringue for cakes where you have to be delicate). When you have the tant pour tant nearly mixed in (you don't want to knock too much air out either) slow down a little.
As you work the oils from the almonds batter will become looser.
Within a few turns it will change from a dull gritty surface with ridges and lines to a smooth, shiny surface and to what is described as thick flowing magma. In reality, who has seen magma before? This basically means that when you lift and drop the batter back on itself, after waiting for about 30 seconds, the ridges slowly ooze back into the batter.
Your batter is now ready to pipe.
If you see peaks after you have piped one whole row, it's not ready. Put it back into the mixing bowl and give it a few more turns. When piped, rap the tray a few times on the bench top to get rid of air bubbles. You can also use a wet finger to flatten out the peaks, but you will have under mixed macarons with possible rough areas on your macarons.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.
Spoon the mixture into the piping bag with a #11 - 1cm (1/2 inch round piping tip). The piping bag can be stood upright in a large jug. Silpat mats are preferable to parchment paper as the macarons are easier to remove. When using parchment paper, you may have to steam them off using a spray mist. If using parchment paper, you can draw 2.5cm rounds with a pencil on one side then use the reverse side.
The tip of the piping bag is held perpendicularly over the sheet to pipe the batter (which should be dropped rather than piped). Pipe batter into 2.5cm rounds across the tray stepping alternate rows diagonally 2.5cm apart. Pipe from the middle with the tip about 1cm (½ inch) above. The rounds will spread somewhat. To finish each macaron, the piping tip is flicked upwards with a twist of the wrist to finish or a reverse C can be used to cut off the batter then moved to the next position. If this is done correctly, there should shouldn’t be a nipple on the top, which will should flatten out relatively quickly.
After piping the first row of macarons, look back at the first one and see if the top has flattened out nicely. If not, scrape the batter up and mix to correct it (if under mixed), or add further tant pour tant (if over mixed) or start again. Even if the macarons are not perfect, they will still taste fabulous. When piping is completed, bang the baking sheets a few times against the bench to remove any air bubbles and even out the piped rounds. For the French and Spanish method, the piped macarons are then left to rest until they form a skin and are dry to the touch - about 20 to 30 minutes or more. Touch to see if they are dry and not sticking to your finger. The heat from the oven causes air bubbles to expand inside the piped batter, which pushes up the top dry skin of the macaron. This in turn reveals the inner wet part of the batter at the base and the formation of the “foot” of the macaron. If they are not dried out sufficiently, the batter will expand outwards and it will crack as it bakes. With the Italian method, the batter dries more quickly and they can be baked straight away (if you are game).
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Preheat convection oven to 150 - 160˚C or conventional to 160 - 170˚C. This is dependent on the recipe and method used and your oven. Note: But first, get to know your oven. Be prepared to experiment a little, use a little trial and error, a have a little patience and persistence as every oven is different. It will pay off in the long run. Convection ovens take less time and conventional oven take longer. Test your oven for hot spots. I use bottom heat only in my oven as the top heat browns the macarons too quickly. It is a good idea to do a practice run with only a few macarons and experiment with your oven to get it right.
Use an insulated baking tray (special double baking sheets that are ideal for macarons – I found mine in the supermarket and they were relatively cheap $14.95 AUD) or alternatively use two baking sheets (one on top of the other without a gap in between) and lay a piece of parchment or silpat on the doubled baking sheet.
Baking time may vary also. Generally, bake macarons for approximately 12 minutes but timing can be up to 17 minutes depending on your oven type and the size of the macarons. It is very important to keep an eye on the baking progress at the tail end of baking time to adjust as necessary. Open the oven and put your finger on one of the macarons. It should be firm with the slightest amount of give. If it wobbles, they require another minute or so.
Once baked, remove the tray from oven and leave the macarons to cool down on a rack before removing from the mat or paper. Don’t pull them from the paper. They should slide easily off the paper once cooled. If they don't place them in the freezer for a few seconds and they will come off more easily. You can also use a spatula, but be careful as the feet can tear. You can also Spritz with a spray water bottle between the parchment paper and tray. This causes steam and helps to loosen the macarons, but they must not be left for too long or they become too moist.
Pair up similar sized macarons, with one macaron turned face up. Pipe approximately a teaspoon of filling on to the turned up macaron, twist the pair together until filling comes just to the edges of the macarons. Place in a small paper cup cake patty to set.
Keep the unfilled shells in a container in the fridge and they will be more tender. Macarons can also be frozen either with filling or without. Freezing has a tenderizing effect but at the same time, the shells will be weaker than before being frozen. To defrost, remove the macarons from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator overnight. This minimizes condensation on the shells but also gives them a bit of shininess.
large flat mixing bowl
electric mixer or Kitchen Aide
sugar saucepan (cheap nonstick supermaket type works well)
insulated baking sheets - so bottoms of macarons don't burn and you get nice little foot.
For a brilliant book on making macarons 'Les Petits Macarons' - go to this site.
http://www.lespetitsmacarons.com and watch their video on http://www.lespetitsmacarons.com/Video.html
If you are looking for the violet flavouring , it comes from a French company:
Sevarome- Z.A La Guide 1 43200, Yssingeaux Z.I. La Guide, France
Tél : +33 4 71 59 04 78
Fax : +33 4 71 65 54 24
There is a distributor in Melbourne, Australia:
IMPORT OF FRANCE
Unit 6/38 Thorton Crescent,
Mitcham VIC 3132
Phone: (+61 3) 98723945
Fax: (+61 3) 98740199
Or you can find it in smaller bottles
Shop 5-7 Port Phillip Arcade
232 Flinders St, Melbourne
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel.: (+ 61 3) 9654 5335