macaron madness (a trip to the lab)

Macarons are a strange pastry. They are comprised of three ingredients: almond powder, egg whites, and sugar, yet they can cause so many problems. I would say there’s at least a 15% chance of me screwing up a batch each time I make them. I figured I should do some research on what happened to my current batch in hopes to never let it happen again and, as a bonus, I will share it all with you.

First off we’ll start with my basic Macaron Batter.

115g almond powder

140g powdered sugar
90g egg whites
60g granulated sugar

I have been using this as the basis for all of my flavors. Checking various recipes over the web and scaling it appropriately, it seems like my recipe is a bit off which could be a problem. I seem to have less eggs and less powdered sugar than most other recipes. Here’s what I believe the recipe should look like:

100g almond powder
200g powdered sugar
120g egg whites (4)
65g powdered sugar

If you would like, you can easily add a few grams of flavoring, chocolate, matcha, rosewater, etc, and everything should work out fine in the end. To make pretty colors I use liquid food coloring.

Assembling the ingredients isn’t very hard. I usually take the almond powder and the powdered sugar and blend them in a food processor; you can also pass them both through a fine mesh drum sifter. I then make the meringue in my stand mixer. The dried goods are then incorporated into the meringue. Sounds easy, right? Here’s where the problems begin.

It is the process of mixing the almond mixture into the meringue is called “macaronage”

Clement over at A La Cuisine has a good write-up on the correct way to achieve macaronage:

The secret to making good macarons is to stir the batter to just the right consistency. Stir too little, and your macarons won’t have feet and will have a peak on their tops. But stir too much, and you’ll end up with flat, cracked, tough and chewy macarons. The best way to check for the correct consistency is to test if peaks in the batter quickly dissolve. I’ve also read that the batter should be mixed just until it ‘flows like magma.’ After the macarons have been piped, it’s important to let them rest until they’ve formed a skin.

Here is what happens when you screw up macaronage:

Apparently I did not mix to the ‘flows like magma’ stage. The feet are non-existent, the tops cracked, and some are hollow. Next time I will make sure to use the best method for checking consistency as listed above.

Even our buddy David Lebovitz had his problems (forgive me while I try not to giggle) getting the correct foot and rise. While his note that true macarons could only be made in France is a load of crap, he did have an interesting discovery: You don’t have to let your macarons sit for hours, just pipe, whack them on the counter, and bake.

One last interesting point to mention is baking temperature. It seems like everyone likes to bake their macarons at a different temperature, too:

Foodgeek 305F
David Lebovitz 375F
Clement 325F (with a spoon in the door!)
Lynn 350F (300F in a convection oven)

I’ve looked at pictures of the final results and they all appear to be identical. I’m not sure why these vary so much but my best suggestion is to experiment a little and use what works for you.

So after much research, I have some new things to try. A new recipe, a few checks to make sure I achieve proper macaronage, no drying, and a new baking temperature. I don’t usually like changing so many things at once, but I’m going to go ahead and do it this one time. I’ll keep you guys updated with my research.

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10 Responses to “macaron madness (a trip to the lab)”

  • Brilynn says:

    I haven’t succeeded yet with macarons… I’m working on it though.. hopefully next time??? Argh!

  • foodie says:

    I’ve had plenty of success with macarons but I have yet to figure out the exact reason why some work and some don’t. I made 5 batches the other day, some came out, some cracked, I had pans that showed BOTH.

    I have two theories:

    The oven matters. The recipe works fine in a 305F convection oven (allowing the macarons to dry out first). I’ve made pans of them when I was working at the restaurant.

    The almond meal matters. I bought some at Trader Joes that isn’t blanched (skin in the grind). I use this for chocolate macarons and it has yet to fail me. I used another variety that was blanched and I have had mixed results. I think I made need to find a higher quality almond meal.

    I have more than enough info for another post on the subject. Stay tuned! :)

  • Alice Q. Foodie says:

    I saw some finely ground almond meal at Peoples – I think it was Bob’s Red Mill though, so you can probably get it at other stores, like Henry’s etc.

    Looking forward to part II, I’ve been wondering about making these at home, but they seem so complicated!

  • foodie says:

    I was actually using Bob’s Red Mill. I don’t think that it’s as good as the stuff that I ordered in bulk. I’m trying some more things out, hopefully I can come up with something that works 80% of the time.

  • amanda says:

    now you see! this is why i haven’t ever done macarons. :-P i would be absolutely frustrated with all my hard work. okay, maybe i’m just afraid. i’m certainly no pastry chef….shit, i barely bake! i would have been throwing things and cursing too ;-) the first post i ever saw of yours was absolutely perfect macarons and i’m still dying to eat one. you ever sell them at farmers markets or anything? I’ll hit you up for a few dozen if you do!

  • foodie says:

    You can’t let the food conquer you so easily! They really are good enough to go through all the trouble. Next time there’s a San Diego foodbloggers meetup, I’ll bring some along.

  • Kady says:

    I heard that TJ’s almond meal doesn’t work for macarons (or macaroons)…but I’m glad to hear it does. That’s a good use for the almond meal in my pantry. Btw, I also posted on almond macarons a while ago and had a similar problem.. but I think it was because it wasn’t a great recipe. The good news is that while they might not look perfect, they still taste great! Looking forward to your research…

  • foodie says:

    If you check out the ‘fruits…’ post, the speckled looking tan macaron was made with TJ’s almond meal. I call them dirty almond (with banana caramel). I think the name fits them :)

  • amanda says:

    alright, maybe i’m just making excuses! i need to just get in there and do it. sometime my craving will be so bad that i’ll be forced to give in and make them if i can’t get ‘em on the street (newport that is, they sell them at the ob farmers market). damn these addictions.

  • foodie says:

    They sell them at the OB farmer’s market? Wow, that’s unusual. I’ve only been there twice, if you don’t live down there, it is REALLY hard to find a parking space.

    It is a happy addiction, it could totally replace caffeine!

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