Ahhhhh, les macarons. Could there be a better Valentine’s Day treat? These sweet, bite-sized almond pastries have exploded right out of their tiny shells during the past couple years. For good reason, I say. Out with the cupcakes and in with the macarons. (Ok… Cupcakes can stay, too.)
I’m going to share my ups and downs of homemade macarons and hopefully save you a few exhausting days and bins full of squished, deflated, hollow, crunchy batches.
Keep reading for Macarons 101: A Beginner’s Guide and a free downloadable/printable macaron piping template.
Why you so obsessed with meeeee?
If we are going to get serious about macarons, we should probably talk a bit about where they came from and why everyone is so obsessed with them.
First thing first… Macaron vs Macaroon:
A macaron is what you see (look up) there. A tiny, round, dainty little sweet thang that you will soon learn to perfectly bake.
A macaroon is a more dense, large, blob-like, coconut-based sweet.
[This post is
pretty really long. I think it is worth reading, as I think there is some interesting history, etc. to share. If you just don’t feel like it, you can skip straight to the Making the Macarons part here.]
Now that we have that out of the way… The origin of these delicate pastries is somewhat mysterious. Almonds, the natuarally gluten-free (for those of you who enjoy that sorta thing) base of a macaron were exported from Syria into Europe way back in the 1400s. That’s basically back when computers weren’t around and Oprah was giving away cars. Once these almonds hit Europe, the Italians called the macaron concoction “macaroni” or “maccherone”. Yes. Exactly like the pasta. Think about it for a bit… Pasta base is made basically the same way. Eggs, flour. These confections simply substitute your regular old grain flour for the ground almond seed ‘flour’.
Did you know almonds aren’t actually nuts? They are seeds of a fruit. As such, they are botanically a drupe.
It is said that the Italians created a version of the macarons as early as the 1500s. Typically thought of as French, the famed Renaissance author Rabelais was the first to have provided a written account, “…petite pâtisserie ronde aux amandes”. For those of you that are a bit rusty on your french, this means “small round pastry with almonds”.
Macarons were originally just a single cookie. Like taking the top off of a traditional , modern macaron and leaving the filling and other half behind. I know… I know… That’s just crazy, right? Apparently, they used to have little macaron bars setup with the cookies and a bunch of fillings that you could spread on top. Now… THAT is a good idea. <noted for future business ventures>
Jump to Paris, middle of the 20th Century. Prestigious Chef Pierre Desfontaines of Maison Ladurée (the same one that is there today) decided to put two of the cookies together with some ganache cream between. Ta daaaa! I mean… Bon Appétit! <Julia voice>
Jump back to 2015, and here we are. Obsessed and full-circle. Having just visited Paris a few months ago, I took the opportunity to stuff my face with just about every pastry in sight. I lost count at around 14 pâtisseries that I had hit in one day. Don’t judge me. It was research, after-all. When I was mid-stream in my sugar rush, I decided to stop into a small bakery that was about to start a macaron-making class. Fate. The pastry gods certainly had thrown this opportunity right into my excessively-hyper arms.
I had made macarons before at home. By made, I mean I had spent days upon days destroying hundreds of years of beautifully crafted french culinary history in mere moments. But then it sorta started to work out. This class was my ticket to ridding myself of the horrid uncertainty that a batch would make it through. Sorta like a Wonka Golden Ticket without the tiny loompas. The Chef was a bit short, though….
Now… There are SO many different ways that people will tell you to make a proper macaron. Do this, do that, don’t do that! I’ve tried most all of them and have at times noticed a different and then haven’t at other times. Does drying the egg whites really help? Should you fold this many or that many times? I don’t have a damn clue, really. Because I find that this is what intimidates people the most, I did a few experiments at home. I kept my controls controlled, variables varied. I got this science thing down, y’all. I was told in this mini-intensive class that these things really don’t matter all that much. They make ’em in the rain, with old eggs, blindfolded. It’s all about precision and technique. Baking is a science, remember?
Making the Macarons
Macarons are made with almonds, egg whites, sugar. Almond flour is simply raw almonds that have been finely ground into a flour-like textured mix. I grab mine at Trader Joe’s. I’ve heard Costco has it for crazy cheap, too. To create a more smooth textured cookie base, you need to sift the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar together. Go ahead and do this like 3-4 times. Dump any large bits of almond back into your bag and use it for something else. You’ll notice that I used raw, unprocessed almond meal (flour) for the Valentine’s-inspired macarons shown in this post. That accounts for the tiny bits on the shells. If you don’t want that at all (I think it adds a bit of character), get processed almond meal that doesn’t contain any of the skins. You can find it here. You can also make your own almond meal with a good processor, almond and the sugar to keep it from turning to paste. We’ll cover that another day. Be sure you are using a kitchen scale for all of this (and all of your baking, really). US measurements vary so much depending on the user and the product being measured. Weigh everything out. This makes a huge difference.
Making the Batter Matter
After you separate the eggs into whites and yolks, toss the yolks away to use for something else. Strain the egg whites to be sure you don’t have any bits of big globs of whatever that stuff is that you sometimes find in there. From my experience, egg age doesn’t matter much if you strain them out. Be sure you have let your eggs come to room temperature before you plan to use them. Cold whites just don’t whip up like warmer ones do. THIS is one of those odd prep steps that I wouldn’t recommend skipping. Have a drink. Wait 10 minutes. No big.
You’ll whip the whites just a bit until they are broken up and foamy (seriously like 10 seconds…) and then add the sugar to beat and form stiff peaks. This is one place people seem to start to go wrong. Stiff means STIFF. Like a good cocktail. You want this meringue to stick straight up in the air when you turn over the whisk and look like it is climbing to the clouds. Ignore the haters that say too much air in this step will ruin everything. If you are worried, just whip it for another minute anyway.
Fold, fold, fold, fold, STOP!
Take the almond meal/confectioners sugar mix that you have sifted the hell out of and dump it in. All of it. It’s cool. I promise. NOW… Here is where I hypothesize most people make their mistakes. Folding. If you just go stir-crazy on this mix, you’ll ruin everything (been there. done that. have the t-shirt.). Fold and pull the spatula. Lightly, but with great confidence, take your rubber spatula and roll it around the edge of the bowl and fold the mixture over itself. This is called the macaronage. The actual goal here is to deflate the mixture a bit, while still mixing the ingredients to the perfect consistency. It will look like it just isn’t mixing and that you have too much of the almond mix. Trust the FATTY! Keep going. Unfortunately, this process just takes time to recognize the proper consistency. It should end up like thick lava.
The secret test that I learned for determining the exact consistency and viscosity for the perfect macaron batter is when you pick up the batter with the spatula, try to create an “8” pattern with a solid, streaming ribbon of batter. If you can make an “8” a few times over top of itself and see the entire shape not disappear, you have mixed the batter to readiness to pipe. Pat yourself on the back and have another drink.
Piping Symmetrical Cookies
Speaking of piping… I consider myself pretty a pretty good shot with a piping bag. However, you really want all of these shells to line up perfectly to create a symmetrical sweet sandwich. I’ve tried silicone macaron molded mats, parchment paper, no paper, regular silicone mats. With all of this trial and error (mostly error), I found that the absolute best choice is a simple parchment paper. The delicate macarons tend to stick to silicone, the macaron mat molds are USELESS, and the paper gives you the ability to pull it off of the cookies if needed. I looked around for a while to figure out how to make sure I pipe each circle just like the last. There are some templates out there, but nothing that really hit home with me. So, being the total nerd that I am….
I made a printable macaron template for you all to have!
Printed out, I found that you can place this under parchment paper and trace the outlines. You can then flip it and pipe away. After a bunch of these, I also finally figured out that you could just place it under the paper and pipe, moving the paper over to pipe more. MUCH more convenient.
The template gives you a bullseye for piping aim and a few guidelines to ensure consistently size cookies. If your batter is correctly folded, you should be able to pipe, holding the bag an inch above the paper, until it reaches the outer edge of the inside circle.
I’ve made this template available to you all here. The only thing I ask is that you do not take your copy and spread it around. For extra copies or to share it with friends, please send them right here (you can use the sharing buttons at the bottom!) to download it themselves. I spent a bit of time preparing and perfecting this and would like to see how well it is received by the downloads directly from the site. Thanks!
Let’s Call This… Drop the Baby
Once you get your macarons piped, you’ll be happy to know that I encourage you to beat the daylights out of them. Hold the baking sheet a good foot or so above your table/floor/whatever flat, solid surface is nearby. Drop the pan (evenly) like Missy drops a beat. Repeat several times. Then do it once more. This ensures that all of the bubbles make their way out of the batter. If you don’t do this well, you will end up with hollow macarons.
Take a Breather… You’re Almost There
Some will say at this point, you need to rest the macarons forever. Others will say that you can pop them directly into the oven. The risk in not aging the macaron shells is that you will ruin the opportunity for the “feet” (the less smooth part under the glossy tops) to form while baking. I was taught to rest the shells and tend to agree with this, having had poor results without resting the piped rounds. I recommend just letting them sit for 30 minutes on the baking sheets. You will notice that they harden and appear a bit glossy already. This is good!
Resting the shells will force the macarons to bake upward and not outward. This is what is responsible for forming the iconic shape of each cookie.
Heat the oven. Put the macarons into the oven. Bake. Let them cool completely before you attempt to poke or grab them off of the sheets. Completely! These things are delicate, ya know?!
Finally– We are finished. Shewwwww! If you’ve made it this far through the post, be sure to leave a comment below and I will send you tons and tons of eMacarons to thank you for sticking with it.
Macarons aren’t super easy. They take time, effort, and whole lot of love. It took me several batches before they ended up working for me when I started making them.
Hopefully with these tips, you’ll be able to whip them up in no time for some very appreciative recipients. Check out the recipe for the Valentine’s-inspired Raspberry Buttercream Almond Macrons that are pictured in the post. These are the basic macaron shells that you can play with to create any flavor combinations that you can think of.
Happy Valentines, y’all! — Enjoy.
- 90 grams egg whites (3 large egg whites), room temperature
- 55 grams (~ ¼ cup) superfine sugar (granulated sugar in food processor until fine)
- 200 grams (~ 1 and ⅔ cup) confectioner's sugar
- 110 grams (~ 1 cup) almond flour
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- pinch salt
- food coloring, optional (color will slightly lighten with baking)
- 8 tablespoons butter, unsalted, softened
- 1 cup raspberries, fresh
- 1 and ½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste or extract
- 16-24 ounces confectioner's sugar, sifted well
- pinch salt
- Place room temperature egg whites (very important!) in mixer bowl.
- With whisk attachment, whisk at medium speed until foamy, about a minute.
- Add superfine granulated sugar and cream of tartar. Mix until VERY stiff peaks form. You should be able to reverse the whisk and have the peak stands very tall without falling.
- Add food coloring here if desired. Add a bit more than you think you need, as it will fade slightly when baking.
- In different bowl, sift together almond flour and confectioner's sugar. Repeat and sift a total of 4-5 times, removing any large pieces left behind after each sift.
- Add almond flour mix to stiffened egg whites.
- Using proper folding technique (see blog post for explanation of this!), fold until you can ribbon an "8" that holds into the batter. This should take about 60-70 proper strokes. THIS is the most important step in proper macarons.
- Visit the blog post for full instructions.
- Pipe macaron circles onto paper-lined baking sheets using the macaron template and instructions available HERE.
- Let the shells rest for 30 minutes to form hardened tops.
- Bake at 300 F for about 16 minutes. Be sure your oven temperature is exact.
- Remove and let cool completely before removing from baking sheets.
- Add softened butter to mixer. Whip until smooth.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Add more confectioner's sugar as needed for tight enough texture.
- Pipe filling between two shells and enjoy!
- Visit SouthernFATTY.com for more.
Have you attempted macarons already?
Leave your success (or horror…) stories below!