Macarons (to be distinguished from macaroons, a fact my friends militantly remind me of) are a mixture of meringue, icing sugar, and almond meal. Easy… right? WRONG! Macarons have been the bane of my existence ever since Masterchef made them one of the most popular desserts in Australia. My sister tried them first and produced one of the worst ever baking failures/the best ever chocolate-almond-meringue-slop-biscuits.
The basic technique of macarons is to mix a highly sifted combination of icing sugar and almond meal with meringue. Recipes vary on the proportions, colouring, and flavouring used, however, the major difference between recipes is in the type of meringue used. French meringue is made by beating caster sugar into egg whites; Italian meringue, on the other hand, requires making a sugar syrup by boiling water and caster sugar to a very high temperature (between 118°C and 121°C depending on who you ask) and then beating this hot syrup into the egg whites. French meringue is much easier to make, but is less stable than the Italian version.
For about 3 years I used the French-meringue-based recipe from the Masterchef Series 2 cookbook and made ok macarons, but they were never excellent. They always turned out either grainy and lumpy or flat and cracked – but they were yummy and I figured close enough is good enough. That was until my sister was given the Adriano Zumbo cookbook for her birthday.
Zumbarons changed the way I make macarons. The Italian-meringue-based recipe is complicated and scientific and balls-to-the-walls amazing. The recipe is best described in Zumbo’s book, but a variation can be found here (obviously the food colouring and filling can be changed to fit your theme better).
Making macarons can take me anywhere between a morning and a week (depending on how involved I am in whichever episode of Doctor Who I am re-watching), so this week I invited my cousin over to help me out. Having two sets of hands is actually very useful- it means you can have someone sorting out the dry ingredients and separating the eggs, while the other concentrates on the sugar syrup and the meringue. Also I always enjoy having my law-student cousin as my sue-chef (because she’s a lawyer…so she sues people…but an assistant chef is a sous-chef…pun).
Our candy thermometer broke mid-use and we couldn’t measure the temperature of the sugar syrup, so we just had to vibe it. In the end the meringue wasn’t as stable as I would have liked and the macaron mixture was a bit runny, but we shoved it in the fridge for a bit and with some adept piping we stuck the landing.
We filled those bad boys with dark chocolate ganache and sprinkled the top with unsweetened cocoa for decoration/to hide any crappy bumpy bits on the top of the shells. We barely had enough time to take some vanity pictures of the finished product before eating them all.
My 5 tips on making macarons (compiled during my 6 billion failures)
- Only use gel or powdered food colouring and add it to the sugar syrup; adding liquid colouring will change the consistency and texture of the mixture. For the same reason only use dry ingredients/powder to flavour the macarons and add it to the dry mixture.
- The egg whites should be aged – leave them out on the bench for a couple days to reduce their moisture content. This will thin the egg whites so they will give maximum volume when whipped
- When whipping the Italian meringue, the bowl should still be warm when you stop whipping. If the bowl is cold there is to much air in the meringue
- Always bang the tray of piped macarons down hard on the bench a couple of times – this removes air bubbles so they are less likely to crack. After this ALWAYS leave the macarons on the bench for at least half an hour or until the top is not sticky to the touch – this allows a skin to form in the macarons, meaning that when they rise in the oven they will form a characteristic ‘foot’.
- Most importantly: don’t under- or over- mix the mixture – under-mixing will lead to macarons that are lumpy and cracked whilst over-mixing will lead to macarons that are flat and deflated. The only way to get this right is to practice…and eat a lot of macarons until you know what texture you are looking for (there are worse things…). I found this site really useful when practicing. Lots of recipes suggest the consistency should be like ‘molten lava’, but never having lived in a volcano I don’t quite get that simile. I tend to mix until everything is just combined – the mixture should pipe easily out of the piping bag but not leak out.
Making macarons is like taking care of a baby: it’s difficult, requires patience and persistence, and you usually end up covered in brown sticky stuff. However, like those cute little pudge balls, you are going to want to eat them right up.