At the end of my last blog, I blithely mentioned that I was going to use up some extra egg whites by making macarons. How naive!
I'd never made them before, and sure - I'd read that they were tricky, but honestly - how difficult could they be. Well....
I have been at the point of weeping with frustration. And the info out there can be pretty confusing to a novice-macaroner:
Age the egg whites...don't age the egg whites
Beat the whites until stiff and dry ... don't overbeat the egg whites until stiff and dry...
Pipe them close together, they don't expand... don't pipe them close together, they expand...
Let the macarons rest for an hour before baking... don't let them rest for longer than 40minutes...
Don't overmix... but don't undermix the batter....
Bake for 20minutes... bake for 10minutes...
And then the obsessive-compulsive nature of the process - weigh the egg whites; time how long you beat the egg whites for, at each speed; double sift the almond meal and icing sugar; replace the large granules of ground almonds you discard - by the gram; use a stainless steel bowl, or best a copper one; count the number of times you fold the batter... oh, come on!!
The first recipe that I looked at was in one of my favourite recipe books - Australian Women's Weekly: Cupcakes, Cheesecakes, Cookies. But then I did some internet research on technique, and that got my brain into a complete fog. The recipes are all quite similar, the techniques vary slightly but have a lot in common. But I think you have to follow a recipe with its technique to the letter.
In the end, the recipe which has worked best for me is the Women's Weekly one - I should have just gone with it in the first place.
So, this is it, and the technique I used to get a decent batch of macaron shells...
3 egg whites (about 100g), at room temp. - which I'd aged for 3 days (2 days should do) .
2 tbs caster sugar
200g icing sugar
125g ground almonds/ almond meal/ almond flour (it's all the same thing.)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Prepare baking trays with parchment - I used silicone paper.
NB - Use un-warped baking trays.
Put the almond meal and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse until all well mixed and finely ground. Sift into a bowl. Discard the large granules which don't pass through the sieve. (Only replace this amount if you discard a lot of the almonds).
Whisk the egg whites at low speed with an electric beater until frothy, then add the cream of tartar.
Continue to beat at medium speed until soft peaks are starting to form, then add the caster sugar slowly down the side of the bowl.
Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Add gel colour; beat until colour incorporated.
Sift (so this is the second sifting) the almond meal / icing sugar mix into the meringue in two batches - folding in between.
Gently fold until the batter is loosened and falls in lava-like ribbons from the spatula.
Transfer to an icing bag with the tip cut off / fitted with a large plain round icing nozzle (not more than 1cm diameter).
Pipe small dots of batter beneath the corners of the silicone paper, to keep it on place on the baking tray.
Pipe your macaron rounds - about 3-4cm diameter, about 2cm apart. Pull your piping tip to the side - this leaves a tiny tail, which will settle. Bang the tray a good couple of wacks on the counter - really, you must! It gets rid of air bubbles. And all that pent-up frustration.
(If the little peaks don't settle, you have under-mixed the batter!)
Now, turn on your oven - 150'C
[New note: see Macarons 2]
Leave the macarons to stand for 30+minutes until they form a "skin" - ie. when touched with a clean, dry finger they aren't sticky.
Bake at 150'C for 12 - 15 minutes. Check in the final few minutes that they are not browning.
Leave to cool for 5minutes, then remove off the trays.
If they are undercooked, they will stick to the paper...and collapse...but still taste pretty good. If overcooked, they might brown. Don't worry if they are a bit overcooked and dry.
Macarons are best after being filled and left for 24hrs - the filling rehydrates them a bit.
If they are undercooked, they will collapse as the shells aren't hard enough to stand up.
The shells can also crack because the oven is too hot, or a skin wasn't well-formed before baking, or because air bubbles weren't wacked out of the batter before baking, or because the meringue was underbeaten, or because the batter was undermixed... can you bear it??!!
If they have no feet (the little skirt that forms beneath the macaron), it could be because the batter was undermixed, or they rested too long, or the meringue was underbeaten, or the oven temp was too low... really, can you bear it?!
But here is a batch - exactly the same batter: the first lot are browned, but the perfect shape; the second tray: cracked (oven temp too high? / not rested long enough?), and no feet (oven temp too low?! rested too long?!).
Actually, I can't bear it!
But I can't stop now.
And really, I don't know if i should be writing this...
... and you really really shouldn't be reading this....!