Blog Checking Lines: In a “celebration” of past Daring Baker and Daring Cook challenges, Lisa challenged all of us to search through the Daring Kitchen archives and pick any one we’d like! The REAL challenge was picking which delicious recipe(s) to try!
Unfortunately for us (and her), our July hostess was injured and was unable to host the baking challenge this month. However, the silver lining in that is that we were instructed to pick a past challenge and make that instead. There were lots of great challenges before I joined the group, but the one that called my name was the French Macaron (October 2009).
I have a troubled history with French Macarons. I’ve tried several recipes and even taken a class but consistant success has eluded me. I have to confess that (up until now) I didn’t even really like French Macarons and thought they were really over-rated. However, I hate to be bested by a recipe so I’ve been meaning to work on macarons for a while and this was my opportunity to make it happen. I decided to use the French Macaron recipe from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich as I trust her skill and her recipes. It’s also reasonable-sized recipe so I could repeat it a few times. For simplicity’s sake, I made one batch of chocolate ganache and used that as the filling for all three flavors. The traditional filling is buttercream, but I didn’t want to mess with that this time around. The buttercream experiment will have to be for another day!
To really test out this recipe and the technique, I decided to make three batches of macarons. There was no magic to this number of trials. I had that many egg whites in my freezer that I wanted to use up and the weather was going to remain cool and dry for 3 days.
French Macarons shouldn’t be that hard, but somehow they are difficult to pull off repeatedly. There are dozens of sites out there dedicated to macaron directions and trouble-shooting. The one I liked the most was Bravetart. Armed with information from that site and from the class I took a few years ago, I plunged in. Although I used the same base recipe each time, I did make flavor variations because I just couldn’t stand to repeat the same flavor over and over. This probably affected my results, but hopefully not too much.
Batch #1 – Espresso Macarons
The first batch I made were almond macarons with espresso powder. I ended up with slightly flat but nice and shiny macarons with a little foot. The flatness was due to slightly over-mixing the batter I believe. The taste was fantastic though, far better than any other macaron I have made. I think the key to that is that the macaron shell actually tastes like something other than just sugar and almond. I baked both (insulated) pans at the same time in the top and bottom third of the oven, swapping and rotating a couple times. However, I had trouble with cooking time with this batch. Despite baking them 2 minutes longer than the stated 12-15 minutes, I still had some stickage when I peeled them off of the parchment paper so they were not done all the way. Still, not bad for a first attempt!
Batch #2 – Raspberry Macarons
The second batch was another almond macaron, this time with some ground up freeze-dried raspberry mixed in. The pre-baked color of the batter was beautiful and I think I got the batter consistency pretty close. They smoothed out but held their shape and rose nicely in the oven with a good sized foot. However, I once again had the problem with baking time despite baking the pans one at a time in the middle of the oven.
I also discovered that pan type matters. For this batch, I used one sheet pan and one insulated cookie sheet. The ones baked on the sheet pan cracked, most likely due to too much heat from the bottom. I baked these 3 minutes longer than the called-for time. They stuck slightly so were a little underdone as well. The finished cookie texture was wonderful though. The second batch on the insulated pan I baked until the macarons would separate cleanly from the pan which was quite a bit longer than called for. I forgot to keep track, but it was more than 20 minutes. This resulted in an over-browned and chewy macaron with a perfectly done bottom (you can see the difference between the two in the photo above).
The cooked raspberry color turned dingy and dull in these cookies which was too bad as it was a beautiful batter. The raspberry flavor was perfect though, the freeze-dried raspberries taste so much better than imitation raspberry flavor.
Batch #3 – Hazelnut Macaron
The third batch was a plain hazelnut macaron. For this batch, I really wanted to focus on baking them enough. I also wanted to try out parchment vs. silicone liners. I decided to bump up the temperature slightly since it just seems odd to me that these are taking so much longer to cook than the recipe calls for.
One of the trouble-shooting articles I read said that sticking is representative of an oven temperature that is too low so I decided to adjust that next. Instead of starting at 400F and lowering to 300F, I started at 400F and lowered to 325F. Much to my surprise, they did not cook any faster. They look beautiful though, shiny with a tall foot and a nice texture. I’m not sure if the foot is right on these, they almost look separated. However, they taste divine! I had to cook them for 22 minutes (vs. the 12-15 called for) before they would start to come off the parchment without sticking or pulling out the middles. I covered the tops with foil to keep them from browning while waiting for them to cook through. I really liked the silicon liner though, so I’ll use that from now on. The bake time was the same but the cookies came off easier and seemed more even.
While I wasn’t successful at making consistent-looking macarons, I was consistent at making ones that tasted good so that was a victory of sorts. I think I did improve on each batch. They did look better than any I’d made before and were actually delicious, unlike the cardboard-y ones I’ve purchased. If nothing else, I understand a lot more about macarons than I used to. I think it was really helpful to make three batches in a row with the same recipe and the same equipment but making minor variations each time.
Preheat the oven for long enough – Just because your oven beeps to tell you it’s at the temperature you set doesn’t mean it’s really that temperature in the center of the oven. My (electric) oven takes 20 minutes to come fully to temperature in the center, about 10 minutes longer than my oven indicator would have me believe.
Check your oven temperature – ovens aren’t always calibrated. Use a thermometer to double check. My oven runs slightly cool, so if you’re making something sensitive like macarons be sure to check the temperature and adjust it to get the temperature you expect.
Use insulated pans or double-stack regular sheet pans to prevent cracking. If one type of pan isn’t working for you, try a different one.
Even if they don’t come out perfect looking, they will taste good! It seems to be hard to actually burn these. Even an overcooked macaron will soften and improve after being filled and aging in the refrigerator overnight. Let them come to room temperature before serving though. They also freeze well, thank goodness, since there are only so many of these that I can dispose of at my husband’s office or on a neighbor’s doorstep!
Here is a step-by-step description of the process I followed.
Process the almond meal and 1/3 of the of powdered sugar in the food processor to get rid of lumps and process any larger nut pieces. Sift the remaining powdered sugar and almond/sugar mixture along with any powdered coloring or flavoring 3 times to make it light and fluffy.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add any liquid flavoring and beat on high until stiff peaks form but the mixture is still glossy.
Sift the almond/sugar mixture onto the egg whites. Gently fold until they are incorporated. At first this won’t look like it’s going to happen, but about 20 folds into the process it will suddenly come together.
The mixture is fairly stiff at this point so you need to deflate the mixture a little by additional folding, 10-15 more times is usually enough. The mixture should drip slowly off the spatula and should reabsorb smoothly into the batter in about 20 seconds. The texture is sometimes described as “lava-like” and I think that’s a good description. I also like to take a spoonful and drop it onto a plate to see if it holds it’s general shape but slowly smooths out enough to eliminate bumps and peaks.
Pipe the batter onto lined baking sheets in even small circles by holding the piping bag 1/2″ above the paper and gently squeezing down to let the batter ooze into a circle shape. Quit squeezing slightly before you’re going to want to move the bag. It really helps to use a template under your parchment paper as a size guideline. Just be sure to remove the template before you bake.
Whack the pan on the counter twice to eliminate any air bubbles. Allow the pans to sit at room temperature until the macarons form a little skin and don’t stick when touched.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Put one pan of macarons in the center of the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 300F. Bake for 12-15 minutes (or until you can gently peel one away from the pan liner without it sticking). Repeat with the 2nd pan, remembering to raise the temperature again to 400F before putting in the second pan.
Let the macarons cool, then peel the liner carefully away from the cookie and set the cookie on a rack. Sandwich two like-sized cookies with the filling of choice.
These are best made in advance and aged overnight in the refrigerator, so once the filling has set up they can be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.
- 2 cups (8 oz.) powdered sugar
- 1-1/3 cups (4.5 oz.) finely ground blanched almond meal
- 3 to 4 large egg whites, at room temperature (3.75 oz)
- ¼ tsp. almond extract
- 3 to 6 drops of food coloring to match your flavor (optional)
- ¾ cup filling, such as lemon curd, chocolate ganache, buttercream, chestnut spread, Nutella, peanut butter, or jam
- Combine the powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Pass through a medium-coarse sieve to lighten and aerate the mixture (which makes it easier to fold).
- In a glass measure, add enough egg whites to reach halfway between the ⅓ cup and ½ cup mark; or use a scale to weigh out 3.75 oz. of egg whites. Transfer these to a large bowl, and save the rest for another purpose or discard. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they form soft peaks when the beaters are lifted; add the almond extract and the coloring, if using. Beat at high speed until the mixture forms stiff but not dry peaks when the beaters are lifted. Pour all of the almond flour mixture over the egg whites. With a large rubber spatula, fold the almond mixture into the egg whites just until it is fully incorporated. The egg whites will deflate somewhat, but the batter will be thick and moist and almost pourable.
- Drop heaping teaspoons of batter 1 inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Or transfer the batter to a large pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip and pipe out disks in the following manner: Hold the bag vertical with the tip about 3/8 inch from the pan liner. Squeeze the bag without moving it until a disk of batter 1½ inches in diameter is formed. Stop squeezing a second or two before moving the bag to pipe the next disk. Repeat, piping disks 1 inch apart. Let the macarons rest for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the surface of the disks is ever so slightly dry-this slightly dry crust will help form characteristic little “platforms” at the base of each macaron as they bake.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
- Slide two sheets of macarons into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300°F. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the macarons are barely starting to turn golden (they will be golden on the bottom, though you will have to destroy one macaron to find out). Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool.
- When the cookies are cool, lift a corner of the parchment pan liner. Holding a cookie with the other hand, carefully peel the liner away from the cookie (don’t try to pull the cookie off the liner or you will lose the bottom of the cookie). Repeat with the remaining cookies.
- Spread ½ to 1 tsp. filling on the flat side of a cookie and top with a cookie of matching size. Put the cookies on a tray and cover them with plastic wrap. Put the trays in the refrigerator to let the cookies mellow at least overnight and for up to 2 days before serving. Bring to room temperature for serving.