I was secretly delighted when she asked if I could make the cake. But, eeek, the thought of making a wedding cake scared me silly. I don't know the first thing about working with fondant and making fancy icing decorations. My terse reply went something like this "I would love to make your wedding cake but I don't do cakes. How about something like a macaron tower or croquembouche?"
Looking back on that moment perhaps I was a little narrow minded. I had visions of a three tiered wedding cake with icing roses and basket weave embellishments. If I had given it more thought I could have made a totally acceptable luscious layer cake.
But Miss Julie knew a good thing when she saw it and right away agreed to the macarons. And I, having made them successfully once was more than confident I could pull it off.
I had visions of macarons garnished with rose petals and gold. I had visions of perfectly matched sizes of pretty pastels of delicate flavours. I had a vision of this amazing tower that would be the highlight of the entire banquet hall. The fact is I had underestimated the decorating prowess of Miss Julie but even more truthfully, I had over estimated my skill at making macarons.
It was one of my most humbling cooking experiences. Yes, I could make a batch of acceptable macarons but making 200 perfectly matched, perfectly garnished, perfectly tinted and perfectly flavoured macarons gave me a whole new appreciation for Ladurée.
I can tell you with complete honesty that I have about 100 macaron halves and perhaps the same volume of broken cookies sitting in my deep freeze.
If I have learned anything from this experience it is how to make a macaron. I am hereby documenting what I have learned so that if I ever again have the opportunity to make them for a banquet sized crowd I can quickly refer back and not make the same mistakes again.
Let's begin with the characteristics of a perfect macaron. The macaron should have a crusty exterior and a soft, slightly chewy interior. It should be delicately flavoured so as not to taste too sweet. The filling should compliment the flavour of the cookie. The filling should be soft but not runny so as to make a mess but not firm that the delicate cookie is crushed when you apply it. But the crowning feature of a perfect macaron is its feet. Yes, that little bottom of the cookie that is full of tiny holes and a lacy rim is called its feet. If it does not have feet, it is a flop.
Here is the recipe I used. It is the compilation of many recipes that I researched. And to answer some of your questions in advance, yes, you must weigh the ingredients. I will also give you volume measurements but if you are making any quantity it is much faster to weigh the ingredients. I even weigh the egg whites and at times I do split the egg white. It is not that difficult. I use my fingers. You can beat it slightly with a fork to make it easier to pour but at the end of the day my fingers worked just fine.
The egg whites must be at room temperature and aged. They should be left on the counter at room temperature overnight or up to two days.
Another critical step is to bake these on a double baking sheet. By this I mean that your baking sheet needs to be placed atop another same sized baking sheet. The air space between the two baking sheets will buffer the intensity of the heat from the oven so the cookie does not brown on the bottom.
As for the temperature and the timing, I'm afraid that you have to listen to your oven. Don't feel like a dummy if you don't get it right the first time. I made three batches in a row that failed. Why? Because I was, first of all, not paying attention to the consistency of my batter but also because I was not listening to my oven.
If you overcook the cookie it will brown and be dry. If you undercook the cookie it will fall. Yes, a perfectly shaped macaron will fall if it is undercooked. That has to be the most demoralizing experience, to see a perfectly formed macaron fall. What does it look like when it falls, you ask? Well those nice little feet that formed will no longer be there. It will be flattened.
Touch the cookie while it is baking. You can judge the crispness of the top and the doneness of the centre by whether or not it jiggles. If the centre does not jiggle then it is done. At this point turn off the oven, open the door a few inches and let it sit there for 30 minutes. This will ensure the cookie will not fall.
But let's back up a step. The consistency of the batter is very important. Most recipes tell you to beat the egg whites to the stiff peak stage. I found that soft peak was better. At the stiff peak stage the batter will be too dry.
Also, we are trained that when we incorporate dry ingredients into a meringue we are to be very careful not to deflate the egg whites. That is not important with macarons. After the last portion of dry ingredients is added it is necessary to continue hand mixing until the batter flows like magma.
One last tip is about removing the macarons from the parchment paper. I found it was better to peel the paper from the cookie rather than lifting the cookie from the paper. If that doesn't work then just slip the pan into the freezer for 20 minutes and the cookies will easily release.
Basic Macaron Cookie
225 g icing sugar
125 g almond flour
110 g egg whites
30 g sugar
pinch of salt
Place icing sugar and almond flour in your food processor and pulse to mix.
Beat egg whites until foamy and then gradually add sugar and salt. Beat until soft peak stage. Add flavourings and beat only until incorporated.
In three portions add icing sugar and almond flour mixture to the egg whites. Fold in with a rubber spatula. There is no need to worry about deflating the egg whites. In fact, mix until the mixture resembles molten lava. It should flow and not hold its shape.
Fit a piping bag with a 1/2 inch round tip. Pipe the batter into 1-inch rounds about 2-inches apart onto parchment lined baking sheets. Rap the baking sheet on the countertop, on all four sides. This does remove some air bubbles but it also flattens the cookie. Let sit about 30 minutes before baking.
Bake at 325 F for about 10 to 11 minutes. Rotate after the first 6 minutes. Turn the oven off after the full cooking time, open the door slightly and leave the cookies in the oven for about 30 minutes.
Makes about 20 cookie sandwiches.
Volume measures for Basic Macaron Cookie
2 1/3 c. + 1/2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 1/4 c. + 1 tbsp. almond flour
3 egg whites
3 tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
An important note when using volume measures is that you must sift the ingredients before measuring. It is not necessary to whiz in a food processor when you have sifted the ingredients.
Okay, now let's do some troubleshooting by looking at these pictures.
|These are definitely undercooked. The feet have formed, the top is crusty but it is too soft on the interior to maintain its shape. Perhaps the oven is too hot.|
|These are a lot like the previous picture but they are even more browned on top. Definitely the oven is too hot.|
|These are perfectly cooked but they cracked. They are also too tall. Feet could be better. The batter is too thick.|
|This is the consistency you are looking for. It is runny enough that air bubbles can escape and they will make a nice flat cookie.|
Flavour is key otherwise this cookie will be all about sugar when in fact, it should be all about flavour. I remember my first macaron. I had to spit it out because it was so sickly sweet. The Parisian rage had hit Calgary but the maker didn't take into consideration the importance of flavour. Colour is the easy part.
Hazelnut - simply substitute ground hazelnuts for the almond flour. Make your own by toasting the whole hazelnuts in a 350 F oven for about 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let them cool 5 minutes before rolling in a clean tea towel. Rub them and the skins will fall off. Place the hazelnuts in a food processor with the icing sugar and process until finely ground. The perfect filling for hazelnut is a milk chocolate ganache.
Rose - this is easy. Add rosewater or rose extract to the egg whites as they are being beaten. Go light with this because it can be overpowering. Start with a little, like 1/2 teaspoon. You can always add more. I used a touch of red colour paste with the egg whites. A great filling is a white chocolate ganache with a touch of rosewater. I had no luck making a white chocolate ganache so I used an Italian buttercream with a touch of rosewater.
Raspberry and Passionfruit - I found a superb product by Fresh As. The fruits are freeze dried and burst with flavour and colour. One tablespoon of the powder added to the egg whites was ample. I added a touch of paste colour to the egg whites. I bought this product from Duchess Provisions in Edmonton. They are online and deliver by mail. I used the flavour in an Italian buttercream filling.
Cognac - this was the suggestion of Deana at LostPastRemembered blog. It is divine. I used a couple of tablespoons of good quality cognac in the egg whites. I used a dark chocolate ganache as filling and also added cognac to the ganache. I did find that the chocolate overpowered the macaron. Perhaps I would use an Italian buttercream flavoured with cognac next time.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
* 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
* 3/4 cup sugar
Place chopped chocolate, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Bring cream and sugar to boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Carefully pour hot cream mixture into bowl with chocolate. Let stand 1 minute. Whisk until melted and smooth. Chill ganache until thickened and spreadable, about 1 hour. Whip for a lighter ganache.
Milk Chocolate Ganache
* 1 cup heavy cream (250 mL)
* 1/2 pound milk chocolate, finely chopped (250 g)
1. In a pot over high heat bring the cream to a boil.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate.
3. Stir rapidly until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is a smooth, even colour.
4. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
5. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
6. Whip the ganache in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form.
7. Do not over whip, as the ganache may break.
2 egg whites
1/3 c. + 1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
In an electric mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking often, 3 to 5 minutes, or until it feels warm and sugar has dissolved.
Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and whip warm egg mixture on high speed using the whisk attachment until stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the butter, a few cubes at a time, and continue to mix until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Add any flavourings and refrigerator for one hour or until it becomes firm. The buttercream can be kept, covered and refrigerated for up to one week.