Trials and Trials of a Macaron Newbie

IMG_1667 copyHerewith is a photo of the best macaron from my first attempt at making them. Not a pretty picture, I know, but when you are the best of a large batch, you deserve a bit of respect (If you look closely, it even has a faint aura, indicative of its status).

I know, I know, it is enough to make any macaron aficionado shudder in their boots. Clearly, the batter was too thick and it has a lot of other issues…

To be honest, it wasn’t really my first attempt (I have made macarons once before) but it was the first attempt since I realised there is a whole community of macaron makers and aficionados out there who are fanatical about making the perfect macaron.

I came across the idea of making macarons because my freezer had too many egg whites in it after making a couple batches of crème brûlée.  This was before enlightenment when I thought macarons were just like any other biscuit …  you follow the recipe and get macarons.

I told Maus I was going to make macarOONs not macaRONs – shame, shame, I didn’t even know there was a difference.  She thought I was going to make a coconut treat which was a favourite from her childhood.  She was SO disappointed when she realised there was no coconut involved.

I did a search in Eat Your Books and came up with a recipe for chocolate macarons in Greg and Lucy Malouf’s book, Moorish.  Such was my innocence, when the recipe called for ground almonds (not almond meal, mind you), I actually wondered whether I needed to blanch the almonds or not.  Oh, dear…

I cast my mind back to the brightly coloured objects of desire I had seen in a shop in Adelaide, dedicated exclusively to macarons and concluded that I did, in fact, need to blanch the almonds.  I certainly never turned my mind to doing anything more than chucking the almonds in my Vitamix and giving them a burl or two around the bowl.

The resulting macarons tasted bloody good even if they did look like chocolate puddles on my tray.  As I recall, one had lift off but the other 35 didn’t.

Then, on the night of enlightenment (I don’t know where I have been all these years -  in an office in a city skyscraper, maybe), I was perusing Shirley’s blog, @Køkken, and I noticed the perfectly formed chocolate macarons in her banner and how different they looked to my chocolate puddles. I searched her blog and found more stunning photos.  I clicked on a link that took me toTrissa’s blog, Trissalicious, and a whole new world.

As it turns out, Trissa really knows how to make a macaron.  I decided to let her lead the way.

I read her post with interest and discovered not only was I required to blanch the almonds but I also had to whizz them with the icing sugar until they were super fine and then sift through a fine sieve.  Mmm…

And I needed to age my egg whites and I needed old eggs and ……

Another click here and another click there and I was hooked.  I wanted to belong to this subculture of macaron makers.  It didn’t seem that hard once the whites had been aged and almond meal and icing sugar had gone through the sieve.  It seemed just a matter of beating egg whites and caster sugar and then mixing in the almond meal and icing sugar blend.

Oh, how wrong could I be!

The day I decided to make them was very humid and I know what humidity can do to an egg white.  Not to be deterred, I turned the air conditioner on to dehumidify.  Maus thought this was going a wee bit too far but she is a kind woman and let the derision ride.

The recipe said to beat the egg whites until you get soft peaks and then start adding the caster sugar, but the problem with having a Kenwood Major is that before I could say ‘macaron’, I had firmish peaks happening and I had to be quick-smart and add the caster sugar.

I also added cream of tartar because I read that it can stabilise egg white and I was still worried about the humidity.  By the time I got all the sugar dissolved, I well and truly had stiff peaks.  I then mixed in (rather well, I thought…) the almond and icing sugar mixture and a couple of drops of colouring.

I was feeling pretty confident until I started piping.  The instructions indicate that the mararons will gently settle down onto the tray.  If you have any little residual peaks, you have to gently knock them down with a damp finger to make them flat.  But by the time I had piped all my little smurf hats onto the tray, they had firmed up and no tapping with my finger was going to get rid of those rather large, firm peaks.  My little babies weren’t settling anywhere.

The top photo is the very best of about 50!

IMG_1656 copyI don’t know why people worry about getting their macarons to rise.  Mine took off, literally!

I consulted many a site on macaron troubleshooting. Gee, there are a lot of things that can wrong.  My favourite was a list by Ms Humble on her blog, Not So Humble Pie.  If you have any interest in macarons, check it out.  She listed 30 things that could go wrong.  Thirty!!!

After reading her list, I felt a little chuffed.  I only identified 8 issues with mine.

Meringue is grainy – yes:)

  • Meringue is over beaten and broken

Macaron batter appears too thick - yes:)

  • The batter is under-mixed

  Macarons tops are lumpy (bubbles) - yes:)

  • Not tapping the pan on the counter before resting
  • Not popping air bubbles with a tooth-pick before resting

Macaron tops are domed and lumpy – yes, I think

  • Under mixed (fine texture)
  • Broken meringue (sandy texture)
    Not certain which one applies here, probably both:(

Macaron tops have peaks that don’t settle down (even if the tray is tapped) - yes!!!!:)

  • The batter is under-mixed

OK, I have got that one!!

Macarons have lopsided feet – yes!!:)

  • Warped baking trays or using thin trays that buckle in the heat
  • Strong heat from the bottom of the oven
  • Oven too hot or has hot spots
  • Using Fan-forced heat

Oh, God, probably “yes” to all of them!!

Macarons are not round - yes!:)

  • Not piping straight down onto the pan
    I did my best!
  • Using warped trays
    Maybe!

Macarons have air pockets (pre-cooling) - yes:)

  • Over-beating the meringue too stiff, dry peaks
  • Under-mixed, too much air left in the batter

IMG_1657 copyThis guy is my absolute favourite!!  It certainly looks more like a smurf’s hat than a macaron.

IMG_1666 copy

I think you would say this guy has a dry peak:(

So to sum up, if you want macarons like mine, you need to:

  • over-beat your meringue;
  • under-mix your batter;
  • don’t tap the pan on the counter before resting;
  • don’t use a tooth pick to burst any air bubbles;
  • bake them in too hot an oven for too short a time (even though I did exactly what Trissa said to do); and
  • get a small child to pipe out the macarons.

But Maus had the last word.

I was hogging into my less than perfect macarons and, between mouthfuls, said to her, “They may not be pretty but they sure taste good.”  To which she replied, “I don’t know about that.  The almond meal spoils them.  I prefer meringues.”

Maybe, I won’t be joining that community of macaron makers after all!!

18 thoughts on “Trials and Trials of a Macaron Newbie

  1. Pingback: In My Kitchen – February 2014 | Passion Fruit Garden

  2. What a crack up! That’s what I love about blogging; people such as yourself are so very honest about a food experience. It’s good to hear you’ll be having another go. I recall having a go last year and they didn’t look half bad; although still they weren’t right. I don’t think I cared enough about them because I can’t remember what was right and what went wrong. Just not my thing I suppose; are you sure you’re ready to throw yourself into this again?

    • Hi Anne. My little guys taste great but geez they are ugly. At least, now, I know the consistency that the batter should be. The recipes don’t tell you this.

  3. I’ve never tried to make this kind – but I agree with Maus, if these are that difficult, I’d just make the coconut ones instead – I love those and nothing could be easier.

  4. I’ve never been keen to try making them, now I’m certainly not going to! :) You must have loads of patience.

  5. Well done Glenda! However having devoured about half of the dozen macarons i bought from jean pierre sancho yesterday quick smart i think you should keep trying Glenda. They are definitely one of life’s pleasures. Maureen, i too pine after yummy coconut macaroons!

  6. I applaud your efforts, Glenda. Not only did you try, twice, to make the perfect macaron but you blogged about your final attempt, finding humor in what was surely a disappointing afternoon. You say you’ll “give them another try or two.” I’d be willing to bet you won’t quit trying until you’ve conquered the recipe. And I, for one, am looking forward to that post announcing your success. :)

    • John, you are so kind. I hope you are a patient man for it may take me many more tries to get a couple worthy of being filled and photographed:(

  7. Oh my God you have the patience of a saint Glenda. There is a little french shop in Mt Lawley that sells Macaron’s if you are interested? But then again you don’t like anything to beat you do you!!!

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