Test Kitchen tips: Making macarons
Gema sent me an email late last week, looking for tips on making that quintessential French pastry-cum-cookie, the macaron:
Why do my French macarons bake hollow on the inside, rise flat or burn on the bottom? I have tried dozens and dozens of recipes and I have yet to bake a wonderful traditional macaron? Please help?
Like so many of us, the mere thought of tackling macarons in the kitchen used to intimidate me. That was until Dorie Greenspan wrote a wonderful article for Food last year demystifying the art. She gives some great tips for making macarons, including:
•Old egg whites are better than new; warm is better than cold. At the very least, your egg whites must be at room temperature, but the pros prefer them aged. According to [French pastry king Pierre] Hermé, you should measure out the whites one week ahead of time, put them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the plastic, then leave them in the fridge to grow old. It's all about increasing the whites' elasticity.
•The almond flour and powdered sugar should be as one. Some macaron-makers rub the flour and sugar between their palms, others give them a spin in a mixer and everyone strains the mixture. I go directly to the straining part and then fluff the ingredients with a whisk.
•Beat the meringue until it holds lovely peaks, then stop! You want a meringue that's just ever so slightly short of holding firm stand-up-and-salute peaks. Above all, you want a meringue that doesn't lose its gloss.
•Now that you've fluffed up the egg whites, stir them down. When the time comes to combine the almond-sugar mixture with the meringue, take off the velvet gloves. Fold the mixtures together, then give the batter a few really stern turns. If the batter doesn't slide off the spatula like lava (or what you imagine sliding lava to look like), beat it a couple times more.
•Decide on a size and stick to it. While size doesn't matter, identicalness does. You want the cookies to all be about the same size so they'll bake evenly and match up nicely when you sandwich them.
•Slam the pan … or don't. After piping the macarons out onto the baking sheets, some people advise lifting the sheet up and then rapping it against the counter to de-bubble and round the batter; some people don't. I've done it both ways and haven't seen much difference in the batches, but I slam the sheet nonetheless — mostly because it's fun.
•Keep cool. Macarons need to be made in a cool, dry place and to rest in that place so they can form a film that doesn't stick to your fingers when touched.
•At bake time, lay out the offering to the deities. When it's time to bake the macs, that's the time to leave a sack of sugar at the cookie goddess' altar. It's also the time when chefs seem to get most hocus-pocusy. Some mavens recommend putting the baking sheet with the piped-out cookies on top of another pan — it's what I do — and others don't. Some bake them at high temperatures, some at low and some at a combination. I've tried all the methods and, as you'll see in the recipes, I settled on two that are only slightly less convoluted.
•Keep even cooler. After the macarons have cooled and you've filled them with something luscious, taste one — and then don't taste another until you've covered them and given them a 24-hour rest in the refrigerator. A well-rested macaron is a softer and tastier macaron. Keep the cookies in the fridge and take them out about half an hour before serving.
Of course, a great baking story is not complete without recipes, and she includes those, too!
Hope this helps!
If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
-- Noelle Carter
Photo credits: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times