We often blame external factors for the way things turn out. I too, am guilty of this. When my macarons are less than successful, I put the blame on nature, on the humidty in Singapore. My guilt extends to more than just macarons but that’s another story.
Making macarons is tough and some would say frustrating; even more so in a humid country where the weather doesn’t work in our favour. (Macarons hate the humidity, even more than I do.)
And if macarons go by any other name, I think they should be called ‘the unblemished’ or ‘le parfait’ (‘the perfect’).
I do think macarons are synonymous to perfection – there is a list of criteria for a macaron, a proper one that is. It needs to have a regular shape (most commonly, a perfect circle), a smooth and glossy top, have pied/feet around the edges of its shell, just to name a few. Texture wise, you should bite into a crisp shell till it gives way to a chewy center. Oh and the ratio of the filling to shell is just as important.
Since macarons consist of only a few key ingredients: almond meal, sugar, egg whites, it is thus pretty much about technique and precision more than anything else.
There are a few methods of making macarons but my preference is for the Italian method that is very similar to making an Italian meringue – (see my post of meringues here) In a humid country, I find that the macarons made by the Italian meringue method works a lot better. For one, it dries out much more quickly as compared to the French method. Secondly, it gives it is more stable especially when you are baking more than a single batch of macarons.
This method has blessed me with batches and batches of successful macarons. And because of this, I have ceased to blame the weather for my failure in macaron-making.
As Salvador Dali once said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it”. And so I continue in my search for perfection in my macaron-baking attempts. For now, it’s the experimenting of flavours and combinations and to bake uniform trays of macarons every single time.
Hope that my little attempt in demystifying macaron-baking will be of some help to you. Continue to bake on, and for the non-bakers, here’s something to drool on!
*P.S I want to clear this up once and for all: Please do not confuse the Parisian macarons with the American macaroons which are coconut cookies.
Recipe: Fleur de sel caramel macarons
Makes 40 regular macarons
150g ground almond meal
150g icing sugar
60g egg whites, room temperature
150g caster sugar
60g egg whites, room temperature
- Prepare your baking trays: Place baking parchment on trays and trace 2.5cm circles on the paper, spacing them about 1.5 to 2cm apart. You can use cookie cutters as a guide.
- Dry the ground almond meal in a 50 degrees celcius oven for approximately 10 minutes. Then process it in a food processor with the icing sugar.
- Sift the ground almond meal and icing sugar in a bowl and whisk with egg whites in group 1 until you get a smooth paste.
- Place egg whites from group 2 into a greasefree* mixer bowl.
- Heat sugar and water mixture in a clean stainless steel pot on medium heat (do not stir). Just use a clean pastry brush and tap water to brush down the sugar on the sides of the pan. Once the sugar mixture reaches 105 degrees celcius, start the mixer and whisk the egg whites to soft peaks.
- When the sugar mixture reaches 118 degrees celcius, remove pot from stove and add the food colouring before immersing the pot into a basin of warm water to halt the cooking process.
- Once the sugar mixture stop bubbling profusely, wipe the bottom of the pot dry before you begin to pour the mixture in a steady stream into the egg whites while the mixer is on high speed. Whisk at maximum speed for about 5 minutes before turning down to medium speed for about 3-4 minutes. Then, let the meringue cool slightly at low speed.
- Once the meringue has cooled( warm, but not hot!), incorporate a large scoop of meringue into the group 1 ingredients. Fold to combine.
- Then, add the rest of the meringue into the group 1 ingredients and fold through gently.
- When it is well-combined, smear the mixture against the sides of the bowl with your spatula to achieve macaronage. This should be done about 10- 12 times to achieve a smooth, glossy mixture, without holding peaks. When you lift your spatula, the mixture should fall in about 5-6 seconds. The consistency should be similar to your choux pastry mixture.
- When it is done, pipe the macaron shells onto a baking sheet. Stop piping once the mixture reaches the inner edges of the circumference. The mixture will spread a little.
- Let the macarons rest for about 30-45 minutes in an air-conditioned environment (This is essential if you are living in humid country.) until they have form a skin and the batter does not stick to your fingers when you touch it.
- Bake in a preheated oven on the center rack at 150 degrees celcius for about 17- 18 minutes. (It is advisable to use an oven thermometer to check your oven temperature and not to rely entirely on the oven setting as there may be some inaccuracies.)
- Cool the macaron shells before attempting to peel them off the baking sheet.
Macaron shell tips:
*Most macaron recipes uses equal parts of ground almond meal and icing sugar (also referred to as tant pour tant).
*Beating eggs in a grease-fress stainless steel bowl is essential to ensure that the whites beat to its maximum volume.
*Macaronage is a term used for mixing the batter and spreading the batter against the sides of the bowl until you get a smooth, glossy mixture. Don’t worry about deflating the batter but don’t go overboard with the mixing.When you lift it with your spatula, the batter will drop back on itself after about 5-6 seconds. When you pipe the batter, it should not form peaks. (it should flatten out pretty quickly)
*After piping a tray of macarons, rap the tray twice against your kitchen table. This will remove the air bubbles.
*Macarons need to rest before baking in a cool and dry environment. This will help the macarons dry out and it helps in forming the feet/pied of macarons.
*I bake my macarons on double baking trays to prevent the bottom from getting too much heat.
Fleur de sel caramel filling:
125ml fresh cream
175g castor sugar
5g fleur de sel*
180g unsalted butter, cubed
- Mise en place is absolutely essential when making the caramel filling. Measure all your ingredients before you begin cooking your sugar.
- Boil the cream in a small pot and as soon as it starts to bubble, remove from heat.
- Start cooking your caramel by adding 1/5 of sugar into a clean stainless steel pot/pan and put on medium-low heat. Do not, at any point, stir the caramel mixture. Shake the pan to disperse the sugar evenly.
- As soon as the sugar turn slightly golden, add in more sugar and repeat the process until all the sugar in the pan and you get a golden brown consistency.
- Turn down the heat to low and slowly pour in the cream (still hot) in a steady stream. Stir the mixture with a heatproof spatula (silicon is great for this purpose) until it combines.
- Take it off the heat and allow the caramel cool to about 40-45 degrees celcius. Stir in the cubes of butter and then add the fleur de sel.
- Pour the caramel into a container and cling wrap it before placing it in the fridge to cool.
- Once cooled, use a whisk and beat the caramel mixture until the colour lightens, and the mixture is shiny and smooth. Ensure that the mixture is of spreadable consistency (very much like your chocolate ganache).
Caramel filling tips:
*Fleur de sel: translates to “Flower of salt” in French. It is a type of salt that is hand-harvested, most traditionally in Brittany. It is the preferred salt to be used in this filling as it is not as salty and has more complexity than table salt. If you don’t have access to fleur de sel, you can substitute with sea salt, though you might need to adjust on the quantity.
*Mise en place or “everything in place” is something that I’ve talked about in my previous post. It refers to having all the ingredients and equipment set up and ready to go. Extremely crucial in this recipe. You wouldn’t want to be running around and measuring your other ingredients while your caramel is burning!
*Caramel burns very easily. I’ve learnt it the hard way. Never, never turn your back on your caramel while it is cooking. Caramel is very much like a baby that needs your undivided attention.
*A little patience goes a long way when you are cooking caramel. Always put it on low heat so you have better control of it and add a little sugar at a time so it cooks more evenly.
- Pair up similar sized macaron shells together before you begin piping the filling.
- Pipe the filling onto the center of a macaron shell and place the second shell on top of it and twist it gently until the filling comes right to the edges of the macaron.
- Place it into the fridge to set. Macarons are best eaten within a day or two as the shells will soften over time in the fridge