I did it.
I made macarons!!!!! With feet!!!!! On my first try!!!!!
Now on a typical day, seeing this much exclamation points would make me cringe, but not today. Because apparently the only way I can describe my feelings about this success is: !!!!!!!
In hindsight I kind of wish I had spent significantly less time worrying about whether I would fail or not and used that time to actually attempt macarons. Considering all my past ventures into things involving whipping egg whites into a sort of meringue turned out better than I always anticipated, I think I may have unconsciously held unto those when I finally decided it was time to try my hand at macarons.
Now I have to credit another little critter here for incessantly
pestering encouraging me to get up and make these cute little cookies: my brother Jason, who countered my every ridiculous excuse and insecurity with equally ridiculous statements that in the end made much more sense than my fears. He even went all out and looked up several macaron-making videos on YouTube, and practically followed me around with his computer just to make sure I would watch. He picked a couple of the non-chalant-bordering-on-hilarious videos to prove that there may not be more to it than I let get into my head.
Now Jason’s acts of brotherly valour come few and far between, but I’m quite certain this one won’t go forgotten by me. I am so glad his resolve to have me make him one of his favourite cookies in the world rubbed off on me and turned into my very own. He went so far as to spend time in the kitchen with me, cheering me on in his own snarky way– this boy who doesn’t particularly like spending time in the kitchen because “it’s hot in there” actually was the one who stood over the food processor to make sure my almond meal was fine enough to increase my success rate. He sifted the powdered sugar with the almond meal and cocoa and stood by through the whole process, reconciling what we were doing with the videos we previously watched. He was also the one who made the ganache filling, after a minute or two of prodding on my part. I have to admit I really liked spending time with him in the kitchen.
After we popped the first tray of cookies into the oven, Jason went off to shoot for his blog and I was left on my lonesome to watch my macarons bake.
5 minutes went past. And then around the 8th minute, I looked through the oven door and saw it.
“THERE’S FEET! THERE’S FEET!” I shrieked, jumping and running towards where Jason was wrapping up his shoot with my baby brother. They were both laughing at how silly I looked, my baby brother not having any idea what the hell I was so
deranged happy about.
But Jason, with a huge grin on his face, was saying to me, “Remember not to move the cookies until they’re cool!” It was something I might have completely forgotten about in my excitement. So yes, for once I can say Jason was a huge huge help!
I also found it pleasantly weird that I did not feel even a small tinge of nerves as I made the macarons, after all the drama I went through to… Avoid it, I guess you could say. I went through the motions like I knew what I was doing. I knew when the batter felt right– the magma-flow consistency everyone keeps talking about– and I wasn’t scared at all of not keeping count of how many times I had folded the batter. (I happen to think it’s silly even though I’ve read about how some people swear by it.)
I am not at all saying that I am a “natural” at macaron-making. But what I am saying is: The first step to learning how to do something right is to actually do it, and all the other things have a way of falling into place. Which it did. And now I’m extremely happy for it. All of a sudden I want to kick myself and all my stupid excuses. Maybe I’m one of the lucky few who got it in their first try, but it doesn’t matter if you get it on your third try, or your fifth, because once you do get it, you’re going to be able to tell more or less if you’re doing it right on your next few tries.
And oh the courage and pride it gives you to see those pretty little babies!
I’m typically so OC about the appearance of the things I make, but when I saw that one of my shells looked like a land fissure after an earthquake, I couldn’t care less! It would have been incredibly stupid of me to fixate on the one ruined shell when the rest of them were so beautiful!
And in case you’re wondering if it actually tastes as good as it looks, YES IT FREAKING DOES.
As a super-novice first-time macaron-maker, here are the top 10 things I feel really helped me in my first successful foray, taken from all the different things I’ve read/watched/observed:
1. Picking a good first recipe. The one I used is David Lebovitz’s recipe (below), and I picked it because not only did he do all the experimentation work for you already (he made five different batches using 5 different processes), it makes use of only a small amount of ingredients. At least if you don’t get the result you want the first time, you won’t feel so bad about wasting expensive almond meal. There are a slew of macaron recipes out there which I feel ready to try, but to be honest, I think this is a potentially foolproof recipe to start with.
2. Watch videos on YouTube. YouTube is a fantastic (not to mention, FREE!) resource for just about anything you want to learn so it would be such a waste not to use it. The videos Jason found had a light-hearted tone to them, which immensely diminished my uncertainty about being able to do this. It helps to see an actual example of what your batter should look like at a given point. Pictures are better than just words, but videos I feel are the best, if not actual lessons by reputable macaron-makers. Anyway, here is my favourite video and I recommend you give it a watch for some great tips! I promise I’ll be making a video tutorial myself once I am good enough.
3. Having some previous experience with whipping egg whites to certain consistencies. Knowing soft peaks from medium peaks and stiff peaks is important. My recognition was attained from looking through so many photos and descriptions, and most importantly, actual practice. Egg whites aren’t all that difficult to work with at all and I definitely recommend trying other recipes involving whipping egg whites into a meringue before attempting this one, just like these meringue cookies, or this swiss merinuge buttercream.
4. Having some experience with what it’s like to fold dry ingredients into the batter. Since the folding part is probably the most sensitive part in the whole macaron-making process, it helps to have a practiced hand in folding ingredients. First, run a rubber spatula around the side of the bowl and then along the base of the bowl in one gentle motion. Next, fold the mixture over unto itself gently. Rotate the bowl about 90-degrees and repeat the process until the mixture is just combined. The link to the video I shared above shows you how folding is done.
5. Making sure my eggs are at room temperature. From what I gathered, ageing the eggs overnight isn’t a requirement. I also don’t feel comfortable leaving it out overnight for some reason, but I do think using room temperature eggs is essential for success. Warmer eggs are a bit more stable and can whip into something with more body. You can separate your eggs while they are cold and then leave the whites to come to room temperature for a few hours. (I had left mine out, covered, for about five hours because I had to run errands that took longer than I anticipated.)
6. Sifting my dry ingredients. This is a must if you want to get a smooth, pretty-looking macaron shell. If your almond meal is slightly lumpy, it doesn’t mean you won’t succeed at making macarons, only that your shells will look lumpy as well.
7. Keeping the magma-flow consistency batter in mind. This is the best way to describe the batter when it’s ready. When you scoop it up and drop it back in, it should flow slowly and thickly back into the bowl and should not be runny.
8. Letting the piped rounds of batter sit at room temperature to develop a “skin”. This has more to do with helping your macarons rise up rather than expand outward. Some recipes don’t call for this period though, so I guess it varies from recipe to recipe. Some batters are quicker to develop skin than others. This recipe originally doesn’t call for the resting time because it dries out and forms a skin really quickly, but I added some minutes just to be sure.
9. Baking one sheet at a time. Since we are still beginners, better to do this to make sure the heat in the oven is evenly distributed and our macarons rise the way we want.
And finally, the real secret to making successful macarons?
10. Don’t over-think it. I think this is a common pitfall for most homebakers, letting the fear come before the trying; thinking about failing before even beginning. I know a lot of people warn about how finicky macarons are, and as true as that may be, I’m certain it was never the macaron’s intention to scare people off from making it. I also don’t believe that “only a few talented, chosen bakers” will be able to successfully make these. We’re not living in a fantasy/sci-fi novel here. When I made these, I didn’t even weigh my ingredients. I just followed the cup measurements and it still turned out fine. I know the right way to ensure perfect macarons is to weigh them and I’m definitely going to buy a scale to do just that, but my point is, sometimes we get so overwhelmed by all the warnings and jargon that we get intimidated into not making macarons in the end. I know that’s what happened with me.
It’s good to know the possible things that could go wrong, even nicer to know how to remedy them, but don’t let it be the centre of your attention. Focus on the act of making the macaron itself, the process, what you’re doing. Don’t anticipate it to go wrong and just do it! If it goes wrong, then try again! And if it does go right but not perfectly so, don’t fret! The phrase may be long-overused but it still applies: Practice makes perfect.
I promise I’ll be making a better tutorial when I become an expert. (Perhaps even a video!) But for now I hope this post serves to encourage newbie macaron-makers such as myself. Don’t be afraid to try!
Makes about 15 macaron sandwiches
- 1 cup (100 grams) powdered sugar
- ½ cup (50 grams) almond meal
- 3 tablespoons (25 grams) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature
- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ½ cup (125 mL) heavy cream *
- 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
- 120 grams bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter, cut into small pieces
- 1. Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip of about 1/2-inch ready.
- 2. Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough. Sift the almond meal-cocoa mixture into a bowl to make sure there are no more big particles. Re-process any leftover lumpy bits and sift again until dry mixture is completely fine.
- 3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. Beat in the granulated sugar in a continuous and steady stream until meringue is very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes. **
- 4. Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula.
- 5. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding. To test if the batter is ready, use the spatula to scoop up some batter. The batter should feel like flowing magma (thick and slow) when it is dropped back into the bowl. If it is ready, scrape the batter into the pastry bag. If not, fold it a couple more times and test it again.
- 6. Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch apart.
- 7. Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then let sit for about 20 minutes to develop a "skin". You will know it's ready when you touch the surface of the macaron and it will feel smooth and solid. ***
- 8. Bake macarons one tray at a time for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then gently remove from the baking sheet.
- 9. Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.
- 10. Pair up the macaron shells by size. Pick one shell from the prepared pair and spread a bit of the filling on the centre, careful not to spread all the way to the edges or they will overflow once sandwiched. You may also pipe the filling.
- 11. Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors. ****
- Storage: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.
- * The filling makes a lot more than needed and can be halved if desired, but why would you when you can eat the leftovers as fudge after leaving the ganache overnight in the fridge?
- ** I like to test the stiffness of my egg whites by holding the bowl upside down over someone's head. It should not move or shift at all.
- *** I find this particular batter forms a skin rather quickly. As soon as you finish piping the second baking tray, the first tray of macarons will be ready with their skin. You can put them into the oven right away if you're in a hurry.
- **** You don't need to do this if you're excited to dig in, though I would recommend letting the filling harden a little before eating to avoid making a mess.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I shall celebrate this double milestone with some tea and these lovely chocolate macarons. No way to go but up, eh? 😉