The M to S of Macarons

I had finished writing this blog when I came up with the title - what started off as a blog about the lemon macarons I made recently has ended up to be rather an epic blog about all things macaron!  It's fair to say this blog has definitely turned out to be the M to S of macarons - from start to finish & everything in between!

Mention macarons to most people & the reaction will likely be that they love eating them but are too scared to make them.  That's how I felt after two failed attempts at making macarons over a year ago.  Since that time, not only have I eaten many macarons at cafes but each one was sort of like a little reminder of my macaron failures!  So the other day I decided that it was high time that I faced my macaron fear & gave them another go.  

We all know that as enjoyable as baking is it is also a science & you do need to be precise & follow the recipe to achieve the desired results.  This couldn't be more true for making macarons.  It really does pay to carefully read the recipe in advance (not in the 30 seconds before you're about to flick the oven on & throw some ingredients into a bowl like I would normally do when I bake!).  As some of us have experienced first hand, there's a few things that can go horribly wrong with macarons.  But what I realised the other day is that when it all boils down to it, the macaron recipe is actually quite straightforward.  It only contains four main ingredients.  The tricky part to making macarons is keeping on top of the steps you have to follow throughout the recipe & I think it's this very fact that would explain many a macaron disaster.

So here's what I think are the keys to achieving macaron success.  

M - Make yourself a cuppa right now... go on!  Then you can relax for a few minutes while you read this blog! Consider it your macaron homework.   
A - Allow yourself time to learn about each step in the macaron making process.  Understand what you need to do & why before you start (this blog hopefully will help you with that!).
C - Check that you have all of the ingredients & equipment you need.  One of the things you'll need that you might not have lying around your kitchen is a sugar thermometer for making the Italian meringue.
A - Arrange the better part of a morning or afternoon to make the macarons.  These are not something you can whip up quickly.  
R - Rope somebody in to help you, especially for your first attempt at making macarons.  My husband helped me the other day & you know the old saying, 'two heads are always better than one'! 
O - Organise your separate bowls of egg whites & egg yolks, dry ingredients & the ingredients you need for the filling such as chopped butter & chocolate.  Having everything on hand for when you need it really helps.  
N - No fear.  You can do it!  

(Like what I did there?...) 

So the recipe I used & have set out below in my own words is for lemon macarons from my little 'Secrets of Macarons' book by Jose Marechal.   I have to say, the recipe was one of the more simpler recipes I've seen which was good - although it was still a little confusing at times as you had to flick back to the start of the book for an explanation on what to do for each stage in the process.  So even with my husband helping me, we made quite a monumental mistake of adding twice the amount of egg whites required for the meringue.  It wasn't until I came to the stage of mixing egg whites with the dry ingredients later on that I realised we were only meant to use 80g for the meringue & then 80g for the dry ingredient mix.  Luckily we realised before we mixed everything together to form the batter so we just had to start the Italian meringue again from scratch.  You don't need to worry about this - I've set out the recipe in a different way to avoid the same confusion!

A few things to know before you start

Time management

You'll need to set aside a generous 2.5-3.5 hours to make your macarons & filling.  You're looking at the following rough time frames:
  • Around 1 - 2 hours prep (setting up, making the macarons, piping them on to your trays & making the filling).
  • 30 minutes to dry the macarons once you've piped them (this is an important stage so that they form a skin before you bake them.  This is what helps them maintain their shape when baked).
  • Around an hour of baking time in total to finish baking all of your macarons - this breaks down to 12-14 mins of baking time for each lot of trays that you place in the oven.  Unless you have a really large oven (in which case I am totally jealous of you!) only bake two trays at a time because you want to have ample air circulation in your oven to bake the macarons.
For this recipe, I would recommend making the filling first & then placing it in the fridge while you concentrate on your macarons.  You can also make the filling the day before (if you're organised!) & just keep it covered in the fridge until you're ready to use it.  Scroll down for the ingredients & instructions for the filling.

Aged egg whites vs egg white powder

Something I have learnt since making my macarons is that it is best to use aged egg whites. This is easy enough if the eggs in your fridge are a few days from their expiry date.  But if the eggs are quite fresh, I have read that you should separate the yolks from the whites & then leave the egg whites out at room temperature for 24 hours so that the moisture content in the egg whites evaporates.  The reasoning behind this is that because the egg whites will have less moisture content, they will end up with more volume when you whip them later on to make the meringue.  Now, I'm not sure how comfortable I feel about recommending that egg whites be left out at room temperature for that long, so to be on the safe side I suggest that you place them in a bowl in the fridge instead.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm & prick a few holes in the top to allow for moisture & air to escape & then leave the bowl in the fridge for 24 hours.

An alternative to using aged egg whites is to use fresh egg whites & add a small amount of egg white powder to the egg whites that you use to make the Italian meringue (FYI - for 80g of egg whites, use 1/2 teaspoon of egg white powder).  

OR (yes there's yet another option!) you could scrap fresh egg whites all together & use all egg white powder.  I think I might try this next time I make macarons.  The benefits of using egg white powder is that you won't waste any egg yolks & the egg white powder ultimately whips up better than fresh egg whites (all to do with the moisture content).  The good thing about this recipe for lemon macarons is that you use 6 egg yolks for the filling, so at least you can use them up here. 

** It's worth mentioning at this stage, that you will need to weigh your egg whites & you will need two lots of 80g of egg whites for this recipe.  Measure each 80g lot of egg whites into separate small bowls **

Macron baking trays

Don't bother using a non-stick macaron tray.  I saw one of these the other day & decided to buy one because I thought that it would be an easy way for me to pipe even rounds of macaron mixture.  The problem is, you can't grease the trays first because any moisture or grease will react adversely with the macaron mixture (because it has a meringue base).  So I found out the hard way that the macaron trays don't work!  I baked one batch on the trays & the rest I piped onto flat trays which were covered with baking paper. The ones on the baking paper came off easily & the ones on the macaron trays stuck & I had to pry what was left of them off with a palate knife.

A good tip for your baking trays is to pipe little blobs of macaron mixture into each corner of the tray & along each of the four sides before you lie a sheet of non-stick baking paper neatly on the top.  The blobs of mixture will hold the paper firmly in place because you really want to avoid having any bumps or curves in the baking paper which can cause the macarons to warp slightly if they happen to be piped into those areas.  

When it comes time for you to remove the baked macarons from the oven, dampen your kitchen bench with a wet cloth & then gently slide the baking paper with the macarons across & leave it on the damp bench until the macarons have cooled.  This will ensure that the macarons can be easily lifted off the paper with a palate knife.

One more thing here, as you pipe your macarons on the trays just accept the fact that it will take some practice to get all of your macarons the same size & shape.  I just piped my macarons by sight - piping each round to roughly 4cm rounds.  What you can do is draw circles on the underside of your baking paper using a glass or cookie cutter which is 4cm round.  That way, you can have a template for when you pipe your macarons.  It all depends on how fussed you are about your macarons being exactly the same size.  

  • You'll need a sugar thermometer so that you can make the sugar syrup for the Italian meringue.  You'll need to heat the water & sugar together until it reaches 115C before adding it slowly to your whipped egg whites.
  • Make sure you have plenty of baking trays.  This recipe makes around 80 individual macaron biscuits - so at around 12 to a tray that's 6-7 baking trays worth in total.  It's easiest if you have lots of baking trays because you can pipe out all of the macarons in one go & leave them all to rest for 30 mins.  Of course, you can always just swap out the first couple of trays once you have finished baking the first batch of macarons.  Just make sure you wait for the trays to cool first before piping more macarons onto them.
  • Have a flexible spatula to mix the batter with. 
  • You'll need a pastry brush to brush down the sides of the saucepan when you're making the sugar syrup to prevent sugar crystals from forming. 
  • You'll need at least a medium sized sieve.
  • You need a piping bag & an 8mm (ish) piping nozzle (although you can just snip the end off the piping bag).
The ground almond & icing sugar mixture

Ground almond & icing sugar forms the dry ingredient basis of macarons.  You will need to sift the ground almond & icing sugar together so that you end up with a really fine mix without any coarse bits of almond.  I would recommend sifting the ground almond & icing sugar at least twice (I think my husband sifted it 5 times!).  Having a very fine dry ingredient mix will also help to achieve smooth macaron tops.

Another tip that I have read about since making my macarons, is to dry the ground almond & icing sugar mix in the oven before you use it.  This will cut back on any additional moisture from the almond meal being added to the macaron batter.  So once you have finished sifting the two together, place the mix onto a baking tray lined with baking paper & bake for 5-7 minutes at 150C static or 130C fan bake.  You don't want to brown the mix at all, you're just drying it out so keep a close eye on it - shake or stir it half way through & remove it from the oven if you are concerned about it browning.  Leave it to cool before you use it.  

** I'll leave it up to you as to whether you can be bothered drying the ground almond & icing sugar in the oven before you use it.  I didn't do this when I made my macarons & they turned out quite well.  I will probably try this for the next batch I make so I can compare the results **

Italian meringue vs French meringue

Macarons can be made with either an Italian meringue or a French meringue.  An Italian meringue is when you add a cooked sugar syrup (water & sugar heated together to 115C ) to beaten egg whites & continue beating until you end up with a thick, glossy meringue.  It is a bit fiddly I'll admit, but I've read that using an Italian meringue is the secret to achieving a better overall result.

French meringue is when you gradually add the sugar directly to the beaten egg whites & continue beating until you have your meringue.

Colouring your macarons

Firstly, it's best to use gel or powdered food colours rather than liquid food colours to cut back on the moisture content that you introduce to the macaron batter.  

The recipe I followed required us to add colour to the macarons when we mixed up an almond paste - which was just the sifted almond meal & icing sugar mixed together with 80g of egg whites.  I'm NOT going to recommend that you do this.  It was a really stiff mixture & getting the colour through was really difficult.

I have since read that the best stage to add colour to your macarons is when you are making the sugar syrup for the Italian meringue because the heating process will evaporate any moisture that the colour adds.  I'll definitely be doing this next time so I suggest that this is the way you do it too.

The four stages of the macaron making process
  1. The dry ingredients or 'tant pour tant' in French (meaning, 'so much for so much' i.e half almond meal & half icing sugar).  This is the combined & sifted icing sugar & ground almond  that you sift together through a sieve at least twice to remove any lumps or coarse bits of almond.  If you want smooth, shiny Macaron tops then be sure to take the time do do this step!   
  2. The meringue.  For this recipe you will be making an Italian meringue.  This involves juggling whipping the egg whites & cooking the sugar syrup over the stove until it reaches 115C which is when you take it off the heat & drizzle it carefully into the egg whites as they whip in your electric mixer.
  3. The macaron batter.  This is made up of the dry ingredients plus an additional 80g of unbeaten egg white.  You then slowly mix through the Italian meringue.  What you end up with is what you pipe onto your trays. 
  4. Piping, resting & baking.  After piping 4cm rounds of macaron batter onto your tray you need to bang each tray on your kitchen bench to remove air bubbles & flatten the tops.  You must then leave the macarons on the bench for 30 minutes to form a skin before baking.
Are you still with me?!... 

Let's move on to the actual recipe.  Remember, these are lemon macarons & will make around 40 macarons (that's 80 individual macaron biscuits sandwiched together with the filling).

I recommend that you make the filling either the day before or at least before you make the macaron biscuits on the same day, so you can leave it in the fridge before you pipe it onto the macarons.  So lets start with the filling...

The lemon & white chocolate filling

200ml lemon juice (I just used bottled lemon juice)
3 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
110g butter
125g white chocolate

  1. Separate the egg yolks & whites into separate bowls.  Be very careful not to get any egg yolks into your egg whites because you will be using some of the egg whites later on to make your Italian meringue.  Any remnants of egg yolks in egg whites will prevent egg whites from whipping up properly.  Also use a large-ish bowl to separate your egg yolks into.
  2. Cut up the white chocolate into small pieces.  Do the same with the butter.  Leave to one side for now.
  3. Grab a medium sized saucepan & pour your 200ml of lemon juice into it.  Heat on the stove over a low heat.
  4. While the lemon juice is heating, add the 3 eggs & caster sugar to the bowl with your 6 egg yolks & then vigorously whisk everything together.  
  5. Remove the lemon juice from the heat & pour it over your whisked egg & caster sugar mix.  Give everything another quick whisk to combine & then pour it back into your saucepan.  Return it to a low heat & stir with a wooden spoon until it thickens - this will take around 3-4 minutes.
  6. Once the mixture has thickened, remove it from the stove & add the chopped butter & white chocolate.  Mix well with the wooden spoon until the butter & chocolate has melted & you're left with a really smooth, thick custard type mixture.
  7. Pour the mixture into a separate bowl & cover with clingfilm.  Pop it in the fridge.
  8. Take a deep breath - it's time to make the macaron biscuits! 
The macaron biscuits   

Step one: the dry ingredients or 'tant pour tant'

200g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
  1. Optional (if you are going to dry the ground almonds & icing sugar in the oven): heat your oven to 150C static or 130C fan bake.
  2. Grab a couple of large bowls & one large sieve.  Weigh out the sugar & almond meal in one bowl & then tip it into the sieve over the other bowl.  Using a spatula, stir the two together & press through the sieve as you go.  Once everything has gone through the sieve, tap the remnants of almond meal from the sieve into the rubbish bin or sink before re-using the sieve.  Repeat this process at least twice & then leave to one side for now unless you are drying the mix out in the oven.
  3. To dry the mixture in the oven, line a baking tray with non-stick paper & place the dry ingredients evenly on the tray.  Bake for 5-7 minutes (remembering to keep an eye on it so it doesn't brown - you only want to dry the mixture out) & then allow to cool before tipping back into one of the bowls you used to sieve the mix into.  
Step two: the Italian meringue 

80g of aged egg whites *
200g caster sugar
75ml water
Yellow food colouring (I used Wilton's Lemon Yellow)
  1. Measure out 80g of egg whites & place in the bowl of your electric beater.  Make sure you attach the whisk attachment.
  2. To make the sugar syrup, place the caster sugar & water into a saucepan & stir gently over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Stop stirring & use a wet pastry brush to brush down the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals from forming.  
  3. In the meantime, start whipping your egg whites on a medium speed.  
  4. Grab your sugar thermometer & increase the heat on your syrup slightly to low - medium.  It will come to the boil which is when you need to add in the yellow food colouring.  Stir very quickly to combine.  
  5. Stop stirring the syrup again (but continue to use the wet pastry brush for the sides of the saucepan) & continue to boil it over a low-medium heat.  Here's the slightly tricky part, you need to slightly increase the speed on your egg whites to a medium-high speed once the temperature of your sugar syrup goes over 105C.  Continue beating the egg whites at this speed until the sugar syrup reaches 115C.  Important:  make sure the sugar syrup does not go above 115C - increase/decrease the temperature on your stove to control the temperature & take the saucepan off the stove for a bit if you need to quickly cool it to keep it below 115C.  
  6. Once the sugar syrup reaches 115C, remove it from the stove immediately.  Carefully & slowly drizzle it down the inside of the electric mixer bowl as the egg whites continue beating. 
  7. Beat the meringue for 10 minutes to allow it to cool down.
** Remember you can try adding 1/2 teaspoon of meringue powder to the egg whites OR you can use all egg white powder.  Just follow the instructions on the box so that you end up with the equivalent of 80g of egg whites **

Step three: the macaron batter 

This is made up of:

The almond meal & icing sugar mixture
An additional 80g egg whites (not beaten)
The Italian meringue - added in slowly
  1. Add 80g of egg whites to your bowl with the almond meal & icing sugar.  But don't stir yet!
  2. Next add in 1/4 of the Italian meringue & stir to combine.  
  3. Add the remaining Italian meringue & stir until everything is just combined.  Don't over stir the batter though.  You want a batter that is thick like lava from a volcano. Finally, to help remove any air bubbles from the mixture, lift a few spatula-fuls of mixture up & let it slap down into the bowl.  Slapping the top of the mixture with the spatula will also help to knock out the air.   
Step four: piping, resting & baking
  1. Get your piping bag ready.  Either use a piping nozzle which has an opening of 8mm or if you don't have one of these, spoon the macaron batter into your piping bag, twist the top end of the bag & then snip off a small piece from the bottom of the bag so that you have a hole of around 8mm.  
  2. Pipe 4cm rounds of batter onto your trays, spacing them out by at least 2cm.  For any novice macaron pipers out there, the way to pipe a macaron is to hold the piping bag straight up & down over your tray at a height of around 1/2 cm & gently squeeze the piping bag until the mixture spreads out to a 4cm round.  Don't swirl the piping bag around as you pipe - just hold it steady in the middle & squeeze so that the mixture just spreads out to create your round.
  3. Once you've pipe one tray's worth of macarons, bang the tray gently on the kitchen bench to flatten the macarons & knock out any remaining air bubbles.  If you do notice that some macarons still have peaks, simply dampen your finger & press ligthly on the macaron to flatten the peak.  Leave the trays on the bench for 30 minutes to form a skin.  
  4. After the 30 mins are up, test that a skin has formed by quickly & lightly touching the top of the macaron with your finger.  You should be able to do this without leaving a mark on the macaron.  
  5. Once you've piped the first batch of macarons, make sure you set the temperature of your oven to 150C static or 130C fan bake.  
  6. Place two trays of macarons in the oven to bake for 10-14 mins.  Be sure to rotate & swap the baking trays around half way through the cooking time.  Don't be afraid to reduce your oven temperature if you are concerned that your first batch of macarons are browning on the top.  Just monitor them while they're in the oven & keep an eye on the time as well.  (We ended up reducing the oven temperature to 120C fan bake as our first batch of macarons browned a bit too much on the tops).  
  7. Once your macarons are baked, remove from the oven.  To make your life easier when it comes to lifting them off the baking paper, moisten your bench top with some water & then slowly & gently lift the baking paper off the trays & slide it over to the moistened bench.  Leave the macarons there to cool before lifting them gently off the baking paper with a spatula or flat knife.
  8. Cool the macarons completely on a wire rack before sandwiching them together with the filling.  
To assemble the macarons

Depending on your piping skills you might want to quickly match up similar sizes & shapes of macarons before you pipe them...

Use a piping bag again with around an 8mm opening to pipe the filling onto half of the macaron biscuits. Squeeze the piping bag like you did when you piped the macarons onto the trays.  You want a decent sized blob of filling - don't be too scant here (I could have done with piping a bit more filling on mine!).  Place another macaron biscuit on the top & et voila! You've got a finished macaron!

Once you've finished piping the macarons, place them in an airtight container (or even a cake tin would do - mine were fine in a cake tin) as the recipe recommends that you refrigerate them for an hour before you eat them (of course, there's always the sneaky tasting that I'm sure you will do before the hour is up!).  

In terms of long term storage - you can actually freeze the 'naked' macaron biscuits for up to 6 months in an airtight container.  For the finished macarons that you've filled, they will stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge in the airtight container or cake tin.  

Wow - you've made it!!! Hats off for staying awake until the end of this blog!  Haha!  I hope that reading my blog has helped you to overcome some of your macaron making fear & it's inspired you to give them a go.  Most importantly, if you end up with your first successful batch of macarons then it's hoorays & yippees all round! 

Well done x



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