Macarons are a perfectionist’s nightmare. When making macarons, a lot of things can go wrong, especially when you make them for the first time. Technique makes all the difference and repetition (the trial and error way) is the only way to get it right. But despite the annoyance of imperfect macarons, I find the process itself calming, everything from the precise measurement of the ingredients, patiently whipping the meringue, folding the dry ingredients into the meringue, looking out for the right consistency, piping the batter out onto the baking sheets to resting the piped batter before baking to anxiously waiting to see how it’s going to turn out once they’ve finished baking. And then there’s the infinite variety of fillings and colors! I’m geeking out about macarons, and only those who have journeyed down the macaron paved road will understand.
There are many many different techniques out there that work for different people, and it can get very overwhelming. My Pinterest account has a board dedicated to French Macarons and all the blog posts I’ve read about making them. After all my reading, I’ve found that Not So Humble Pie and BraveTart are two very exhaustive sources for all things macaron.
My main issue with macarons is preventing hollow shells. While researching this problem, I came across a post on BraveTart’s blog that said:
If you want to understand why your macarons turn out hollow, skip the flavoring and food dye. To get to the bottom of hollows, you have to divorce the problem of ingredients from the problem of technique.
This made a lot of sense. It’s best to start with the basics. This way if anything goes wrong, you have less variables to consider when troubleshooting your macarons. I think following this tip is good for anyone starting out with making macarons, not just those looking to prevent hollows.
I’m still working to get my macarons sans-hollows, still reading different posts on technique, etc. Right now I’m focusing on working with Not So Humble Pie’s macaron recipe and getting the baking time right for my temperamental oven. In the meantime, here are some thoughts…
- Making macarons is not stressful if you are organized. My routine goes like this:
- Weigh out confectioners’ sugar, dump into bowl of Cuisinart chopper.
- Weigh out almond flour, dump into bowl of Cuisinart chopper.
- Add coloring if powdered and also dump into bowl of Cuisinart chopper.
- Pulse the whole thing several times until the mixture is pretty fine.
- Sift the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and set aside.
- Prepare piping bag with piping tip, put a clip right before the piping tip (to prevent the batter from oozing out when you fill the bag) and put the whole thing inside one of those round takeout containers that usually contain liquids, opening the bag so the rim of the container is covered with the bag (like you’re lining the container with the piping bag).
- Make meringue, do the macaronnage, pipe onto half sheet baking sheets lined with silicone baking mats.
- There are hundreds of different macaron recipes out there, and they all have different baking temperatures and times. Sometimes, even if you follow a recipe to the letter, you will still get bad macarons. This is because every oven is different, and the only way you can really tell the true temperature of your oven is to get an oven thermometer. Oven temperature and length of baking time greatly affects the outcome of macaron making. Find what temperature and baking time works for you through trial and error and stick with it.
- Aging egg whites — some say egg whites must be aged at least 24 hours before using, some say you don’t need to age the egg whites at all. Supposedly, aged egg whites whip up better meringues, but I don’t think aged egg whites are really a must. I age my egg whites, but not because they make better meringue, but because when egg whites are aged, they have more of a watery consistency and are easier to pour and weigh accurately without too many blobs of egg whites falling into the bowl, ruining my measurement and requiring me to start over.
- As far as the consistency of the batter, the following video from The Macaron Diaries was very helpful to me in determining the right consistency, and my macaronnage technique is also very similar to hers…
This is another video that’s supposed to help with preventing hollows, which I have not yet tried:
- Resting the piped macaron batter for at least half an hour, or until the batter forms a thin skin and is no longer sticking to your finger if you lightly touch its surface is important. This is how you get the “feet” that macarons are known for. There are some recipes that don’t require resting the batter, but I find that it’s just good insurance to rest the batter to ensure the formation of feet. From my readings, feet are formed because the skin at the top of the macaron prevents air from escaping through the top and so it must escape through the bottom.
- Overbaking the macarons slightly is fine, because moisture from the fillings will get absorbed into the shells and bring the macs to the right consistency of having chewy insides and crisp outsides. In fact, macarons are best when they’ve been left to “mature” in the fridge for 24-48 hours.
- Once you find a method/recipe that works for you, keep it as your go-to method and recipe. Experimentation is also good, but make sure you have a “home base” recipe that you can always go back to that is tried and true.
That about sums up everything I’ve learned so far from making macarons. It’s very easy to get obsessed with making them and feel disappointed when after the 10th try you’re still getting imperfect macarons, but Stella (aka BraveTart) said it best when she wrote,
Have fun. Enjoy the process of making them and learning. Share them with friends and family; they’re not judging you. And if they are? They don’t deserve your delicious macarons (jerks). Because with or without hollows, macarons will always be delicious.
Bearing that in mind, it’s actually not so bad that I get air pockets/hollows in my macs. I find that the shells actually get less hollow as the macarons mature. And I’m sure no one minds the hollows once they bite into them.