What I’ve Learned from Making Macarons Part 1: The Meringue

This post has been a long time coming.  Since the last post, I’ve been making macarons almost daily, with no time to write about it here.  So many variables to explore, so many things to perfect.  I spoke too soon when I declared the Dessert Truck Works (DTW) method as my “go-to” method.  At the time, it was good enough because on the outside, the macarons looked pretty and had dainty feet — but they were hollow on the inside.  And although I’m getting closer to finding a method that works for me and results in less hollows, the journey is not finished and I am beginning to suspect that with macarons, it probably never really is.  A few good bakes in a row never really guarantees perfect bakes always.

From reading the many blog posts out there about macarons, I’ve come to learn that every baker’s method is unique due to so many variables like how they choose to make the meringue, what they consider to be the correct consistency, when they choose to add the flavorings/colorings, whether to add the meringue into the almond flour mixture or the almond flour mixture into the meringue, how many additions to break this process up into, their oven’s particular quirks and so on.  And every baker found their method through their own trial and error and persistence.  You have to find what works for you, and there is no hard and fast set of rules to follow that will guarantee perfect macarons.  All that being said, this is the story of my own particular macaron journey, a journey that starts with the meringue.

Of all the different things that could affect the way macarons turn out, I narrowed down the categories to the ones that might have to do with causing hollow macarons.  Hollows are caused by air in the batter — too much of it, either by undermixing the batter or overbeating the meringue.  They can also be caused by oven temperature (if it’s too high, the outer shell hardens and cooks before the inside fully sets and therefore collapses upon removal from the oven).  I’m sure there are other possible causes, but I decided to go back to the fundamentals by focusing on my meringue, because…

“In any recipe, a stable meringue serves as the foundation for a beautiful macaron.”

BraveTart

The Dessert Truck Works (DTW) method uses a Swiss meringue which involves heating the sugar and egg whites over a double boiler until the sugar dissolves and is no longer grainy, at which point one starts to whip the mixture until stiff peaks.  As badly as I wanted to continue the delusion that I was making my meringue properly, the hollows did not lie.  So I stopped lying to myself — I was never really reaching stiff peaks with this method.  Yes, I made sure my bowl was clean, no egg yolk accidentally made it into my egg whites after separation, etc…but I could never quite beat the meringue to stiff peaks and I suspected that it might have been because I was overheating the egg white/sugar mixture.  The meringue just felt too heavy.  I felt like the heating of the sugar/egg white mixture, resulting in the sugar turning into a syrup mixed with the egg whites was weighing my meringue down as it cooled while beating.  So I stripped my meringue back down to the basics — the sugar, the egg whites, and my whisk.  And my arm.  I know — not even a mixer of any kind!

My fraudulent stiff peaks…

stiffpeaks
Fraudulent stiff peaks.  They only looked like this because I manipulated the way I pulled the beaters out of the meringue.  😦

I was actually inspired to whip the meringue by hand after watching the following video:

I was all, “ooooh” as I saw the transformation of the egg whites into fluffy, stiff peaks, a big clump of it stuck inside the whisk and thought, “I want to do that too!”

So I went back to the French meringue method, which I previously swore off.  After whipping my meringue into stiff peaks just like in the video…

stiffpeak
Stiff peaks! Glorious stiff peaks whipped by hand!

…I went in search of a good recipe that pretty much held your hand through the process.  The following two tutorials are very helpful and very detailed macaron tutorials on using the French meringue method.  They take the fear right out of making macarons.  Well, most of the fear.

The Best French Macaron Recipe (Indulge With Mimi)

This tutorial has a video to go along with all the information included in the post.  It’s very helpful when you’re a visual type of learner like me.  It’s very meticulous in its breakdown of steps, all the way from preparation of ingredients to baking.  And it was my first experience with non-hollow macarons!

nonhollowmac

I think though that I need to play around with the baking time/temp a bit, as the shells on these macarons weren’t very crisp and were a bit too thin.  I know it isn’t my resting time as I rested them for a little over half an hour and they were no longer sticky to the touch when I checked before baking.  I’m also wondering if the amount of sugar has anything to do with it, because I know sugar plays a huge role in the texture, specifically the crispness of the macaron.  So I looked at other recipes for comparison of sugar ratios.

Which led me to…

How To Make Macarons – French Meringue Method (Sugary Winzy)

The recipe in this post, which is also very, very detailed (no video but lots and LOTS of pictures not only of beautiful inspiring macarons, but also pictures of each stage of the macaron making process), is for a very large batch of macarons.  So large that in order to compare it to the recipe from Indulge With Mimi, I divided the recipe by 4.  The amounts, when divided by 4 are as follows:

  • 62 g almond flour
  • 92 g icing sugar
  • 1/16 tsp salt
  • 54 g egg whites (the original recipe calls for 6 whites from Extra Large Grade A eggs but a little bit of googling told me that 6 whites from XL Grade A eggs = 1 cup, and since I divided the recipe into quarters, I needed 1/4 cup, which I weighed on my kitchen scale and it was about 54 g.  My information came from a conversion chart I found at http://www.culinarylore.com/measurements:eggs-in-cup-amounts.  I included a snip of it below.  I love the Windows snipping tool!)
  • 23 g granulated sugar
eggchart
From http://www.culinarylore.com/measurements:eggs-in-cup-amounts

The Sugary Winzy recipe has a lot more icing sugar in the shell than the Indulge With Mimi recipe, and I am guessing that this influenced the crispness of the outer shell.  The icing sugar/almond flour ratio in the latter was 65:65 which is 1:1 while in the former it’s 92:62 which is 1.4838709677, which is just a weensy bit less than 1.5, which is 3:2 if you round each number to one decimal (pardon the math lesson).   I plan on doing the Indulge With Mimi recipe again and fiddling with the bake time and temp as I said before, just to see if I come out with the same results.  But I digress.

So what did I learn from going back to the French meringue method?  For starters, I’m now a believer that whipping up my egg whites by hand gives me better control over knowing when I’ve reached the stiff peak stage.  Most recipes using the French meringue method tell you to stop whipping the egg whites as soon as you reach the stiff peak stage.  It’s harder to tell (in my opinion) when I use my hand mixer or my Kitchenaid, and I (perhaps incorrectly, I don’t know) believe that using my mixer causes more air to be incorporated into the meringue which could be contributing to my hollows.  Or I could just be talking nonsense and using a mixer really makes no difference.  Either way, I’ve developed a sort of superstition around whipping my egg whites by hand and will probably continue to do so most of the time when using the French meringue method.  Unless I’m in a hurry.  But you know I’m going to eventually use a mixer for comparison just to see what happens, because among the many things I’m learning in this journey of macaron skills refinement, it is a continuous process of experimentation and trial and error.

Besides causing me to go back to the French meringue method, all this has made me want to learn more about meringues and the science behind them, the different methods, etc.  One thing leads to another and before you know it, there will probably be a post about meringue cookies.  Only time will tell.  🙂

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