There’s just so much to learn about making macarons. Let’s start with the fact they’re called macarons, not macaroons. I cringe a little every time someone calls a macaron a macaroon.
When I make these, people often ask me how I do it. I’m often into the third minute of detailed explanation before I realise that their eyes have glazed over a little and they’re just being polite.
A good macaron will have proper structure. Macaron shells must have feet. They should also be round, smooth with a little sheen to it and a slight dome shape. And if we’re being nitpicky, and we are, because this is a subject worth being nitpicky about, there shouldn’t be an air pocket under the top layer of the macaron shell. It sounds fussy, but I’ve seen lots of good cafes sell very average macarons that are lumpy, cracked, not even round and it just makes me wonder why people bother to pay so much for something that’s not quite right.
There are a few different ways to make macarons, but the Italian meringue method detailed below is most favoured by pastry chefs. Pierre Herme and Adriano Zumbo use these in their kitchens because it is more stable and easier to control in big quantities. I’ll talk about the much easier French meringue method in another post.
There’s a lot of technique to making macarons. There’s a reason that it’s one of the most feared challenges on Masterchef. It’s taken me about a year to get to the stage where I am happy with the ones that come out of my kitchen. I’ve binned hundreds of these.
The only reason I kept making them is because I refuse to be beaten by a recipe. I’m giving you a lot of detail below because I want you to be able to get this on your first try. The Italian meringue method is the easiest way to start making macarons – as long as you have the proper equipment.
Pierre Herme make the best macarons, by a mile. His flavours are bolder – believe me, I took my macaron research very seriously when I visited Paris last year. I know Laduree has many passionate followers but Pierre Herme does much more exciting, slightly left of centre flavour combinations. Olive oil, wasabi, jasmine – even ketchup, which I passed on. Even his traditional flavours are better than Laduree because he layers his fillings, so blackcurrant might have blackcurrant ganache and also tiny jellied currants inside.
Which is why I got really excited when his highly acclaimed book, Macarons, finally got translated into English late last year. It is the go to book on the subject. Even if you only use it as a coffee table book, it’s worth it. It does make for a lot of rumbly tummies and mouth watering conversations though.
I must confess that when I first got the book, I was disappointed. While I love obsessively over-attentive to detail chefs and their recipes, this guy took it several steps further. There are eleven pages detailing the ‘thirty-two steps to successful macaron shells’, three pages detailing ‘nine steps to a successful chocolate ganache’ and get this, three pages telling you the ‘eight steps to assembling the macarons’. And a further two pages of utensils needed to make macarons. I know I’m on the obsessive side of normal, but I don’t need nine whole steps to make ganache or three pages of pictures showing me to assemble macarons – one step being ‘position yourself about 2cm above the baking tray.’ But then, I realised that Monsieur Herme is a fourth generation pastry chef from Alsace and so he was entitled to be as attentive to detail as he liked. Surely more detail is better than less detail when it came to macarons.
And then I started reading the recipes. He uses Valencian Spanish almonds and grinds them himself to obtain the right consistency. He orders a specially sourced, La Viette sweet butter from southwestern France. He uses mineral water to make sugar syrup. And he has access to ingredients that only pastry chefs can realistically access, like 100% cacao pate (only $90 from an online store). So, I’ve adapted his recipes to make it achievable for people like us. Normal people, whose parents weren’t pastry chefs. And I’ve scaled them down to reasonable quantities.
Before you even contemplate making macarons, you should ask yourself if you can bothered. And if you are, do you have a reasonable oven. For this recipe, you should also have a digital thermometer and digital weighing scale. You will probably also need a stand mixer, blender, piping bags, round metal piping nozzle and a ton of patience.
Pierre Herme recommends weighing out your egg whites into bowls the week before, then covering them in cling wrap and piercing holes in the wrap. Leave in the fridge for a few days, preferably a week. Or, if you’re like me, and not one who can ever prepare a week in advance, just buy liquid egg whites from the refridgerated section of your supermarket.
Coffee and Crystallised Ginger Macarons
makes about 60 x 4cm macarons
For the macaron shells
200g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
73g liquefied egg whites
(colouring or flavouring of your choice – here I used 20g coffee extract, or substitute melted dark chocolate)
200g caster sugar
50g mineral water
73g liquefied egg whites
For the coffee ganache
300g thickened or whipping cream
300 white chocolate
20g coarsely ground coffee
100g crystallised ginger, cut into .5cm dice
For the coffee paint
1 tsp instant coffee, or red gel colour
few drops of water to make a paste
- Line your trays with baking paper and get them ready. You will need about three cookie pans. If your piping skills aren’t great, trace 3.5cm circles about 2cm apart.
- Mix icing sugar and ground almonds into a bowl, then blend for about 10-15 seconds. This helps to remove the chunky bits of almonds. Sieve the mixture into a bowl – do not skip this step or you risk ending up with lumpy, not perfectly smooth macaron shells. See rant above – seriously, they make for ugly macarons.
- Stir the coffee extract into the first portion of egg whites. If you don’t have coffee extract, just use melted dark chocolate to help give the shells some colour. Pour this mixture over the icing sugar and ground almonds, but do not stir.
- Place second portion of egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Bring water and sugar to the boil in a small saucepan. When the syrup reaches 115C, turn your stand mixer on to full speed.
- When the sugar syrup reached 118C, immediately pour it into the stand mixer bowl. At this point, the egg whites in the bowl will still be just foamy, but when you pour in the syrup, it will whisk to a meringue very quickly. Allow the mixer to whisk the meringue on high speed for one minute.
- Turn the speed of the mixer down to medium and continue whisking for another two minutes. Don’t worry if the meringue is not very stiff.
- Fold meringue into almond-sugar mixture, making sure all the almonds and sugar are incorporated. Take care not to overmix or you will beat the air out of the macaron batter.
- Spoon the batter into a pipiing bag fitted with a plain round nozzle. To stop batter from leaking out of the nozzle, twist the part of the piping bag above the nozzle several times, then fill – the batter will only fall to the twisted part. Untwist is when you are ready to pipe.
- Pipe a test round of batter onto a saucer and note how much it spreads in about 30 seconds. Using that as a guide, pipe rounds onto a baking sheet leaving room for them to expand. You want your macarons to be about 4cm in diameter and about 2cm away from the next one.
- Rap the tray on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes until the skin forms on the shells. This is essential to the forming of macaron feet. To test if they are ready to be baked, touch a shell with your finger. No batter should stick to your finger.
- Preheat oven to 180C fan forced. Bake for 12 minutes, opening and shutting the door in between to help let out the steam.
- Look under the baking paper to see if your shells are cooked. If they are, remove from the oven and slide your shells onto the work surface. I find the easiest way to remove cooked macaron shells are to turn the whole sheet over and slowly peel back the paper.
- Make the coffee paint (or red gel) and paint a stripe onto the outside surface of each macaron. Leave to dry.
To make the coffee ganache
- Chop up the white chocolate and melt it in a double boiler.
- Bring the cream to the boil, then add the ground coffee. Remove from the heat and cover. Allow to infuse for a few minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.
- Pour the cream over the melted chocolate and stir to obtain a smooth ganache.
- Place ganache into a bowl. Use clingwrap to cover the surface of the ganache so that a skin does not form. Refridgerate until set.
To assemble the macarons
- Pipe a generous amount of ganache on half on the macaron shells. Top with a few cubes of ginger – how much you want to use depends on personal taste.
- Top with remaining shells.
- Store in a closed container in the fridge for 24 hours to allow the flavours to meld. Do not skip this step – trust me.
- Remove from the fridge two hours before you want to serve them.
The most important thing that people miss are allowing the macarons to rest for 24 hours before serving, and removing them from the fridge two hours before serving.
I’m here to answer your questions, so drop me a line if you need help!