Monday, April 27, 2015

8 Tips for Making Macarons

Bonne Maman Jams, a Le Creuset Teacup/pot and home made macarons.
Mother's Day is coming, and brunch is traditional for many family celebrations.

Even if the meal isn't technically a brunch, daintier foods tend to prevail. And what's more dainty for dessert than a French Macaron?

No, not macaroons, with coconut. I'm talking about the light, crisp, chewy meringue-related cookies that are French Macarons.

The nice thing about macarons is that the flavors (and colors) are endless. Since the basic cookie is nearly white, you can tint them with a tiny bit of food coloring (the Silpat kit I received came with food coloring for that purpose) or you can find recipes that take on color from their ingredients. Like, say, chocolate.

Then come the fillings. I used a chocolate ganache for this batch, but buttercream would be lovely, or make your own on-the-fly fillings. How about a nut-butter and jam? Or jam and whipped cream cheese? Or just Bonne Maman jam?

Am I saying JAM a lot?

 Well, that's because there's a giveaway here, where the winners will get a Silpat macaron kit, a gift set of Bonne Maman jam/jelly products, and an adorable Le Creuset stoneware tea for one with a cup on the bottom, and you use the top part to brew your tea, So cute.

Won't that be great for Mother's Day? A spot of tea, some English muffins or toast with jam, delicate little sandwiches, and macarons to finish the meal. Oui! 

While macaron perfection is a skill I have yet to master, I've made acceptable macarons a few times, and I've made enough mistakes that I think I can point out places where you might go wrong.

1) Almond flour, finely ground.
If your almond flour isn't super-fine (like flour) give it a buzz in the food processor, maybe with some of the powdered sugar, until it is as fine as you can get it. Some recipes even suggest passing it through a fine sieve.

I made the last batch of macarons with almond flour straight from the bag, and while they tasted fine they were a bit rough on top and the cookies had a different texture than those made with super-finely-ground almonds.

2) Mise en place is your friend.
Have all your ingredients ready and standing by. Separate those eggs, weigh your ingredients, and have everything ready to go before you start whipping and mixing.

You'll need two bowls, the usual assortment of measuring and mixing tools, and a few specialty items as well, like a piping bag.

Here's the macaron kit from Silpat, which includes a mat, piping bag, two tips, a pastry brush (not shown), food colors, a thermometer (did I mention that some macaron recipes are fussy?) and a scraper. The kit also includes a thumb drive with recipes.

3) Whip them right!
Egg whites are what give macarons their lightness and their structure, so you need to whip them to the proper consistency. If you're using a stand mixer to do your whipping, don't walk too far away from it. Underwhipped egg whites just need a little more whipping. Overwhipped whites can't be salvaged.

4) Pipe them right!
Some of my macarons rose oddly - tilted to one side or the other - while others were perfect. This was more likely to happen when I was using a recipe that resulted in a thicker batter and I piped in a circle.

I got better results when I simply put the tip in the center of the circle I was aiming to fill, and piped straight down and let the batter flow to form a circle. This also helped me form an actual circle rather than oval or odd-shaped macarons.

The Silpat Macaron Mat has circles drawn on the mat to make it easy to gauge the size of the macarons and to make perfectly round circles. Those circles would also be useful for cookies or any other food when you're trying to keep them evenly spaced.

5) Let them dry!
For the frilly rise to happen along the sides of the cookies, you need to let them sit around after piping until there's a nice crust on top. Depending on how dry it is in your house, this could be quick, or it could take much, much longer. It's possible to over-dry the cookies, but I don't know for sure what horrors would happen if that was the case - I barely have patience to let them dry enough.

This is NOT supposed to happen!
Some of my cookies had little peaks from piping, and I wanted to get rid of them. To keep my finger from sticking, I dipped it in bit of cold water. This worked really well. I thought. But the tops of those few cookies never dried right, so strange things happened when the cookies baked. These tasted just fine, but there's no way I'd serve them.

6) Bake them long enough - but not too long.

Perfectly pale, acceptably toasted, and ... oops!
Macarons aren't really supposed to brown. A tiny bit along the edges might be okay, but you don't want your white macarons getting a tan in the oven.

7) No, really, let them cool.
Before the macarons are fully cooled, they will stick to the Silpat baking mat like the suckers on a tentacle. If you try to lift them, you will tear the cookie. So you can't peek underneath. You just can't. But when the cookies are fully cooled, they'll pop right off. Be patient!

8) And if all of that doesn't work...
If it goes wrong, claim that you meant to do that. Seriously, unless you're opening a French bakery, perfection isn't required. You're making cookies for your mom. She'll be happy, even if they're a little lopsided.

As for those over-browned cookies - I did that with one batch, and to me the flavor was a little like a toasted marshmallow. I know they weren't supposed to be like that, but I liked the flavor anyway. If all of your macarons are egg-shaped or tilted or over-browned, just smile and serve them. No one needs to know you didn't plan it that way.

Just pour a cup of tea, and relax!

Le Creuset Tea for One
Thanks to the participating companies for sponsoring these group posts and for supplying product for the giveaway!

The other bloggers participating in this giveaway are:

Miss in the Kitchen, who made Macarons with Champagne Buttercream
Foodhunter's Guide who made Chocolate Raspberry Macarons
Thyme in Our Kitchen who made Pistachio Macarons

Giveaway is over!