The Macaron Trials

Macarons. They scare me. A lot of people have said that they were intimidated by the idea of making macarons. Lots of bloggers have said it, in fact. And even though lots of bloggers have already said it, I’m going to say it too, because it’s true. I was intimidated by macarons. I decided to tackle making them, though, for a bake sale that was held to benefit the St. Croix Animal Welfare Society.

Guess what? I’m still intimidated by them. And defeated…but only barely. I did not achieve perfect, beautiful, adorable macarons, but the ones I did get were still delicious…I can’t wait to try again and get them right!

For those of you who have never had a macaron, or don’t know what they are, just look at them:

Photo courtesy of sparkleskitchen on Etsy

Aren’t they just about the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen?! You can tint them to be any color in the rainbow, and filling possibilities are endless!

Photo courtesy of Tartelette

The interior of the cookies are soft, while the exterior has a thin, crisp crust. And that little edge around the middle of the cookies, where the filling is? That’s called the cookies “feet.” Seriously, these get more and more adorable, the more learn about them.

I’ve been wanting to make macarons for a very long time, but, like I said, I was afraid. And my first foray into the world of macarons hasn’t really done much to alleviate those fears, but not because they weren’t relatively easy to make. And, even though my cookies failed (this time), I learned a lot of important stuff that can help you out.

Macarons only need a very few basic ingredients: sugar, egg whites (aged 1 to 4 days), food coloring (optional), almonds, and confectioners’ sugar. That’s it. Unless you want to make chocolate macarons, then you add a little cocoa powder. All of the recipes I found are pretty much entirely by weight: 25 to 50 grams of sugar, 90 grams of egg whites,  110 grams of almonds, and 200 grams of confectioners’ sugar (all my weight). Apparently, it’s pretty important to be quite accurate when making these.

Not everybody has a kitchen scale, though (but you should, by the way, they’re The Best). Which is way I weighed and re-weighed, measured and re-measured all of the ingredients to come up with fair conversions from grams to cups, etc. (by volume).

90 grams egg whites = 3 large egg whites
25 grams sugar = 2 tablespoons
200 grams confectioners’ sugar = 2 cups
110 grams almonds = 1 cup, plus 3 tablespoons

Now, if you don’t have a scale, you don’t have to worry!

As for me, I had great plans to make Tartelette’s macarons, fill them with the my own delicious peppermint frosting recipe, and roll them in crushed candy canes. Then, just because I love chocolate and mint, I decided to make a chocolate macaron too! These would be filled with a yummy Andes mint ganache, dipped in semi-sweet chocolate, and again garnished with crushed candy canes. Sounds pretty irresistible, huh? But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

I got started this past Sunday, by cracking and separating my eggs (I did enough eggs to make two batches of cookies). Macarons require egg whites that have been aged for one to four days. Since I was making the cookies yesterday (Thursday), I got the eggs ready and out of the way as early as possible. Yesterday morning, I got up and got to work. Halfway through making the macarons, I felt totally justified in my intimidation. The situation was ugly.

I had batter all over my hands, bumpy cookies in the oven, and a batch of raw cookies basically separating on their cookie sheet. But, like I said, I learned a lot to pass on to you.

First of all, every macaron recipe I researched says to use a pastry bag and large round tip to get the batter on the sheets. Theoretically, you could just use a spoon to drop batter onto the sheets, but using a bag and tip gives you a perfectly round cookie. What none of the recipes I researched did tell me was that you really should not fill the bag up more than halfway. Otherwise, you lose a lot of control over what the batter will do, and you end up with a mess like the one above. Only fill your bag up about halfway, you can always add more.

Now, here’s the result of my first batch. Before I even put them in the oven, I knew there was a problem, but what could I do? I just had to see it through, and wait for the results. They weren’t pretty. What on earth had I done wrong?! They didn’t have that smooth, satiny, crisp finish. Where were their feet?? Not to mention the fact that they were a bitch to get off of the Silpat mats. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was very upset.

I proceeded to scrape the cookies off the mats and into the garbage while I racked my brain for what the problem was. I kept telling the hubster that I had done exactly what I was supposed to do, what could the problem be? But then it hit me like a Mack truck…..I forgot to put in enough confectioners’ sugar! I had measured out half of it for my ingredients photo, and forgot to add the other half! So, chalk this ruined batch up to my own forgetfulness. Dammit.

But that’s not where the story ends. I still had aged egg whites, so I could make another batch! I was so relieved too, because i was sure that this batch would turn out perfect.

But no, it really wasn’t meant to be. As you can see, my chocolate macarons are cracked and sad looking. This photo shows a lot of good things, though. First of all, the fact that my cookies cracked is proof that I was able to establish the thin, crisp crust that is ideal in macarons, score for me (if you keeping track, though, it’s macarons: 2, Darla: 1). I did a little research on cracked macarons, and the consensus seems to be that the cause is over mixing the batter (thereby breaking the egg whites). While this is true, that actually wasn’t the cause of my cracks. These actually cracked when I tried to remove them from the Silpat mats. For some reason, these suckers were stu-uck. I still have no idea why. It was just the chocolate ones, and they seemed to be slightly uncooked in the middle (even after cooking them slightly longer than recommended). Thoughts, anyone?

You will notice, though, that both the chocolate and the plain (red) cookies, did try very, very hard to grow some feet! This photo gives me great hope! A smooth, shiny, thin crust, and the smallest appearance of feet at the base of the cookies. I’m clearly on the right track (score- macarons: 2, Darla: 2 [woo-hoo!]).

Pull these babies off the sheet, though, and this is what you get. A sort of hollow and bubbly base, that looks glassy and clear. This is not right. They should have a lovely, solid base, and in the middle of that crisp top crust and the smooth bottom there should be a soft cookie (final score- macarons: 3, Darla:2). It’s important to point out, again, that these tasted wonderful! They were just chewy and sticky…and the texture was all wrong. What went wrong, then?

Well, I know I tend to rush to the plate and try to blame humidity every chance I get, so this time, I decided that I wouldn’t. It had to be something else…I can’t keep blaming humidity for everything. Unfortunately, upon further research into all of my poor macarons’ flaws, I learned that the problem is indeed humidity. Again. One of the steps in making macarons is to let them sit after piping them onto the baking sheet. This allows the tops to dry out a bit and promotes a better crust on top. That crust helps lock in the moisture, etc. necessary to achieve that soft cookie interior and smooth bottom, as well as the ruffly little feet.

In the end, I’ve established that I need access to an air conditioned kitchen to make these. Or I have to wait until we leave the Virgin islands. I won’t give up, though! I’ll try these again…hopefully I’ll get a stretch of low humidity days and I can work something out.

Until then, have you ever made macarons? How did you do, and how were they? Is there anything that you’ve tried to make that you just can’t seem to defeat? Looking forward to hearing from you, and have an excellent weekend!

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Comments

  1. Natalie@ Tuesday's Grace Photography says

    I had to try probably 4 or 5 times before I achieved true "macaron bliss". The drying time is definitely key. And they do take longer to dry on humid days. I live in the Northwest so we're no stranger to clouds.But it can be done. The book "I Love Macarons" by Hisako Ogita really helped.

  2. Honeybee says

    Hi! I'm no expert, but I have been working on my macarons too. I always use parchment because I think that the silpat does something funny to them (a moisture/humidity thing I guess). Also, I add my powdered food coloring to the sugar/almond mixture in the food processor, not when I am mixing with the egg white and that keeps me from over mixing. Maybe that will help you too? Every little modification seems to make a difference in the finished product!! But I enjoy eating the evidence.

    Love your blog and the adorable seasonal pics in the header!

  3. Lora says

    I have never been able to make a successful batch of macarons in humid weather.Come to think of it, I wouldn't call any of my macaron attempts successful. There's always some part of them that could have turned out better. They look so sweet but they are one tough cookie to make. But don't give up! Your ideas are so creative.

  4. Pinky says

    Well you tried, I wouldn't make macaroons as I detest them but they look a bit like a chewy whoopie pie. Maybe you could come up with a new whoopie pie recipe that I could try. I'm going to be making some choux buns for a dessert and am nervous about them and I don't have humidity problems in Scotland but choux pastry has always been a hard one to grasp for me personally. Any tips??

  5. linda says

    i have taken 3 workshops on macaron baking & am intimidated to bake them in my own kitchen…
    2 workshops were successful (with mac "feet" & taste/ texture good)…one workshop was a disaster!!

    in all 3 classes (@ different schools) parchment paper was used…& i do think that humidity plays a part.

  6. Monica Adriana says

    hey darla, i haven't succeed with this tricky yet cute cookies too but i've read a lot of references. as far as i learn, maybe the problem with yours is in the oven temperature. try to befriend the right temperature to bake your macs. i'm sure u'll succeed soon..

  7. Joanna says

    You should check out Not So Humble Pie- she has a great tutorial and troubleshooting post about macaroons. I've never tried making them before, so kudos to you!

  8. Sarah S says

    I have made them with varying success. I LOVE the blog post from David Lebowitz where he thoroughly explains the trials of macaron making and which method is the most effective. I strongly suggest you start there as I have had gorgeous results ever since!

  9. Megg says

    Hi Darla, I'm going to be trying to make macarons soon. I've been looking through different recipes and guides on making them. I decided to use Helene's (Tartelette) guide. Letting the macarons sit for awhile before baking does seem like an important step. So maybe they'd work even in the humidity still…?

    I'm sure you'll have them beat soon enough though. Thanks for the lovely post. I'm glad to see that even fabulous food bloggers have to try some recipes twice. It definitely gives me more courage when I'm in the kitchen.

  10. Miri says

    Hi Darla.
    Have a look at this Book: http://www.amazon.com/Macarons-Authentic-French-Recipes-Macaron/dp/1569758204?&camp=212361&linkCode=wey&tag=davidleboviswebs&creative=380737

    It maybe could help you with the humidity problem: "If you bake during especially humid weather, adding a small amount of powered egg whites will help stabilize your macaron batter"
    It also says something about the cause the shells to crack.
    I don't have the book, but I found it online and thought it could help you.
    By the way: your Blog is amazing + Greatings from Germany

  11. Allison says

    Hi! Don't be discouraged – macarons take some practice to master and they are incredibly difficult with any type of humidity in the air. Earlier this year I put together a tutorial for a friend who was trying to create macarons and she found it helpful: http://dolcettoconfections.blogspot.com/2010/03/lesson-basic-macarons.html

    Also, I think one of the best tutorials is by Helene on My Tartelette. She just updated it today and it remains a very informative piece: http://issuu.com/helened/docs/v2/demystifying_macarons_-_updated

    Good luck!

  12. Mine says

    I've been to a macaron class and humidity really does affect them. Also: we blended the confectioner's sugar in a blender first, to really make it into a fine fine powder; we left ours to "set" for an hour before baking so they form a kind of skin; and we put them on parchment on baking trays but used TWO trays per sheet, one on top of the other, the chef said this was so the base didn't heat up too much. Even so, there's no way in the world they were anything like the ones that cost an arm and a leg from the French patisserie. I think these things are best left to the experts.

  13. Jess says

    Good luck with the macarons! I was in Switzerland a few months ago and had Luxemburgerli — the Swiss version of those little Parisian delights — and find I much prefer them to the French macarons (which we had earlier in the week at another shop in Switzerland). If you get to Switzerland, check out Sprungli and get some of their Luxemburgerli, the hazelnut ones are fantastic. Waaaay different from the French version!

    I had to make these things three times before I got really good ones. I personally experimented with varying levels of macaronage (don't mix enough and you end up with dense cookies, mix too much and you end up with total puddles), oven temperatures (325 was probably the best for NC humidity levels), and a few other things (like the idea of drying the cookie before filling and eating and how long it takes before they turn totally nasty for staleness).

    So now I make some pretty fantastic Parisian macarons, but I still can't figure out the fantastic deliciousness that is Luxemburgerli! If anybody ever finds out how to make those, I'd love to know!

  14. Darla says

    Everyone, thank you so much for all of the fantastic tips and advice!! It feels great to have so many people out there who have little tips and tricks to share! I can't wait to give them a try, and I'm definitely checking out the various books and websites that you all offered up! I can't wait to try these again now!

    Thanks again!

  15. Sarah says

    Hi Darla,
    After reading your post & everyone else's comments, I don't feel so bad. I have had the exact same experience as you have 3 times now. I don't bin the resulting mess..my sons enjoy crumbling them over icing, my husband grabs a couple to eat with coffe so it's not a waste. but I am DETERMINED to make them. I live in the middle east so not sure if the heat is a factor though we have cool days now.
    Good luck

  16. Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] says

    I've always been intimidated of macarons, even though I want to try them since like forever! Hope you find 'feet' soon!

  17. says

    Hey there,
    You have such a brilliant blog- i could sit here and drool all day (=
    Macarons are tempremental- the first time I tried the batter I had my oven set on cool fan for some ungodly reason so the fan was too high and resulted in ones similar to yours, but parchment paper/baking paper is a must.
    Another thought would be to use ground almond meal/flour instead of silvered almonds- perhaps they lacked moisture? whole blanched/normal almonds processed or almond meal would be the way to go
    David Lebovitz is brilliant for tips on Macarons!
    good luck on your next batch xo

    Erin

  18. GrillQueen says

    Hi Darla! I”m a huge fan and reading your blog makes my day. I”m aspiring to be a cook + baking on the side because of you. You inspire me a lot! Anyway, I know it has been ages but I”m wondering, have you tried doing the macarons again? I”ve researched and read these tips that might help you in some way:

    – Try not to use Silpat mats since the rubbery texture will make the core of the macarons stick. That”s why when you collect them, the macarons seem hollow. The feet/core is left on the mats. Parchment paper will do.
    – If you want perfection, you may opt to draw circles as pattern in your parchment paper. But in your case, you”re such an expert you don”t need patterns! :)
    – Before putting them in the oven, let them set for about 20 mins so that it forms itself with a shiny smooth top.
    – When they”re done and the fillings are all placed in each pair, leave them for a few more hours or store them in a container. In that way, the filling itself will make the center of the macarons soft.

    (Don”t get me wrong, I haven”t tried baking these yet. I just wanted to share.)

    I hope this helps! I”m looking forward to your delicious and perfect macaron recipe. I know you will make it A-mazing!! Can”t wait for your next blog on this! Goodluck and more power Darla! :D

  19. Liz says

    I found that a couple of tsps of egg replacer has done the trick. I also let my macs rest for a full hour before baking. I understand your frustrations. I’ve had a year long rocky relationship with macs. We break up and get back together every couple of months, but I think we are on the road to monogamy. Finally! I hope you’ve tried again since this post. Don’t give up!

  20. Mary B. says

    I love your site, so it was the first place I came when looking for a macaron recipe/tips. After reading this and some extensive Internet searching, I made this recipe:
    http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com/2012/03/why-do-my-macarons-have-hollow-shells-a-work-in-progress/

    which is just slightly adapted from this recipe:
    http://bravetart.com/recipes/Macarons (I linked to this one because Stella has links to several of her posts about macarons that were SUPER helpful to me!)

    Anyway, I am so excited I was dancing around my kitchen…after letting them rest 30 min. and then baking, I have some darling little macarons with NO cracks and cute little feet! Even better, the one I tried was not too hollow! As a momma of 3 little kids, I was really hoping to get something usable on my first try…a quiet afternoon is too precious to waste! I would love to see yours if you try them again sometime!

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