Perfecting macarons – the queen of confections

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Post updated: July 2016 (with Vegan & nut-free section added)

  • Introduction
  • Flavour all the way!
  • An initially challenging, but rewarding bake
  • Top Tips for successful macarons 
  • A note about the recipe
  • The recipe for basic macarons (with detailed notes at each stage) – click here to scroll straight to the recipe
  • A few FAQs – includes how to get the right temperature for your oven and how to judge the amount of mixing
  • Vegan and/or nut-free macarons
  • Some of my favourite flavours (including savoury macarons)
  • Storage

I must confess that it did take me a while to appreciate the real beauty of the not-so-humble macaron – ie) the French macaron. As opposed to the kind of English macaroon that can be knocked up in minutes, works a treat every single time but is not quite the delicate fancy that is the French macaron: that said, the more humble macaroon is decidedly delicious, too, and should not be over-looked!

I had practically dismissed macarons as being little more than pretty little display fillers, not to mention the “how much?” feeling that hit me each time I saw them.

Oh but how wrong I was! Not too sweet, with a delicate crunch and a gentle chew that then melts in the mouth while giving a powerful flavour kick, a good macaron is something to stand up there proudly as the queen of confections.

Flavour all the way!

With macarons I really am a believer in having the shell having a flavour that hints at the flavour the whole macaron is meant to represent, rather than just be coloured.  So a little fruit powder or cocoa powder, for example, depending on the filling, achieves this.

And whilst I am unashamedly something of a chocoholic, and there are certainly chocolate kicks to be got from a rich chocolately macaron, I do tend to favour the fruity macarons: a sharp, creamy fruit filling with a real tang hits the spot every time.

An initially challenging, but rewarding bake

As soon as I really got “into” the macaron, I decided to have a go at baking them. After all, why should I pay what could easily turn out to be a small fortune when you could surely make them for a fraction of the price? The photos in this page are a mixture of macarons that have either worked completely, been almost there or have not worked well at all.

These can be tricky things to make for the first time: after many failed attempts arising from mass cracking, macarons with no feet, over-cooked macarons, overly squidgy macarons, macarons with rippled tops……it became a mission for me to crack the secret for making the perfect macaron.

In my quest to crack macarons, I experimented with different temperatures (these vary from recipe to recipe, which was a real source of frustration!) and oven positions: bottom, centre, top, door ajar, door closed…you name it, I probably tried it!

Top Tips for successful macarons:

When sticking to the following tips, in conjunction with the recipe below, the macarons will come out perfectly:

Top Tip 1: regarding the weights of each ingredient

Precision is essential for macarons. To help achieve perfect macarons every time, I am firmly in the camp of needing to start by weighing the egg whites out.

I have found that it is much easier to base the amount of dry ingredients on the weight of the egg whites from two or more eggs (however many you want to use – but at least 2 to give you enough mixture!), rather than measure out the dry ingredients and then faff about with a few grams of egg whites here and there. As a general guide, about 40g egg white (roughly from 1 large egg) will give around 30 small macaron shells)

So whatever the weight of egg whites is used:

  • use the same weight in caster sugar
  • multiply the weight of the egg whites by 1.25 for the amount of almonds
  • multiply the weight of the egg whites by 1.25 for the amount of icing sugar

Top Tip 2: used ready-ground almonds

Using ready ground nuts*, as far as possible, is important: if you use whole blanched almonds and blitz them to a powder in the food processor, they can get over-worked, with the oils in the almonds being released. This can affect the macaron texture and appearance significantly. Even though you need to blitz the ground almonds with the icing sugar, this is such a short process that the oils are not released.

*Note: if you want to use other nuts which don’t come ready-ground, such as walnuts or pistachios, just use around half the almond requirement of those nuts, and blitz only in brief bursts to stop the natural oils coming out.

Top Tip 3: blitz the icing sugar and ground almonds in advance

You do need to blitz the icing sugar and ground almonds to give smooth macarons.

I like to blitz a large batch of ground almonds and icing sugar together and store this fine powder ready for macarons a later stage. I then have a near-instant macaron mix, needing me only to add the meringue (which only takes moments to make). And when I do want to use this powder to make macarons, whatever the amount of egg whites I have, I weigh out 2.5 times this weight of this almond/icing sugar powder (see top tip 1 above).

For a “bulk” amount of this poweder I simply weigh out equal amounts of each (often about 300g or so of each), pulse them a few times in the liquidizer and sieve the mixture to give the very fine powder that you need for smooth macarons. This then gets stored in a large airtight container and left in a cupboard until I want to make macarons.

Top Tip 4: rest the macarons

Some people claim to get good results by just piping them and then immediately baking them. Personally this has rarely worked for me, so resting them is the way forward and whenever I have rested the macarons, I get the much-prized feet!

Once the macarons have been piped, leave them uncovered on the work surface for about a hour: the air will dry out the surface of the macarons giving a thin skin. If you gently touch one, it should no longer feel sticky.

The skin formed with the resting acts as a protective layer for the macarons as they bake: the heat of the oven causes the macaron to push upwards a little, while the skin firms up quickly in the heat, giving a barrier on top of tthe macaron, preventing it from rising too much further. As a result, the foot is created.

Top Tip 5: cook at a low temperature & use a few tester macarons

Each time I make a batch of macarons I do a couple of “testers” to check the oven is at the right temperature and the macarons have rested enough.This is particulary useful if you haven’t made macarons before and you want to know where they bake best in your oven – especially given all ovens are different and it is important to “know” your oven!

Once you have piped the macarons out onto the trays, pipe a small macaron onto a couple of smaller trays. Let these testers rest along with the main batch of piped macarons. After about 45 minutes place one of the testers in the centre of the oven (or lower) at 150C (fan) and see what is happening to it after 7 minutes: if the feet have started to form and it is smooth on top then it will continue to bake perfectly – and this is the right temperature for your oven. If it has cracked or there are no feet, place the next tester in to the oven at 140C and check its progress after 7 minutes. Once you have ascertained the best temperature, stick to that.

A note about the recipe

There are many different approaches for making macaron and I have worked through so many recipes, with mixed success, during my quest to perfect macarons. However, I settle on the recipe below which is my combination of the different approaches that are out there. But most importantly for my sanity, it works 100% of the time for me – and in a world with so many uncertainties, it is nice, once in a while, to have a certainty!

The recipe for a basic macarons is below, with detailed notes and pictures at every stage, along with a few FAQs.

The pictures in the recipe itself are from a batch of pineapple and coconut macarons I made, but the flavour combinations are endless and the recipe is easily adapted to accommodate whatever flavour you want. However, I do have separate posts for different flavours: eg) pina colada macarons, orange & cranberry macarons, blackcurrant macarons, raspberry macarons and savoury macarons.

Recipe for basic macarons: makes about 35 filled macarons (70 macaron shells)

Shells:

  • 125g ground almonds
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g egg whites at room temperature 
  • about 1/4 teaspoon powdered food colouring (or a few drops of gel-based food colouring of choice)
  • 2 level teaspoon dried fruit powder of choice (available online or from kitchen stockists). You can omit completely if you don’t have some.

 Fruit ganache filling:

  • 200g white chocolate, chopped into smallish chunks
  • 80g fruit purée, strained: use fresh or defrosted frozen fruits
  • 80ml double cream

(1) Put the icing sugar and almonds into a food processor or liquidiser and pulse for about 10 seconds until perfectly uniform. Sift into a large bowl and re-blitz any lumps left in the sieve. Stir the fruit powder (if using) into this mixture.

Notes: This process breaks down the larger lumps to help give a smoother macaron. I have had good success using whole almonds (skin removed) and other whole nuts such as pecans, macadamia, walnuts or even combination of nuts that I have to hand, and blitzing these in the food processor – but if using whole nuts, only blitz in brief pulses: if you over-do this, the oils inthe nuts come out too much, resulting in patchy or cracked macarons

(2) In a clean, dry bowl whisk the egg whites and the caster sugar until you get a thick, glossy meringue. When it is almost there, add the food colouring and continue to whisk. With an electric hand whisk this usually take me about 3 minutes. The meringue should have soft peaks so when you lift the whisk out of it, the peaks just holds their shape.

Notes: I now opt for this French meringue method purely because it is quickest, but I have had the same excellent results with the Italian meringue method. Some recipes call for the egg whites to be aged. I don’t bother to be honest; I just use the eggs that are to hand and, crucially, get them to room temperature.

I do weigh out the egg whites – and find digital scales to be invaluable here. “3 large egg whites”, for instance, can cover a large range in weights, and accuracy really is crucial for macarons – more so than many other bakes. I freeze any yolks that I am not going to use imminently and later use them to make crème patissière, to make pasta, to add to sauces and quiche fillings etc…

Don’t over-whisk the meringue: you want soft peaks, not firm peaks. If you do over-whisk you could end up with hollow macaron shells as the mixture sinks to the bottom as they bake, leaving a large air pocket below the top shell.

(3) Add the meringue to the dry almond/icing sugar mixture. Stir together gently, patting down the meringue into the dry mixture against the side of the bowl as you go, stopping as soon as most of dry mixture is no longer visible. The mixture will feel a little stiff at this point.

Notes: I use a rubber spatula for this which works well. The key here is not to beat it in, but also not to fold it too lightly as if making a soufflé! You want to try to knock a lot of the air out of the mixture, which does seem counter-intuitive after making up the meringues; unfortunately too much air in the finished mixture can result in the macaron rising too much and then cracking. By gently patting the mixture against the side of the bowl as you mix, enough of the air will be knocked out.

(4) Continue to fold and pat the mixture together gently until the mixture starts to loosen up. This macaronage stage is a critical part of the process and you don’t want to over-loosen the mixture so that it feels too runny and at all liquid. To test it is ready, lift up the spatula and let some of the mixture on the spatula drops back into the bowl, leaving a trail or ribbon on the surface. This trail should gently merge back into the mixture of its own accord, disappearing within about 30 seconds. Gently rap the base of bowl flat against the work surface a couple of times to help pop any larger air bubbles that might be still in there.

Notes: This stage, the macaronage stage, is arguably the most important part of the whole macaron-making process and, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, the key to success lies with this stage.

It is certainly better to under-mix rather than over-mix here and the first few times of making macarons it can be hard to know precisely when you are just there or if you have gone over. Caution is very much the key here! While folding, the mixture changes from feeling fairly stiff to then feeling a little looser within a few folds. Visually, the mixture will change from being slightly grainy-looking to looking smoother and silkier as the natural oils in the nuts get worked.

It is at this looser stage that after every two subsequent folds (a bit precise but it does prevent over-mixing!) I lift the spatula a few inches above the main mix and judge how easily the mixture on the spatula falls back into the bowl. Initially it might just plop very slowly back into the bowl, and sit there doing very little on the top of the main mixture…at this stage it is not ready. So two more folds, then try again….

Very soon it WILL get to the stage that when it drops back onto the main mixture it will disappear back into it, within about 30 seconds. If you over-fold, the mixture will become very runny and the macarons will spread like mad when you pipe them and will probably collide into each other giving a very colourful, but not very helpful meringuey-mess.

Over-folding is also a common cause of cracked macarons, and even if they do not crack, they are less likely to have those highly sought-after feet.

(5) Put a double-thickness of non-stick greaseproof paper, or ideally flat silicon mats, onto solid baking trays. Pipe the required size of macarons onto the paper. You can sprinkle things such as desiccated coconut or tiny freeze-dried fruit pieces over the surface if you wish, but don’t pile too much on there.

Notes: I have rarely had great results with special macaron sheets but greaseproof or flat silicon mats are my preference. The silicon macaron “moulds” that are now widely available do give uniformly sized macarons, but they can stick and they seem to need a much longer baking time, so that the trade-off for them coming out of the moulds can be slightly over-baked macarons.

(6) Lift each baking sheet a few inches off the work surface and drop this flat onto the work surface several times, keeping the tin as flat as possible as you drop it!

Notes: This will get rid of any more of the larger air bubbles that will invariably still be in the macarons. Large air bubbles can cause the macaron to crack in the oven or most likely result in hollow macarons. Normally half a dozen drops does the trick. It is natural for the piped macarons to spread out a little but they shouldn’t run into themselves. You may well see air bubbles form on the surface – some will automatically burst and then the tops become smooth but if there are visible air bubbles that form and do not burst, just prick them gently with a cocktail stick or the tip of a sharp knife.

(7) Leave the macarons to rest at room temperature for about an hour or so, until a very thin skin forms on the surface and the surface does not stick to your finger. During this time preheat the oven to 150C (fan oven) or even a little lower, say 140C – see FAQs below.

Notes: this resting period is another very important part of the process. Whenever I have rested the mixture, I always get nice feet to each macaron whereas if I have baked some without them having rested, the feet do not always form.

After about 45 minutes of resting, gently touch one of the macarons: if your finger sticks to it then a skin has not formed enough so leave it for another 15 mins or so and repeat until it no longer sticks.

(8) Bake the macarons for about 12-14 minutes, depending on the size, turning the trays around after 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the trays before removing carefully.

Notes: This is where your tester macarons come into their own! Each oven is different so it is important to get to know your oven as to the positioning of the shelves and the like. For my main oven, 150C is perfect although in other ovens I have used I have gone as low as 130C (fan). In my oven the macarons bake best about half-way and below. I never put more than two shelves of macarons in the oven at a time, and certainly not too closely on top of each other; too many trays can create a build-up of steam in the oven which, in turn, is another thing sent from somewhere wicked to destroy all the loving attention to detail already put into the macarons by this stage!

With 1 inch macarons I find that 12-14 minutes in total is about right but on occasion I have had to bake them for several minutes longer. To test, I gently wiggle the top of one of the macarons. If it is too sticky at the feet and looks as if the top will pull straight off I bake for another couple of minutes, and another couple of minutes is normally enough. I am very strict with myself now in leaving the macarons to cool on the trays, although temptation often gets the better of me! But leaving them to cool on the tray helps the base crust form fully which in turn makes it easier to peel the macarons off the paper.

(9) For the fruit ganache filling, heat the cream in a small pan until it just boils and remove from the heat. Stir in the chocolate until melted and mix in the fruit purée. Leave in the fridge until the mixture has set to piping consistency. Pipe the filling over half of the macaron shells and sandwich together gently with the other half.

Notes: You don’t need to pipe the filling, of course, as small spoonfuls of it will do.

The filling can be changed in any number of ways by using any fruit purée or even just lime or lemon juice. Sometimes I add a little more fruit purée or fruit powder. Occasionally I will use a home-made jam, a fruit curd or a well-flavoured butter-cream in the filling. 

(10) Put the macarons in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight before eating. Alternatively, you can freeze them in an airtight container.

Notes: Maturing the macarons ie) leaving them in the fridge for about day, helps enormously with the texture: the shell will soften somewhat and give the right level of chew, while retaining a nice crispness. They do freeze beautifully: simply stack them carefully in an airtight container between sheets of greaseproof and remove what you want a couple of hours before you want to eat them.

A few FAQs

  • Italian meringue, Swiss meringue or French meringue?
    Each works well but I now go for French meringue every time as it is quicker and I have never had problems with it. I whisk the meringue for about 2 minutes with an electric hand mixer until it is thick and silky, and soft peaks have formed (the peaks flop over easily).
  • Which type of colouring is best?
    Ideally go for powder colouring, but gel-based is a good alternative. Avoid water-based colours as you need to minimise moisture in the mixture.
  • Do you need to use aged egg whites?
    Ideally use eggs that are closer to their use by date, but I tend to use whatever eggs I have – but they need to get to room temperature. And frozen egg whites work perfectly if left to defrost and come to room temperature.
  • Do you need to use dried egg white and/or cream of tartar?
    No – I’ve noticed very little difference when either using them or omitting them
  • How much mixing is needed?
    Just enough mixing (patting the ingredients together with a little stirring and folding) to bring the dry ingredients and the meringue together until the mixture loosens up a little. This should not be over-done: see notes under stage 4 of the recipe above for fuller information.
  • Greaseproof or silicon?
    Either of these is equally effective: I now have a penchant for the flat silicon mats (not macaron sheets with the holes stamped in/on them). The silicon mats tend to give better, more well-defined feet each time.
  • Are silicon macaron sheets effective?
    I’ve had mixed success with them – great for uniform shapes but the macarons can be a pain to get out of the moulds. I also find the feet formation is hindered somewhat with macaron moulds and the macarons a more prone to getting “ruffled”.
  • Why rap the trays with the piped macarons on the work counter?
    This gets rids of some larger air bubbles so that the macaron will not have an air pocket inside when you bite into them.
  • Is it better having the oven fan on or not?
    It depends on the oven so it is worth experimenting. For me, I find having the fan on works best. See Top Tip 4 above, regarding tester macarons.
  • Jamming a wooden spoon in the oven door while baking the macarons or keeping the oven door closed? This idea is suggested in many recipes, the aim being to get rid of any build-up of steam (an enemy of the macaron!).  My door remains shut apart from to turn the trays around about 7 minutes into baking, at which stage any steam in the oven escapes.
  • Should I start the baking a very low temperature & then gradually increase it every few minutes?
    While some recipes suggest this approach, I really think this is a huge faff. Besides, is not necessary. I just bake them in the oven preheated to 150C, which is perfect for my oven, rotating the trays after about 7 minutes. See Top Tip 4 above, regarding tester macarons.
  • How to I know what temperature works best for me?
    Ovens vary so to find out what is ideal for your oven, including positioning within the oven, do a few testers with a batch of macarons you have made up. See Top Tip 4 above.
  • How to I remove the macarons from the greasproof?
    I find it easiest just to leave the baked macarons to cool on their baking trays. They then lift off easily IF they had baked long enough – as a test, gently wiggle one and if it shows signs of moving on its base it is not cooked enough. Some recipes advocate a thermal shock, by lifting the greaseproof off the tray and onto a slightly damp surface but if the macarons have cooked enough you shouldn’t need to.
  • Why are they hollow?
    This is usually because of over-whisking the meringue at the start. Only whisk until you get soft, not firm peaks. And make sure you pat the meringue into the almond mixture to push out some of the air
  • Why don’t they have feet?
    This could be because of several reasons, but most likely one or other of over-mixing or not resting the piped mixture long enough. See the recipe notes at stages 4 and 7 above.
  • Why have they cracked?
    This could also be because of several reasons, but the most likely is over-mixing or baking at too high a temperature. See the notes in the recipe at stage 8 about the oven temperature.

Although I swear by my approach above, that is not to say that other recipes are wrong or are to be avoided – they are not! But I now stick to this recipe purely as a “it’s fool-proof for me” recipe. In fact, I almost dare not look at a different macaron recipes now as I don’t want to be swayed from what I know works for me! But I do look, of course, and I very much enjoy the ideas that are out there…and I still often get the “ahhhh now that’s a good idea” moment!

Vegan and/or nut-free macarons

Ok, nothing really beats macarons made with egg whites and nuts, but you can make very good macarons without the eggs and/or without the nuts.

Vegan macarons:

Use the liquid you get from a can of chickpeas in place of egg whites. Simply drain the liquid from the tin into a small pan. Boil it until it reduces and thickens to a similar texture to egg whites. Then allow this liquid (aquafaba) to cool.

Now just use this, weighing out the sugars and nuts according to the weight of this liquid, as described above.

This reducing and cooling might seem a bit of a faff, but you can do it in advance, even in bulk and freeze portions of it for when you want to make vegan macarons. But I normally find that if I am so determined to make something that is going to work and taste great, then a bit of a faff is hardly any hardship!

You can get away with using the chick pea liquid straight from the tin, without reducing, but using the thickened liquid give macarons that are more reliable and more similar to those made with egg whites.

These rest a little longer – at least 90 minutes – and bake at 150C for about 15 minutes. They are more delicate so need to be handled carefully once cooled.

Nut-free macarons:

Use pumpkin seeds in place of almonds, grinding them to as much as a powder as you can: they might then need a fair bit of grinding sieving, but you do get very good results.

Some of my favourite flavours

There is an almost unlimited array of macaron flavours, including savoury varieties, but some of my favourites are below. For each of these I have given the variations from the main recipe.

Blackcurrant macarons

For the shell, use a blackcurrant-looking colour. For the filling replace the raspberry purée with blackcurrant purée. You can buy blackcurrant powder from specialist kitchen shops which has a lovely intensity of flavour and you can lightly flavour the shells with this by mixing 1 teaspoon of the powder to the icing sugar/almonds mixture.

Orange & cranberry macarons

For the shells add one teaspoon of orange powder to the icing sugar and almonds mixture and whatever colour you want.

For the filling replace the raspberry purée with a couple of tablespoons of reduced orange juice (boiled with some finely grated orange zest to form a syrup) and a few finely chopped dried cranberries. You could instead use a little marmalade.

Pina colada macarons

For the shells replace a quarter of the ground almonds with desiccated coconut before blitzing and sprinkle some desiccated coconut over the shells as they rest. They give a lovely toasty flavour once cooked. For the filling, replace the raspberry purée with pineapple purée and lime juice. A splash of rum added to the filling is strongly advised!

Savoury macarons

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The sweet/salty contrast between the shells and the fillings here make for an amazing combination.

Make up macaron shells without using colouring and without fruit powder. You can use a mixture of walnuts and almonds rather than using all almonds before blitzing. I also replace 5g of the caster sugar with 5g fine sea salt in the meringue when using the proportions in the recipe below, which gives a subtle savoury note. You can add a light sprinkling of poppy seeds or crushed sea salt on top of the freshly piped shells.

For a basic, but lovely, filling mix a good quality goats cheese with a little caramelised onion chutney, a light squeeze of lemon juice and a few drops of truffle oil (or a few shavings of finely grated fresh truffles as a real treat!) to form a rough paste – use this to sandwich together the macarons.

Alternatively, try my roasted beetroot and goats cheese filling, enhanced with a little kick of horseradish. Or my Parma ham, fig and ricotta filling. Details of these are in my savoury macarons post.

Storage

The filled macarons will keep well in the fridge in an airtight container. They also freeze beautifully for a couple of months or so and you simply take out as many as you want about an hour before you want them and put them in the fridge.

If freezing, line an airtight container with cling film, pop in the macarons without packing them in too tightly, cover with a bit of cling film and seal the container. The cling film helps prevent excess moisture getting to the macarons so that they remain slightly crisp and chewy.

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9 comments

  1. Beautiful! Definitely going to give these a try!

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    1. yes do – they are great fun to make and even more fun to eat. Enjoy.

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  2. They look fabulous….love the macaroon!!!!

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    1. thank you

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  3. nice consistent shape

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  4. […] The macaron – the queen of confections (bakingfanatic.wordpress.com) […]

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  5. Reblogged this on bakingfanatic.

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  6. dreamy macarons. I will try your approach in the hope that it works for me as I have had little success with them before as they crack horribly or lack their feet.

    Like

    1. Thank you Kate. Yes, do give them another go – maybe doing half a batch. And enjoy making then 🙂

      Like

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