If you’re on your Insta-game, you’ve likely seen these beautiful French cookies pop up on your feed.
Macarons (not to be confused with macaroons, an equally delicious, but much more coconut-y alternative) are a meringue-based confection made with egg whites (obviously), sugar, and almond flour with fillings ranging from ganache to buttercream to jam. Macarons (also not be confused with the current president of France) have been surging in popularity worldwide lately – you don’t need to be at Ladurée or some other high-end patisserie to find these sandwich delights. They’re finding their way into coffee shops, ice cream shops, and even Costco (at which point you know you’ve made it).
My first encounter with my now all-time favorite dessert came when we visited France as a family – they gave us a sample of macarons when we checked into one of our hotels. I remember trying one and being…underwhelmed. I was basically Ilana (from Broad City) when she and Abbi are tasked with securing macarons for Abby’s boss’s wife’s birthday party while on a mushroom trip: “Macarons taste terrible, but god are they pretty.” I didn’t have them much until I started working full-time and they started popping up literally everywhere. My now-refined adult palate has found them much more to my liking and I pretty much stop everything at the opportunity to eat a macaron.
Over the past year, I’ve lost track of the places and times I’ve had macarons -all associated with such happy memories, from vacations to bridal showers to hanging out with friends after work to a quick trip to Gallery Pastry Shop (shout-out to the best dessert place in Indy with the most beautiful desserts ever – it just takes one look at their Instagram feed to get your mouth-watering. You’re welcome – or I’m sorry – in advance for your impending food envy). It wasn’t until December that I ventured to try and make some on my own. I had heard the process was difficult and hard to perfect, and, even armed with my trusty stand mixer, I was worried my baking skills weren’t up to par. A friend had gotten me a macaron recipe book as well as a silicone baking mat (these will come into play later) and another friend was hosting a cookie party for the holidays. I used the opportunity to push myself to make them – I mean, it’s four ingredients (almond flour, egg whites, granulated sugar and confectioner’s sugar) – really how hard can it be?
I won’t go into the details of the recipes for macarons (widely available – just copy and paste ‘how to make a macaron’ into Google or Youtube for everything you may need), but I’ll tell you a few tips that I found helpful navigating my way through the baking process.
Egg whites, much like my unrefined dessert palate as a child, need time to mature and age.
I uncharacteristically planned ahead and read my macaron recipe book about 5 days before I had to make the macarons. Lucky for me, as the ideal timing for the egg whites to ‘age’ is several days. In a pinch, you can leave the egg whites out for a few hours. In short, macarons are not something you decide on the fly to make. It takes planning.
On the note of planning: don’t intentionally plan to make these at 11 PM on a Friday after an exhausting week at work when you need them by 11 AM the next morning. If this is absolutely necessary, blasting Act I of Hamilton and singing along loudly and hoping your neighbors are cool people who are still out partying on a Friday night and don’t care is almost an absolute must.
Doing the math from when I started aging the egg whites (and silently condemning the vagueness from a mathematical standpoint of the word ‘several’), I really only could make them on Friday. Sure, I could have skipped dinner and drinks with my friends. But I had to eat at some point, right?
Also, I’m totally an Act I member of the HamFam. It gets way too sad after that.
Meringue – kind of the most important factor in the integrity of your macaron shell. If you’ve never made one before, DON’T WASTE YOUR PRECIOUS AGED EGG WHITES TRYING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME.
It wasn’t until I had already folded in the flour (for what I would soon learn would be ‘Round 1’ of the macaron shells) that I realized I didn’t really know what ‘stiff peaks’ meant when it came to beating egg whites. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, OBVIOUSLY. I had never made a meringue before and assumed that beating egg whites could only be so difficult. And it was so difficult.
Watch this video for the best explanation I could find in the wee hours of the morning. Spoiler alert: Round 2 (after watching this video) went a lot better, even without the aged egg whites I had wasted on Round 1.
Unless your food coloring drops are tablespoon sizes, whatever the recipe says isn’t enough. Just dump the entire thing in there.
I intended for these macarons to be a deep red for the holidays. Keep this in mind as you see the final product. For additional amusement (and astonishment at my inability to revise on the fly), note that, even after noting for Round 1 that four drops of red food coloring created a pale pink color, I changed nothing for Round 2 in terms of color. Something Einstein said about insanity (and stupidity)? Totally applies here.
When doing your macaronage, there is not set number of turns of the bowls or time that will indicate that it is at the right consistency. Follow the lava rule.
I drove the methodical side of myself crazy trying to find the optimum times that you should rotate the bowl and fold over your macaronage. Almost every website,video or book will give you a different answer. I gave in to the more freeform side and listened to the “lava” advice (saying that your macaronage should drip like lava when you raise your spatula out of the bowl). I’ve never actually *seen* lava, but I made an assumption that I knew what it would look like. Hubris can get you some places, folks.
When your macaronage is so soupy that it can’t hold its shape on your silicone baking sheet , the proper response is not to just shurg it off and assume you know better than the 50 Youtube videos you watched on this exact process and the recipe book straight from France.
Part b: If, for whatever odd reason, you mess up with your silicone mat and are too tired to clean it off for round 2, do not just assume you can make identical circles from piping the macaronage. You are exhausted, it’s 4 AM, and you are not a robot, despite what your computer insists on checking every time you are online shopping.
But, alas, hubris will always catch up to you. I also decided to let this round sit for about an hour to let the shell partially harden (it never did) and baked it, wasting a ton of time. The result was a slightly burnt, pale pink, almond cookie. They tasted okay at 5 AM, though.
Banging your cookie sheets on the counter to release the air bubbles is a must. If you are following part b of Step 2, this should not be an issue for your neighbors as they likely won’t hear anything over the dulcet tones of Leslie Odom Jr. singing Wait For It.
I played that song on repeat as I waited for the piped shells of Round 2 sit and harden prior to baking. It was too perfect not to.
When you are exhausted from making those shells (and hoping on a wing and a prayer that those little ‘feet’ materialize at the bottom to make that picture-perfect look), a simple buttercream filling is probably all you can muster.
Buttercream is delicious. Forget that 6 PM-you (and maybe even midnight-you) were planning to make a tasty ganache to put in as the filling. You are a changed woman (or man) now – the knowledge of the meringue has changed you. You don’t need any more challenges for the night/early morning.
Pipe your buttercream even though it’s almost 7 AM and you can barely stand (and you need to leave in about 3 hours for this god-damned cookie party that you’re now regretting you ever decided to go to) to distract people from the fact that literally all your macaron shells are different sizes and nothing fits together in a perfect sandwiched cookie.
I had an awesome time at the cookie party. I was just so tired at that point that everything was annoying me. Even Hamilton.
No one commented on the different sized shells. Maybe they didn’t notice or they’re just great friends.
Admire your work and take the perfect Insta-shot so you can humblebrag to all your friends that you’ve already booked your flight to Paris to interview at Ladurée.
And that’s *all* you have to do to make these beautiful confections.
I’m excited to try more recipes in the future -hopefully more complicated flavors and fillings when I’ve had more sleep and am not on such a time crunch.
I pulled from a lot of sources to make my macarons but I’d have to say this video below was the most helpful. The title is apt: I am a fool and even I was able to make a Insta-worthy macaron with the help of Beth.