Psst. Wanna know a secret? Macarons aren’t as hard to make as some would have us believe.
Do they take more time than a pan of bars? Yup. Does it help to use a pastry bag? You bet. Is there a bit of technique involved? Mm-hmm.
Do people gasp, “Whoa, you made these?!?!”
Now, to be clear, we are not talking about macaroons with two “o”s that are made with coconut and pronounced “mac-ah-ROON.”
These are French macarons with one “o” and pronounced “mac-ah-RON.” If you can do that throaty demi-cough when you say it, all the better.
Macarons are like froufrou Oreos, bringing together textures that are crunchy, creamy, chewy and marshmallowy. Plus, they’re pretty.
The cookie is simple: egg whites, powdered sugar and almond meal. The filling is whatever you fancy: Nutella, buttercream frosting, lemon curd, jam, ganache. Marshmallow crème. Peanut butter. You get the drift.
In bakery cases, macarons often are colorfully dyed, sometimes to a fault. There may be times when turquoise and lavender foods are … fun. We prefer ivory macarons, with contrasting fillings, but with Valentine’s Day in the future, we can see the allure of a heart-stopping pink.
In short, there are few rules. But there is technique.
Here’s what you need to know:
Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature, which means letting them sit out on the counter for a couple of hours. Some recipes even talk about “aging” the whites for several days in the fridge. This dehydrates them slightly so they whip more quickly and retain more body. Days of aging may not be necessary, but room temperature is crucial.
A key step is correctly folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Folding is the process of gently turning the mixture back over upon itself again and again, which gradually incorporates the almond meal without deflating the whites too much. The trick is to not become impatient and start stirring; that will deflate the whipped whites and lead to flat and flimsy macarons.
A pastry bag and tip enables you to make perfect little circles of batter onto the parchment paper or silicon baking sheet. In a pinch, a plastic bag with a clipped-off corner does the job.
Last thing: Macarons actually improve when left to mellow for a day in the refrigerator, making them a perfect do-ahead dessert.
Last question: Should you make some this weekend?
- 2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar
- 1-1/3 cups (4.5 ounces) finely ground blanched almond meal (see note)
- 3 to 4 large egg whites, room temperature (see note)
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 to 6 drops food coloring, if desired
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup filling, such as Nutella, jam, lemon curd, chocolate ganache or buttercream frosting
Note: We used Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, available in groceries and co-ops. Let the egg whites sit at room temperature at least 2 hours before you begin. A pastry bag and tip come in handy for shaping.
Cut 3 sheets of parchment paper to fit 2 baking sheets. With a marker and template (such as a large spool of thread) draw on 1 parchment a series of 24 to 28 circles measuring about 1-1/4-inch across, leaving an inch between each circle. Place this on baking sheet overlaid with a second piece of parchment. You should be able to see the circles through the paper.
Combine the powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Then pass the mixture through a sifter or medium-coarse sieve (mesh size of 1/16 inch) to lighten it. Discard any almond bits left behind. (There may be none.) Set aside.
In a clear measuring cup, add enough egg whites to reach halfway between the 1/3 and 1/2 cup marks; or use a scale to weigh 3-3/4 ounces of egg whites. Transfer these to a large bowl and add cream of tartar. With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they form soft peaks when beaters are lifted. Add the food coloring, if using. Resume beating, now at high speed while gradually adding the 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Beat until the mixture forms stiff, but not dry, peaks when the beaters are lifted. A peak of egg white should stand straight up, with no drooping.
Pour one-third of the almond mixture over the egg whites and, with a large rubber spatula, fold into the egg whites to lighten them. Then add the remaining dry ingredients and continue folding until fully incorporated. (See related story below for the best folding technique.) The egg whites will deflate quite a bit, but the batter should look moist and glossy and slowly slide from the spatula.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip, pipe disks of batter onto each circle. You also can drop heaping teaspoons of batter onto each circle, but the pastry bag gives you more control over a circular shape. Or place batter in a plastic bag and clip off one corner.
Rap the sheet several times on the counter to pop any lurking air bubbles and flatten any peaks. Slip template from the pan and repeat with remaining baking sheet, parchment and batter. (Save the template for future bakes.)
Let the macarons rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the surface of the disks is slightly dry; this crust is what will help form the characteristic ruffled “foot” at the base of each macaron as they bake.
Place an oven rack in the center position and preheat to 400 degrees F.
When macarons are ready, slide 1 pan into the oven and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees F. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Macarons are done when they are barely starting to color. Remove pan from oven and set the pan to cool on a wire rack.
Return heat to 400 degrees F. Bake second pan in the same way, remembering to reduce heat to 300 degrees F.
When the cookies are cool, lift a corner of the parchment and carefully peel the liner away from each disk. Lifting the cookies from the parchment may cause them to break.
Spread 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of filling on the flat side of a cookie and top with a cookie of matching size.
You can eat them right away, but macarons improve when allowed to mellow in the refrigerator overnight in an airtight container. They remain good for about 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 24 to 28 sandwich cookies.
Recipe adapted from: Several others, including Alice Medrich’s, and those on the blogs Joy of Baking and Sally’s Baking Addiction.
Kim Ode, a former Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter, wrote “Baking Central” for a decade for the Taste section. Now retired, she still contributes reviews and special articles.