French macarons are little sandwich cookies commonly confused with coconut macaroons. The coconut desserts, which I am also quite fond of, has an extra “o” in spelling. French macarons are, instead, made with almond flour making them gluten free. These delightful wonders have a filling sandwiched between two cookies that have extremely thin outer crust that almost instantly breaks, and a chewy center. There are varieties such as swiss and japanese macarons which are lighter and denser respectively. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to French macarons as simply macarons.
Macarons are merengue-based cookies, meaning that they are primarily egg whites by volume. In fact, beaten egg whites make up a majority of this cookie along side 3 other simple main ingredients, almond flour, powdered sugar, and casters sugar. Despite the simple ingredient profile, they are known as one of the most difficult cookies to make. With careful execution, however, it is possible to have excellent and consistent results.
Please plan this ahead of time, at least one entire day before in order for the egg whites to age. This is critical for successful macarons. Please refer to the Notes at the bottom of this post for details regarding the “reasons” for this
First and foremost is your equipment. I have made this recipe completely by hand before but it was considerably easier when I had the aid of my mixer. Either way, any equipment used should be squeaky clean and dry. This applies to whenever you are working with beaten egg whites. Any amount of fat could break down the merengue. Moisture also prevents a good merengue. With that being said, I set off using a glass bowl which is excellent for beating eggs as plastic bowls tends to retain oil. Make sure you use parchment paper or a silicon mat during baking so that they do not stick! Some people cut out little 1 in circles and trace them onto parchment paper. I wouldn’t worry so much about getting the size right the first time you make these.
While beating egg whites, I tend to add a small pinch of cream of tartar to speed the process up. Finally, I use casters sugar, superfine sugar, or baker’s sugar when beating egg whites. After the whites are foamy I slowly add in the sugar while beating. I find that not only does this prevents clumps, it also helps the egg whites come together.
The most difficult part when I first approached macarons was folding. It is imperial to understand that overfolding will ruin the structure. The result of an over beaten macaron: a thin, flimsy, chewy cookie that has no foot. On the other hand, not beating enough results in a cookie that does not spread making it look like meringues instead. For macarons, make sure to fold the mixture until it flows like lava. It generally takes me about 40-50 folds to completely encorporate everything. From here I continue folding until the consistency is just right. To get an idea of how to fold, here is a good video. In the video egg whites are folded into a pancake batter, in our case it will be the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Don’t worry though, the steps and concepts are the same.
After folding, I pipped out the batter using a gallon-sized Ziplock bag. If everything was folded properly then the batter should barely runs on its own from the pipping bag. When you are pipping, pipe from the center outwards. If you try to just pipe a circle and lift in the end you will end up with soft peaks and an uneven circle. After piping, the tops should smooth out on their own, if not wet your fingers slightly and gently press down until smooth. I would avoid doing this altogether because of the next step: drying.
After making the circles, it is actually necessary to let the macaroons sit out. Instructions for time range from 15 min to 2 hours but it really depends on the temperature and humidity of the kitchen. What you want to do is wait until the shells are no longer shiny and turn matte and wait another 10 to 15 minutes. In my case, it took about 30 minutes total. Doing this allows for the “foot” to be formed while baking.
During this time, I preheated my oven to 375 degrees F. When the cookies were ready to bake I put them in the oven and immediately turned it down to 325. Doing this allows for a foot to form but prevents the outer shell from cracking. Between each cookie sheet, I return the oven to 375 F and wait for 5 minutes before starting the next round.
Immediately after baking, I sprinkle water between the parchment paper and cookie sheets which forms steam which will aid in the removal of the cookies. I then transfer the cookies onto a wired rack to cool. After the cookies are cooled completely, we can start filling each sandwich.
Filling the center is rather easy. There are a lot of options and feel free to be creative. I’ve made chocolate raspberry, strawberry, or even nutella! Simply think about what you would eat on a daily basis and simply pipe it in. Sandwich two similarly sized cookies together and you end up with a finished macaron. Savor the moment while you can though, they’ll go by fast!
And with that being said, here is the quick and dirty recipe!
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
- Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.
- Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then gradually add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes.
- Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold using a smooth motion until mixture is smooth and shiny no more than f50 strokes.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pipe onto parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than vertically from the center. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, and repeat
- Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)
- Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- Heat cream on medium until close to boiling. Do not let the cream boil.
- Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and let stand for two minutes. Mix in a circular motion from the outside towards the center gently such that no bubbles are smooth. Mix until smooth.
- Add the sugar and butter and stir until the butter is melted.
- For chocolate macarons (title image) substitute 1/4 cup of almond flour with 3 Tbsp of cocoa powder.
- add a teaspoon of expresso powder to the ganache for different flavors
Since this recipe is considered very complex, I have done a lot of research on ingredients and process, if you find that nothing is answered please comment below and I will do my best to answer your questions!
Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar is not a traditional ingredient in macarons and can be omitted. The unofficial queen of macarons Tartlette has successfully made this luxurious dessert without the use of cream of tartar. As my readers should know. Cream of tartar is commonly used in merengue and other recipes where incorporated air is required. In this case, the air in the bested egg whites are critical to the macaron’s texture. Adding cream of tartar to the egg whites allows for easier stabilization during the beating process. When you omit the ingredient, however, just make sure that you beat the egg whites properly and thoroughly until you get stiff peaks.
Aging egg whites
In addition, you should note to prepare this at least 24 hours ahead of time. Specifically, you must let the egg whites sit out in room temperature. I typically crack the egg whites into a plastic cup and cover it a day or two before. This can be done up to five days ahead of time, after which the whites must be refrigerated.
As far as safety is concerned, eggs, although at risk of salmonella and other bacteria growth, are generally pasteurized and the risk to infection is low. Furthermore, the whites of eggs contain three specific proteins that aid in the integrity of the egg white. First is Ovotransferrin, which binds tightly to iron, making it useless to bacteria that thrive on it. Second is Lysozyme, which digests bacterial cell walls, and third is Ovomucin, which inhibits viruses. On the off chance that the bacteria do survive in this condition, cooking the cookies at 300F will easily kill any left over bacteria.
Now back to the rationale behind aging egg whites at room temperature: it relates ease of creating a properly beaten merengue. First of all, letting the egg whites sit out allow them to come to room temperature, and anyone who has experience with beating egg whites can tell you that room temperature whites beat better and faster. By faster, I mean literally at least half the time needed. To understand this, we must first understand some chemical properties behind merengue. The white foamy substance we see lies behind air trapped within the coiled proteins that slightly relax when we beat the protein filled liquid. If the eggs were cold, the difference in temperature actually causes the protein to break down and the air escapes. This addresses the room temperature aspect but the actual process of aging has some important functions as well. As we had discussed earlier, the proteins in egg whites coil together. Allowing the egg whites to age at room temperature denatures the proteins, more specifically, the coils unravel and thus making it easier for air to be incorporated. Think of it as a slinky. remembering the coiling nature of proteins, Secondly, allowing the protein filled substance to rest at room temperature allows it to incorporate air better through chemical means. On the side, this has been done since the creation of this dessert and the aging of egg whites also have this rustic feeling to it.
*Photo Credits to: Nancy Cipriano (Chocolate Macaron, Title image) and Sabrina Lee (French Macaron, sample image)