Making Macarons - A work in progress

I love macarons - the delicate French almond cookies, not the heavier coconut macaroons. I attempted making them once and the results were not good. I've always considered myself a cook and not a baker. Baking is an exact science but macarons require another level of technical precision. I credit my lack of inherent precision and "rustic" cooking nature for the results of my first and only attempt at making macarons. I was going to include a picture but it was so bad, I just couldn't do it so here's a shot of what I wish I'd made...

Wish I could take credit for these beauties

Not one for easily accepting defeat, at least not in the kitchen, I decided to take a class. Waking up for a 9 AM class on a Sunday morning is not really high on my list of things to do. Thankfully this class was worth it. Very focused on the technical aspects of making macarons, the class was everything I wanted it to be. I came away thinking, "Yes! I can do this! I got it!" How quickly I forgot our instructor telling us that even she failed after taking a whole class in pastry school. Here are the fruits of our early morning labors:

(From left clockwise) Pumpkin Spice Macarons with Maple Buttercream, Chocolate Macarons
with Salted Caramel Cream, and Cinnamon Macarons with Spiced Apple Filling

Coming home this afternoon I decided to try making one of the recipes - a chocolate macaron substituting the salted caramel filling with Nutella. Although I had better results than my first attempt, the macarons were far from perfect and didn't quite resemble those in the picture. It brought to mind all the things our instructor told us this morning. Any number these reasons could have contributed to the less than perfect results. These reasons serve as a reminder that macarons are a technical baking challenge but with (a lot of) practice, not insurmountable.

Here are some of the things to watch:
  • Everything in the dough is a balancing act and the slightest amount of extra liquid can greatly affect the results (I think this is part of the issue I ran into). To alleviate this:
    • Separate the eggs the night before and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight. The egg whites will release a small amount of moisture. (I didn't take this step.)
    • Don't use egg whites in a carton. They won't work for macarons.
    • Use gel food coloring, not the liquid type found in the four-packs in the grocery store.
    • Use dried fruit powders for flavoring (if needed) - you can find freeze dried fruits and grind them to create these powders.
  • Try to find a cornstarch-free or low cornstarch brand of powdered sugar. Most in-store brands have a lot of added cornstarch used to bulk up the product. (This may be another contributing factor as all my dry goods are in containers and I don't remember where I purchased the powdered sugar.)
  • Mix all ingredients well - no streaks of egg white, dry ingredients, or coloring - as it can result in cracks in the macarons. But don't overmix. (This is definitely a tricky one and knowing where the balance is only comes from practice.)
Overall I'm not disappointed by my second solo attempt but I've learned there are no short cuts. If I don't respect the process, the results are iffy at best. I'm not discouraged. With the winter coming up I suspect I'll have a number of weekends indoors to practice and perfect these treats.


Note: I took (and paid for) my class at Sur La Table in Boston and it was excellent.

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