It feels like everyone picked up some sort of hobby during 2020. Once I realized our weekend travels and jam-packed schedules had been swapped out for Netflix marathons and leisurely neighborhood walks, I started looking for new things to try in the kitchen. I have baked for a few years, but I was far too intimidated to give macarons a try. They’re very finicky and down-right easy to mess up (as I’ve found out multiple times). I finally decided to give them a shot and hoped for the best. I spent several weekends attempting to learn all about macarons and botched SEVERAL batches along the way. Spoiler alert: I’m still not a pro, but I have made plenty of progress and mistakes to learn from going forward. If you’re debating trying them, GIVE IT A GO! Here are a few tips I found most useful over this journey, but I’m still learning something new with every batch!
DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO
- Read instructions for a recipe. Yes, I know. You would think that’s common knowledge. I made a recipe twice and the second time I SKIPPED THREE STEPS. Literally, I don’t know what happened. Maybe it’s because I was listening to a murder podcast and somehow just got super sucked into that and forgot how to read (I was trying to solve a crime, okay?!) I ended up mixing my dry ingredients into the egg whites in the stand mixer. Didn’t fold them in. Basically had a cake at that point. Oops. I threw this batch away.
- I’m not a strict measurer when it comes to cupcakes, cookies, or any other baking adventure I take on. I aim for a close-ish amount but I knew macarons were a whole process and pulled out all the stops on precise measuring. I’ll probably move into weighing my ingredients going forward for accuracy. This is the first time I have ever leveled my measuring cups and panicked when I lost count of how many heaps of powdered sugar I’ve already scooped. The right amount is important and until you’ve made a few batches and know how/what to tweak, it can downright destroy a batch if you’re off on your ingredients.
- Sifting. Whew. If you have a proper sifter, this is an entire arm workout. I gave that a go with my almond flour and powdered sugar but quickly moved to some sieves we have and just shook them for sanity’s sake. Turned out fine and saved me the extra workout. Several recipes and bakers will recommend sifting 2 times for best results…you do you. I’m not trying to put more time between myself and eating a cookie.
- Folding. Folding. And…wait for it…more folding! I rarely (maybe never?) work with any baked goods that require a folding technique for incorporating ingredients, so this was a new one for me. Turns out, you get the hang of it pretty quick but it’s certainly not your usual rubber spatula stirring aimlessly in a bowl. You’re looking for a ribbon consistency. When you get there, STOP. I have made the mistake of continuing to fold a bit more to get a little smoother and ended up with a runny batter that couldn’t hold up when piped (and didn’t develop feet). This would be a good topic to watch a video on so you can really see the proper technique and the goal consistency. One thing to note here, if you haven’t properly sifted/sieved your dry ingredients you will probably notice clumps at this stage. Even more so noticeable if you don’t fold to ribbon consistency. Again, finicky cookies.
- Gel food coloring. I think this one goes without saying but stick to gel or powder to limit unnecessarily thinning the macaron batter.
- Egg whites. If you want to see some people get bent out of shape read the comments on some of the recipes for macarons. You’ll find some swear by aged egg whites, some swear you can’t use carton egg whites, and some are just winging it. I rarely use aged egg whites. I didn’t notice a difference in flavor or end result in shells so I haven’t made this a primary “refinement” focus. I have only found 1 brand of carton egg whites that worked and 2 that did not but I usually stick to separating the egg whites on my own. Experiment and see what works for you. Aged egg whites might be great if you plan ahead and separate your eggs a few days in advance. I have definitely found it’s easier to separate the egg whites when the eggs are at room temperature.
- Feet. No, I’m not talking about yours. Put your socks back on. Macarons develop “feet”. I’m not an expert on them but you can see the difference between a shell that has risen and developed feet as opposed to a runny shell (spreads and is very thin) or a shell that has pushed the feet out, indicating a hollow (think crunchy) shell.
- Sprinkles baked directly on the shells can be a fun way to add pops of color and decor. However, some can weigh the batter down so don’t go overboard until you know how stable the cookies are. I alternate between sprinkles baked on shells or adhered to a chocolate/candy melt drizzle after they’ve cooled.
- Let them rest. I love a good nap. So do macarons. After you’ve piped your shells and dropped your trays to pop the air bubbles, wander away. I let my trays sit on the counter for 30 minutes before the 1st batch goes into the oven. There is a sweet spot between letting them rest enough and too long so it’s important to pay attention to a timer. This is a great time to make your filling ( a simple ganache or buttercream are always a good place to start!)
- Keep a baking journal. My husband gave me a composition book for The Baking Files. Record the journey so you can pinpoint what worked and what didn’t. Your oven and the oven used in all the recipes you’re reading aren’t the same. What works for someone in a completely different climate with a very different oven may not work for you. A few of the things I track: indoor temperature, the weather outside, number of folds, which rack I’m using, bake time, and final result.
- Check the weather. If you need your rain boots, that’s not the day to make your shells. If you have a dehumidifier, sure, be my guest. I made 2 disaster batches while it poured on a summer day before realizing those were trash magnets. BYE. Nothing like a batch of cracked cookie shells to ruin your day.
- Have fun with them! I’m still learning how to make different shapes but this is a fun way to make holiday or celebration-specific goodies that are sure to be a crowd-pleaser! I tried a batch of snowmen…they were a bit rounder than I anticipated but I freehanded them and they still turned out adorable!
- Try a LOT of recipes. I’d recommend starting with something fairly straight forward and not too fancy for your first try. The first few I tried were okay but not great. Now, I almost always use the same shell recipe and adjust my filling for the flavor as opposed to including an extract or flavor in the shell. This helps my shells be predictable and then I can start to adjust them as I learn how to tweak the ingredients to change for various dry/wet additions.
- Don’t give up. Macarons are tough, you’re tougher…(she whispered at the fresh batch going in the oven). I’m obviously nowhere near bakery level perfection yet, but I’m so glad I stuck with them after the first try. Plus, the ones that don’t get an A+ still taste pretty good and make for great snacks while you move on to the next batch! Even now, I still end up with batches that don’t quite have a smooth “ribbon” consistency, the perfect set of “feet” or the flavor combo isn’t as WOW as I had hoped. Learn from the fails and move on.
Back to the kitchen to perfect the recipe! Have you tried to make macarons?! What are some of your favorite tips and tricks to the perfect almond cookie?! Let me know!
Thanks for stopping by!