For Christmas this past year, I made (and ate) an irresponsible amount of macarons. I might have gone a little overboard in trying out different flavor combinations and trying to get consistently perfect batches. But really, don’t you need vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and earl grey macarons for Christmas?
Okay, maybe not. But despite how finicky and frustrating they can be, I had a blast learning to make them over the holidays. It can be a versatile little cookie since it allows you to play around with colors and flavor combinations, and I learned a lot from my experiments. Even if your macarons are cracked, or hollow, or don’t get the cute little feet, they will still probably taste delicious, so it’s worth a try! So, without further ado, here’s my guide to macarons.
To start, there are some tools you will need in order to get started. Many of these you will probably already have if we do any other types of baking, but if not many of the items are handy to have around for any type of baking or cooking. What you will need is:
A mixer – I’ll get into the different methods of making macarons below, but for now, you just need to know that if you’re making French macarons, a hand mixer will do fine. If you’re making Italian macarons, then you’re going to want to have a stand mixer.
A sifter – You need to sift your dry ingredients so you can mix them thoroughly with the egg whites and get smooth results.
Mixing bowls – If you’ve baked in the past, you probably already have these. They’re essential for any kind of baking and I personally use them every day, even for just regular cooking (or eating popcorn out of!). If you’re using a hand mixer, you’ll want to use glass mixing bowls, like the ones made by Pyrex.
A heavy duty baking sheet – You want your macarons to be heated evenly, so you want a nice, thick baking sheet. This is another tool I use pretty much daily so it’s worth it to pick some up.
Parchment paper or a silicone mat – I personally use parchment paper, but you can buy silicone mats that actually have macaron templates already printed on them. If you’re new to baking, or you aren’t sure if you’re going to be making macarons frequently, parchment paper can work just fine. If you do use parchment paper, you can print out a template online and slip it under for when you pipe the batter.
Spatula – You need to be able to mix your egg whites and dry ingredients together, so you need a good spatula. I highly recommend a silicone spatula.
Piping bag – Once your batter is ready, you need to be able to pipe it onto the tray. You can get kits that come with lots of disposable bags as well as different tips, so if you do a lot of desserts decorating this will come in handy for other baking projects as well!
A food scale – I use food scales all of the time, especially in baking. I prefer to weigh my ingredients out instead of using cups as it gives you far more accurate results. Macarons require precision to get right, so I really recommend you add this to your baking arsenal. You can probably get perfectly tasty macarons otherwise, but I’ve never tried it without weighing my ingredients.
An oven thermometer – I put this on here with the admission that I’ve made plenty of macarons without one, but if your oven temperature is off it’s going to make it harder to get consistent results. You can still get a delicious product, but if you’re going to be making a lot of macarons or baking in general, an oven thermometer is incredibly useful.
French Method vs. Italian Method
There are two different methods for making a macaron – you can start with French meringue or Italian meringue. With a French meringue, you whip together the uncooked egg whites and sugar. For Italian meringue, you need to first heat sugar and water to create a syrup, which you then pour slowly into your egg whites as you whip.
The French method is easier and often recommended for beginners, but the Italian method is more stable and generally yields more consistent results. My first ever buttercream was actually an Italian meringue buttercream, so this technique is definitely not impossible for a beginner. But if you’re making macarons with kids or are worried about being able to pour the very hot sugar syrup into the mixture while the mixer runs, the French method is perfectly fine. I would say experiment with both if you can! You’ll get a feel for how they affect the end result, and you get to eat more macarons overall. It’s a win-win situation!
Before You Get Started
In baking and cooking alike, it makes things easier if you get your ingredients prepared before starting the recipe process. For macarons, that means you want to sift all of your dry ingredients together and separate your egg whites before starting anything else. It’ll make your life a lot easier to have everything ready to go, so your whipped eggs aren’t just sitting out while you try to sift everything together.
If I’m making flavored shells, I’ll usually also sift in whatever dry flavoring I’m using. I’ve done this with earl grey leaves, cocoa powder, and ground up instant coffee.
For your egg whites, some people suggest aging them for a week. I’ve personally never done this because I don’t plan my macaron-making a week in advanced. I’ve never had a problem with using “new” egg whites, but you can definitely try it out and see if it makes a difference for you!
Now that you know which method you’re using and have all of your ingredients and equipment ready, it’s time to get started! The recipe you’re using should guide you through all of this, but the general process you’ll use is:
- Whip your egg whites with sugar.
- Pour your dry ingredients into the egg whites and fold.
- Pipe your macaron batter onto your baking tray.
- Tap the pan and let the macarons rest.
- Wait for them to cool, before removing the shells and adding your filling.
Unfortunately, with macarons, there is a lot of room for error in those six steps. So here are some tips for each stage to help you avoid a lot of headaches.
Whipping Your Egg Whites
To properly whip the egg whites, you want to beat them on medium speed until they reach stiff picks. After the first minute or so of beating, you can add your sugar, then continue to whip. Stiff peaks mean that when you pull the whisk out of the bowl, it should hold its shape and not drip. If you shake the bowl and it stays put, it’s done!
If you’re adding food coloring, you want to use gel food coloring and add it when your egg whites reach the soft peaks stage. So you should have peaks that kind of droop over – usually just a minute or two before the stiff peaks stage. Add a little more than you usually would, since the dry mixture you’re going to add to it later can lighten up the color. The baking process can also cause the colors to lift a bit.
Folding In Your Dry Ingredients
This stage is tricky, and also can be a little tiring on your arms. You’re going to pour your sifted, dry ingredients into your stiff egg whites at this point. Then, you need to carefully fold them into each other. You want to avoid deflating too much air from the egg whites while still getting everything mixed together. As a rough estimate, it can be about 50 turns but this depends on a lot of different factors so you really want to use your intuition here. When it looks like you have everything incorporated together, start to test the batter consistency. It needs to flow off your spatula, kind of like honey. I test it by checking if I’m able to draw a figure 8 into the batter.
This can take some practice to get down, so don’t get discouraged if your first batch doesn’t come out right. Your macarons should still taste good as long as you at least get everything incorporated.
Piping The Macarons
Now you need to pipe the macarons onto your tray. If you’re using a printed template, I usually punch a hole into the paper and tie a little string through it so I can easily slip it out from under my piped macarons after they’ve set for a little bit. If you’re using the silicone mat, you can just pipe them directly onto there. To pipe them you want to keep the tip absolutely straight and still, directly over the tray. Before you lift the bag up, do a little swirl on top, and then move onto the next one.
Tapping and Resting
Once your macarons are piped, tap the tray on the counter to release any air bubbles from the batter. This will help you get smooth, shiny tops. Once you’ve done that, let your macarons rest. I usually let them sit for about 30 minutes, but this can depend on a number of factors, such as how wet your batter is or the humidity in the room. What you want is to be able to touch the top of the macaron without the batter sticking to your finger.
I usually bake them at 325°F for 10 minutes, but some people prefer them at 300°F or 350°F. You can start by following your recipe and adjusting it for subsequent batches. I also rotate the pan in the middle of baking, so that they bake more evenly. To know if they’re done, the tops should be dried and they should have crinkly feet. If you push one very gently and it “shifts” on its feet, bake for another minute or two and test it again.
Once they’re out of the oven, let the shells cool before trying to remove them so they don’t break. As soon as they’re cool, you can pipe your filling! When they’re assembled, it’s sometimes recommended you wait an hour or two before eating to let the flavors mature and develop, but if you have a whole batch there’s really no harm in trying one as soon as they’re ready, right? Right.
Macarons are not easy to make, so please don’t be discouraged if your 1st (or 10th) batch doesn’t quite come out right. It can take a lot of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t and get the feel for the batter consistency. But, even if you don’t get perfect, Instagram-ready macarons the first time doesn’t mean you aren’t in for a delicious treat. So I say give it a try, have fun with different color and flavor combinations, and let your creativity run wild!