I've been wanting to try my hand at macarons for quite some time now. Pretty much ever since the I first saw them, really! It's just that there's so much pastry lore and French tradition surrounding these little puffs that I've felt completely and utterly intimidated. But this past weekend, I finally rolled up my sleeves and gave it a go. The result? Well, check it out!Ironically, the thing that finally tipped my long-held desire to make macarons over into actually making them was a post on Bakerella's site. I say "ironically" because her cake pops and other various confections are usually so exactingly perfect that you'd think a post on macarons would intimidate me even further. Somehow it had the opposite effect:
• Macaron Tutorial from Bakerella - the full recipe is at the bottom of the page
For my step-by-step process, click through the photo slide show above. Here are some lessons I learned in my first attempt:
• Ignore any ingrained fears of leaving eggs at room temperature. (And try to ignore the odd smell.)
One thing you definitely have to get over when making macarons is a fear of leaving eggs at room temperature. The instructions call for leaving the egg whites out at least 24 hours. This is to let some of the moisture evaporate from the whites, giving you the benefit of their protein structure without the unnecessary liquid.
I'm not going to lie - my egg whites definitely had an odd odor. They didn't smell spoiled or rotten, but they definitely didn't smell...fresh. Since this was my first time making macarons, I don't know if this smell is normal or not (does anyone know?!). I made the macarons anyway and admit to eating several within the first few hours with no ill effects.
• The whole process of making macarons takes about an hour, which is totally doable on a weekend or even a weeknight.
The actual process of making the macarons was way easier than I'd built it up to be in my mind. I ground whole almonds in the food processor to make the almond flour and then sifted them with the powdered sugar in order to remove any overly-large chunks. I can see how using professionally milled almond flour would give you a finer cookie, but I thought the ground almonds worked just fine for my less-fancy purposes.
• Do the knife test to tell when the batter is ready.
After you whip the aged egg whites and fold them into the almond flour-powdered sugar mixture, it can be a little hard to know when the batter is actually ready. If the batter is too stiff, you'll get little peaks on your cookies. If it's too loose, the macarons will spread too much. One of the best pieces of advice Bakerella gives is to run a knife through the batter every few minutes; when the line the knife makes disappears after 10 seconds, the batter is ready. Perfect.
• Pipe smaller cookies than you think as they spread a bit - pipe about one inch before lifting the bag and moving on.
My own bit of advice when it comes to piping the cookies is to go smaller than you think. Even with the knife trick, my cookies still spread about a half inch. I got the hang of how much to pipe and when to stop after the first few - practice makes perfect!
• Don't try to fix any of the cookies once they've been piped. Embrace the funky blob shapes.
Trying to nudge the piped batter into neater rounds is just begging for trouble. I definitely got better at making circles instead of blobs the more I piped. Also, blobby cookies taste just as good as round cookies.
• Except, do pop any bubbles in the piped cookies right away before the outside shell sets.
Probably due to my inexperience, I had some little bubbles rise to the top of my piped cookies. I'm not sure any real pastry chef would recommend this, but I popped the bubbles with a toothpick. A shell starts to form as you let the cookies rest, so I recommend popping earlier rather than later or you get a glossy little crater in the top of some of your cookies (ahem).
• Believe in the macaron
Watching the macarons rise in the oven and form those little "feet" felt like magic. I could hardly believe how perfect they looked coming out of the oven - just like real macarons! I couldn't be more pleased. And I can't wait to make them again.
There's always room to grow, of course! Have you made macarons? What advice do you have?
(Images: Emma Christensen)