Notes about Macarons

Nuts are our ingredient of the season. We’ve been using them for sweetsdrinkssnack bars and savory condiments!

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We decided to end our season of nuts with the fanciest and fussiest of all nutty desserts, the macaron. We’re talking French macarons here, the kind made with egg whites and ground almonds, not the double-o macaroons made with coconut. But a funny thing about this food post : we don’t include a recipe! As the title suggests, we’re sharing our baking notes about this fickle treat, because while they may cause us to get flustered while baking, we’re not going to stop trying to perfect our technique any time soon!

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I have to admit, I don’t remember where I had my first macaron, but what I do remember is the perfectly light and delicious almond flavor and the cookie’s combination of crunchy exterior and soft and chewy interior. Something I’ve been trying to recreate ever since.

My primary reference for making macarons at home is the book I Love Macarons, and writing this post as turned into a partial review of her book. I’ve found the step-by-step instructions and the photographs in the book to be extremely helpful, but I would caution you that there are a few bad reviews of this book on Amazon, and I have had trouble with the recipes (more details below!). This is all to say that I thought it would be fun to share some tips and tricks with you, but encourage you to experiment with other recipes and techniques. You can read about the first time I made them here.

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For this batch I followed Ogita’s basic macaron recipe and used Martha’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the filling. There’s no way I could do justice to Ogita’s detailed macaron instructions in this post, so I’m not going to include the recipe in this post (lame, I know), but with a quick search, you should be able to find some great references online. This post by Joy of Baking touches on all of the key points, and this post and its links by Brave Tart covers a lot of the same information, but in a different way and she tells you not to worry about some of the details that some recipes fuss over.

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Let’s start with a simple complaint : I think both of the recipes I used were a little too sweet, but that’s always my problem, isn’t it? It should be easy enough to reduce the quantity of sugar in either or both recipes, and in fact I’ve seen a number of macaron recipes with a higher almond to sugar recipe, which would give me the more intense almond flavor that I desire. I’m traditional in that all I want is a delicious, almond-flavored macaron, but if you’re looking for some of the more exotic flavors, this is where Ogita’s book is necessary. It is filled with dozens of flavor ideas for both the cookie and the filling, giving you so many mix and match options that your head will explode!

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Complaints about Ogita’s recipe and methods :

  • The too-sweet cookie and lack of true almond flavor, which I’ve already mentioned above.
  • I’ve consistently found her recommended oven temp (375F) to be too high. So much so, that my macarons are done in under 10 minutes, as opposed to her time of 15-18 minutes. BUT I just discovered why this is : her recipe was written for use with a toaster oven. WTF? It seems absurd to me to write the whole book for a toaster oven rather than just add a footnote with that information.
  • The one and only time I followed her buttercream instructions, which use a microwave (this book was obviously written for a college dorm room!), I ended up burning the sugar and having to start over again. I recommend going elsewhere for a basic buttercream recipe, but again, her ideas for flavors are awesome.

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Praise for Ogita’s methods :

  • As you can see from these pictures, I am able to make beautiful little cookies. They puff up nicely and have the pied, or foot, that macaroons are supposed to have, so I wouldn’t say her technique is all bad, it just needs some adjusting.
  • I find some of her tips to be really useful (like layering two cookie sheets to keep the bottoms of your cookies from burning).
  • Again I’m repeating myself, but I really find her pictures and step by step instructions invaluable. You can tell that a lot of time when into her book, and I think in the future I’ll use it as a reference, but try the an ingredient list from another source.

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Notes about this particular batch :

  • Many recipes will suggest that you draw circles on the parchment paper as a guide for when you’re piping out the dough. I finally got lazy enough this time that I didn’t do that. Instead, I just counted the number of “rings” as I piped out a circle. I thought I was a genius. And they even looked cute and different once baked. The only problem is, they don’t sit very flat, and that may bug some people.
  • This was my first batch at high altitude! The problem challenge with making macarons is that they are so dependent upon the weather/climate. If it’s humid, your pre-baking drying times will be longer (up to 45 minutes for me in PA). If it’s dry, they’ll be shorter (less than 10 minutes for me in CO). And from my experience, this also impacts cooking times, making it shorter in the drier climate.

So what should you do?

  • If you really want to try your hand at baking macarons, do it!
  • Just be patient, precise, and ready to experiment.
  • Where to be precise: Follow a trusted source’s exact instructions for mixing the batter.
  • Where to experiment: Observe and adjust the drying and baking times for the cookies. Keep notes. Once you figure out what works in your climate and kitchen, you should be able to repeat the process fairly easily.

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Wow, a whole post about a little cookie. While perfecting this bad boy alludes us, you can be sure that when we finally find the perfect recipe and get our technique down, we’ll shout it from the rooftops and share it on the blog. Until then, we will continue testing, and our assistant will continue to sneak samples with his blueberry-stained fingers!


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