Taking a short break from costuming for a moment, let’s talk about macarons!
I started making macarons years ago, spurred by images of perfect pastel cookie sandwiches and rave reviews online of the flavor combinations available in elite bakeries. I think I’ve gotten reasonably good at them, certainly enough to pass muster among my coworkers, who happily devour anything I bring in. But I’ve never tried shaped macarons before, or multicolored ones, so I guess there’s a first time for everything!
My favorite macaron recipe with detailed instructions is found here, and it goes by weight instead of by volume, basing everything on the weight of your egg whites.
You weigh out your egg whites (I usually use 5 at a time) in grams, then weigh out your almond meal, powdered sugar, and regular sugar (caster sugar if you can find it) accordingly:
Almond meal = Egg white x 1.3
Powdered sugar = Egg white x 1.6
Granulated sugar = Egg white x 0.8
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a heavy baking sheet with parchment or (my favorite) a silicone mat.
Process your almond meal and powdered sugar in a food processor until nice and powdery. This step is particularly important if, like me, you buy almond meal made from unblanched almonds– the processing breaks down the tiny bits of skin to make them less noticeable.
In your stand mixer, beat the room-temperature egg whites to soft peaks, then continue beating as you add the granulated sugar a bit at a time, until you have a firm meringue. This goes beyond merely stiff peaks, people– the meringue should feel like marshmallow.
Add half the dry mixture to the meringue and stir in completely. Repeat with the remaining dry mixture. It will seem dry at first, but it’ll get smoother as you keep stirring. Don’t try to be gentle, you are not folding batter for an angel food cake– stir, stir, stir! Add any colorings and flavorings during this step– do NOT wait until later. When it “flows like magma,” you’re done. A ribbon of batter dropped onto the main surface will disappear completely in about 30 seconds. Do not overmix!
Pipe batter onto the baking sheet into circles (or shapes), and let sit for 10 minutes. These will spread a little, but not too much after the initial smoothing out of the piping lines (which happens naturally). Bake for 2 minutes at 350, then crack the oven door and bake about 8-10 more minutes. When done, the macaron shells will be hard (like eggshells) to the touch, will not dent if you press them lightly with your finger, and won’t move on their “feet” when you nudge them. If you have any doubt about doneness, bake longer– too crisp is fine and the filling will soften them up again. Too sticky is not fine and you’ll never get them off the baking sheet.
Let cool completely before trying to remove from sheets, then peel the paper/silicone mat carefully away from them to avoid cracking. You can store these in a ziploc bag at room temp for about a week before filling. You can also store them unfilled in the freezer for quite a while– at least two weeks, maybe longer. Once filled you can store these in the fridge, covered, for up to a week. They’re good chilled but even better if you let them come to room temperature before eating.
Okay, so that’s reasonably easy, right? But I was going for something more interesting. For my first shaped macarons I decided to make teddy bear faces, for a few reasons. First, my almond meal is from Trader Joe’s, which means it’s ground with skins on and is therefore a very light brown instead of ivory-colored. Brown is a good base for teddy bears. Second, while I would’ve preferred to make little Totoros or something, I wasn’t sure I could depend on the macarons spreading in the right direction to maintain an irregular shape, so I wanted to use something with a round-ish base.
So here goes… I prepared my dry and wet ingredients separately as above, then weighed them out into separate bowls– 1/4 of the dry mix I left alone, and for the remaining 3/4 I took out a spoonful and replaced it with a heaping tablespoon of cocoa. Then I mixed the 1/4 and 3/4 of egg whites into the dry ingredients so I had a small bowl of light brown and a large bowl of medium brown batter. (why not separate out the mixed batter and then add cocoa, you ask? It encourages overmixing and then the macarons will crack in the oven)
I carefully piped little circles of medium brown for the heads, then piped small circles of the lighter batter on top, just off-center. I let them sit for a few minutes and then piped medium brown ears (the waiting keeps the ears from blending too much into the heads). Then I let them sit at room temp for about 10 minutes to allow for a slight crust to form, which I hoped would inhibit further spreading in the oven.
I baked them as above, watching anxiously through the oven window as they rose.
In the meantime, I heated 3 oz. of heavy cream in the microwave and poured it over 7 oz. of milk chocolate chips to make a ganache to use as a filling. I let the ganache cool in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally so it would cool evenly.
The macaron shells came out reasonably well, though I under-baked some of them and jumped the gun on trying to remove them from the baking sheet, causing severe cracking. Most of them turned out cute, though, so I was lucky! I piped in the ganache to sandwich them together (if you try to spread the ganache directly on them with a knife or spatula you risk damaging the shells) and piped little eyes and noses with melted semisweet chocolate.
1. The fancy almond meal from blanched almonds can be very expensive. Two cheaper options are Trader Joe’s Almond Meal (unblanched, which adds a slightly wheaty flavor to the finished product, but still tasty), or buying blanched sliced almonds (the thin oval slices, not slivers) and processing them yourself in a food processor. You could theoretically use blanched whole or slivered almonds, but the sliced ones break down faster, running less risk of making almond butter by accident.
2. Room temperature egg whites whip up better, and older egg whites have a slightly lower water content which I’ve read is better for this recipe. You can also try adding about 1/2 tsp of powdered egg white to the mix for the same effect.
3. I generally pipe round macarons in about a 1″ to 1.25″ diameter circle, spiraling out from the center. It may be easier for beginners to just hold the piping bag in one place as if you were piping a Hershey Kiss, and let the batter smooth out to a circle on its own. They’ll spread out just fine either way.
4. Other fillings besides ganache include jam (you can’t put as much in, though, it’s too liquidy), buttercream (tasty but very sweet) or dulce de leche (ditto). You can also combine them, piping a ring of stiffer filling around the outside and then a dollop of softer filling on the inside. My favorite combo for that has been dark chocolate ganache on the outside with salted butter caramel on the inside.
5. For irregular shapes like teddy bears, you can either try to keep them consistent so you can sandwich them easily, or just use a plain round macaron shell for the back– no one will see it anyway, right? I did some of my macarons with two teddy bears (cracked ones in the back) and some with round backs instead, just based on how much batter I had available.