What do you do with the spare egg whites? You can make Pavlova, meringue cookies, well, how about Macarons? When people see Macarons, most of their first impressions are "Ah, it is too hard to make, I can't make it." Well, to make a good Macaron, "Patience" is the key.
A couple of things you need to be aware of when you are making macarons. There are two types of meringue to make the macaron, French Meringue or Italian Meringue. The main difference between these two meringues is one uses cooked sugar where you boil your sugar syrup to a certain boiling point (Italian) and the other one uses uncooked sugar, where you add sugar straight into your egg whites (French).
If everything goes well, both meringues should give you the same/similar result in the end. The below recipe is using the French Meringue (which I reckon is the easier version). Let's begin the journey of Strawberry Macarons with Strawberry Buttercream.
Remember to have everything ready before you start. You will need:
Tools Stand mixer or electric hand mixer (make sure it is clean and no grease*) Baking tray lined with baking paper (try to use the non-stick one) Pipping bag with a round nozzle Stainless steel bowl X2 (or glass bowl, not the plastic one, make sure it is clean and dry*) Rubber spatula
> Kitchen scales – no "near enough" when measuring**
Macaron shells (approx. 40 shells – 20 macarons)
> 90g Egg Whites at room temperature (approximately 3 eggs, try to use old aged egg whites***)
> 115g Almond Meal
> 145g Icing Sugar
> 70g Caster Sugar
> Pinch of cream of tartar (not necessary, and can be substituted with lemon, salt or vinegar, it helps to stabilise the meringue better)
> Red Food Colouring (best to use gel or powder, liquid is fine too)
> Strawberry Essence
* Your egg whites will not reach their full volume if you have grease in your bowl and mixer. Regardless of how hard you clean your plastic bowl, it will always leave some grease on it. Remember a tiny bit of egg yolk can interfere with the development of egg whites.
** A few grams can more or less make a considerable difference to the consistency of the meringue.
*** Old aged egg whites – prepare the egg whites a day ahead. Leave it in an air tight container in the fridge and bring it to room temperature when you're going to use it. This process helps to evaporate the unwanted liquid in the egg whites. Having said that, I did sometimes use the "fresh" egg whites and got no problem with it. So it is really up to you.
1). Put the almond meal and icing sugar into a food processer for a quick blend, and then sieve them together into the bowl. In the patisseries world, this is called "Tant Pour Tant". Remember, a processed Tant Pour Tant will give you a smoother and shinier Macaron Shell compared to unprocessed Tant Pour Tant. Once done, set it aside and move on to the wet ingredients.
2). Grab another bowl and put in the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar. Gently beat the egg whites on medium speed until the soft peaks. You know your meringue reaches the soft peaks when you lift up your mixer - the batter falls down slowly and does not disappear immediately. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add in the sugar. We want to add the sugar slowly to make sure the sugar dissolves into the batter evenly.
3). When the batter reaches medium stiff peaks, add in a few drops of red food colouring and strawberry essence. Make sure you don't add too much liquid to it, macaron hates liquid. Then continue to beat the batter until it reaches the stiff peaks. You will know that when you see the "ribbon" pattern start forming up on the surface and when you lift up your mixer, the batter stays in there. Another traditional way to test your meringue is to flip your bowl over your head and it stays in there. (PS: I don't take responsibility if the batter falls over your head.)
4). Now, this is the most important part. Remember if you over mix the batter, your macaron shell is not going to work and the same thing applies if you under mix the batter. I know what you are thinking now: "What the hell?" But believe me, it is not that I've been picky but it's the Macarons being picky and this is why they are so delicate.
Fold in the Tant Pour Tant (not stir) into the meringue batter in 2-3 batches. This is to ensure the dry and wet ingredients incorporate evenly and you aren't over mixing it at the same time. You need to stop mixing the batter when it reaches the "lava" look pattern.
I am not quite sure how to describe the "lava" pattern, but basically it's when you lift up the batter using the spatula, it should slowly slip off the spatula into the bowl and slowly disappear into the rest of the batter. If the batter stays on the spatula, that means you under mixed. Give it a quick fold again. If the batter falls off the spatula very quickly and disappears quickly into the rest of the batter, that means you over mixed. I'm sorry, I really don't know what you can do with that. Start a new batch? This process is called "macaronage".
5). Once the batter is done, scoop them into the piping bag with the nozzle on and pipe them accordingly to the baking tray lined with baking paper. I use non-stick baking paper because it is easier to peel off later. If you want to be perfect, you can draw out the circle on the baking paper and pipe accordingly. I just use "free hand"; skill comes with good practice.
6). After all that, you will need to rest and dry your macaron shells. This is important, so patience comes into play. The drying process will create a thin, dry and resistant "cover" on the surface of the macaron shell and give macaron the "feet" when cooked.
From my experience, depending on the weather, it takes longer to dry your shells if it is humid and shorter if it is dry. The longest time it took me was more than an hour to dry the shells. You know the shells are ready to rock the oven when you touch the surface and nothing sticks to your hand and it is dry.
7). While you are drying the shells, preheat the oven to 160°C -165°C. After the shells are completely dry, put the shell into the oven for around 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them.
Please remember oven plays a very important role too. Different ovens work differently (conventional vs fan forced). My oven is a conventional oven, and the heat comes from the bottom. So I will put my tray at the very top two layers to avoid a burnt bottom, and the baking time is around 10 minutes. If the heat comes from both top and bottom, I would suggest you put the tray in the middle layers and adjust the temperature slightly or reduce baking time slightly. If the heat comes from top, put the tray at the bottom layers to avoid a burnt top. It is really trial and error and you will eventually get to know your oven.
I have never experienced the fan-forced oven, so would love to hear some feedback/experiences on that.
8). A successful macaron shell is that you can see a "foot" rise underneath. Make sure the macarons are completely cooled off before you peel them off the baking paper. See troubleshoot below if your shells are not working.
9). While the macarons are cooling off, you can make the buttercream. The ingredients themselves are quite self-explanatory. Cream the butter, and then add in the icing sugar, food colouring and strawberry essence. Done. Remember to cream the buttercream to fluffy stage. I reckon that is the best stage of buttercream.
10). Now pipe the buttercream to one shell and take another similar size to sandwich them. Here you go, a homemade Strawberry Macaron. You can also customise your macarons and what I have done here is drizzle some melted chocolate on them (make sure the melted chocolate is cool, not hot).
No feet and Crack/Volcano Shells (Taken from Google Image)
1). No feet – this could be your batter is too runny due to over mixing the batter (at macaronage stage).
2). Crack/"Volcano" look shell – Many reasons. The batter could be over/under mixed or the temperature in the oven is too high (more likely to be the reason). Use the simple science logic (I think). When the heat hits the icing sugar in the batter, it causes the shell to rise. So if the heat is too strong, the centre of the shell rises quicker than the outer and what happens next is a volcano (if that's making sense, just use your imagination).
Runny shells and bottom sticking to the baking paper (Taken from Google Image)
3). Runny shell – This could be undercooked or the oven temperature is too low or over mixing the batter (more likely to be the reason).
4). The bottom shell sticking to the baking paper/hard to remove the shells from the baking paper – this could be undercooked (more likely to be the reason) or the shells have not completely cooled down.
I know this is a long article, but trust me it is so satisfying and rewarding when you see batches and batches of successful macarons come out of the oven. I was literally jumping up and down in front of the oven when I saw my shells rise in the oven. I did lots of research, read lots of book and of course lots of practice to come to this. Please note I have trying my best to find the fail macaron pictures and the above are taken from Google Images. I have also included some other macarons I made before.
The beauty of the Macaron is that you can make or invent any type of Macarons you can imagine, the variation is unlimited. So give it a go, do not let the negative thought put you off. I'm not a professional baker or anything like that (even though I hope I am) and some of the things I mentioned in this article could be wrong or out of track. So I would love to share any ideas or thoughts or experiences on making macarons.