I have a confession to make. I can't make rice. To be fair I never really took the time to learn properly - I just tried a few times, made seriously gross mush (rich described it as 'melt in your mouth' one time just to be nice), and then bought a rice cooker, and I haven't had an issue since.
Unfortunately, macarons aren't such an easy fix. I fell in love with these little cookies a few years ago, but after a few times making them, decided that they were too tricky, and popped them directly into the too hard basket. I blamed my oven. I blamed the weather. I blamed all sorts of things. I put them out of my mind and just decided that I couldn't make them, but they stayed lurking there, until I decided recently that it was time to give them a go again.
I was convinced my oven was the issue, so I set out to make them in a countertop convection oven. This produced allll kinds of weird results - perfect shells and a nice foot, but on the strangest angle i've ever seen. About 10 batches in I decided that it was probably time to try something else, because this wasn't working. I had tried swiss meringue, and Italian meringue, but had stayed away from french because it was 'harder' to make macs with.
All it took was a well timed visit to my friend Jase's house with a couple of passionfruit. I made a passionfruit curd then sat at his breakfast bar and watched him make macs, carefully taking mental notes of each step, before realising that I had been doing most of it right all along, and I just needed to keep trying. And so I went home, busted out the food processor again, and proceeded to FINALLY make a batch of macs that were worthy of being called macarons. I was worried I had fluked it, so told myself I had to make another six batches that were perfect before I was even allowed to think about sharing the recipe. And now look where we are! Cloudy Kitchen can make macarons.
I'm not going to pretend these are easy to make and that I just whipped them up, because they aren't - they are finicky little bastards. Breathe on them wrong and they will fail. Over mix the batter, and they spread everywhere. Don't rest them long enough, and they will crack all over the show. Over whip the meringue, and they will look great, but taste like sweet failure when you bite into one and realise that they are hollow AF. BUT when you nail them, it is an amazing feeling, and you look like a total pro. I just don't mention all the failed batches that came before this one.
However I am hoping that all the disasters I have had in the past (trust me, there's been a lot - if there is a way to fail at macarons, I have done it), will make for a post that can hopefully prevent some of them happening for you! It's important to remember that these ARE tricky, and they do take a little bit of practice with technique and knowing how far to take the batter, but they are fun to make, and once you have them sussed, you should be away laughing.
I wanted the first macaron recipe that I posted to be a wee nod to my childhood. These macs are inspired by a biscuit (cookie) I ate growing up - hundreds and thousands biscuits. They are a vanilla biscuit, covered in a pink icing, and loaded up with hundreds and thousands (nonpareils). They don't really have a distinctive flavour aside from just being sweet, which I think is probably half the appeal. I replicated the biscuit with a pink shell, and added some sprinkles just after I piped them out. I then filled them with an american buttercream, also "pink" flavour. Usually I wouldn't use an american buttercream in almost any situation, but the slight crust that it gets is perfect for replicating the texture of the biscuits. So here we have it - a hundreds and thousands macaron! Or, a vanilla macaron, coloured pink, with sprinkles. You decide what to call it.
A few wee tips:
- This is essentially just a vanilla macaron recipe! You can colour it any way you like, leave off the sprinkles, or fill it with whatever flavour you like!
- If you don't have a kitchen scale, then you need to get one ASAP - these are finicky as they are, and grams are by far the most accurate way to bake. I haven't included a cup conversion in this recipe for that exact reason - I don't feel comfortable giving a recipe that could be thrown off by how tightly packed your cup of almond meal is, or how big your eggs are.
- Macarons are tricky. They take practice. Don't feel disheartened if they don't work the first time (or even the second time!), they still taste super yum. Take lots of notes. Work out what works for you. Play around with baking time and oven temperature. Its all about finding the good balance. This is the recipe that works for me - hopefully it works for you too! There's so many different recipes floating round on the internet.
- Invest in an oven thermometer if you haven't already. I calibrated my oven a while back and it's made a huge difference to the consistency of my oven.
- Watch lots of videos. This is one of my favourites - the recipe is different but the technique is the same. It can be tricky to judge how far to take the meringue and then again how far to take the batter, so a visual guide is best, for me at least.
- I had a few batches that weren't turning out perfectly circular like I wanted them to, and realised it was from the banging of the pans to help them settle. Too much banging was unevenly distributing the batter, so when it baked they would come out a little oval. I found that giving the batter just a few extra turns meant that less banging was required, and therefore less chance of oval macarons!
- Oval macarons can also be due to a draft in the room from the air con. Make sure the room doesn't have any and this should hopefully remove the issue of oval macs!
- Doubling up on sheet pans makes a huge difference in the baking process - it helps to keep the distribution of heat nice and even. Jase found that heating the pan in the oven before you add the one with the macs helps with the lift, which I noticed too - the first batch (on the cool pan) would always rise less than the second and third which were on a heated pan, so, heat your double up pan!
- I had some issues with my macarons being hollow, and discovered it was from over whipping the meringue (Which I didn't realise that I was doing!) You want it to be nice and stiff, but not too dry.
- All kinds of things can go wrong with macs. I have experienced almost all of them, so if they happen to you don't sweat it, you're not alone. I used this site to troubleshoot, but the main solution was just to keep at it and keep trying.
- I also had some issues with the macs sticking a little to the parchment paper (I have had much better luck with paper than silpat), even though they were cooked. My friend who is a pastry chef suggested that if this happens, then you can freeze them, still attached to the paper, for 5-10 minutes, and they usually peel right off! Update on this: We also discovered an amazing parchment - and haven't had a single mac stick since we started using it. It's a non-stick parchment paper - we used this one.
- It can be a little tricky to check if they are done. There is a fine line between having the shells set, and the feet set and stable, and overbaking and giving them colour, which you don't want. I like to very gently press on the top of one of the shells, and if the foot stays stable, then I know that it is well on the way to being done. If it is not quite there, I give it extra time, checking every minute.
- I was originally grinding the almond meal and powdered sugar together, but then realised it really only needed sifting, I just had the wrong sized sieve! You want one with a medium sized mesh (I ordered this one), and make sure you sift twice to remove any big lumps and aerate the mixture.
- If you need a template, print two of these and stick them together to use as a guide.
- If you have any questions please feel free to pop them down below - I will update this section as I try more things and learn what works the best!
Hundreds and Thousands Macarons
- Makes about 24 sandwiched macarons -
170g ground almonds
300g powdered sugar
180g egg whites, at room temperature
A few drops of pink gel food colouring
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Hundreds and Thousands Sprinkles, (Nonpareils) to finish
American Buttercream Filling
225g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt
500g (4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
2-3 Tbsp whole milk, as needed
Pink gel food colouring
- PROCESS -
Preheat oven to 300˚f / 150˚c, and position the oven rack in the centre of the oven. Using a round cookie cutter or the base of a large piping tip (something about 1.5 inches in diameter), draw a "template" for your macarons on a piece of parchment paper, leaving about 3/4" between each circle.
Place the ground almonds and powdered sugar in the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse until it resembles very fine crumbs. Sift twice through a sieve, discarding any chunks, and set aside. If there are a large number of chunks, return to the food processor and pulse again.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, increase the mixer speed, and whip on high until the meringue starts to firm up. Add pink gel food colour a few drops at a time, until the desired colour is reached. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated. Continue to whip until the meringue forms stiff peaks (there is a good example here).
Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add half of the ground almond and powdered sugar mixture, and fold into the meringue. You want to deflate the meringue just a little at this stage, to combine the meringue and ground almond mixture.
Add the remaining ground almond mixture, and stir lightly to combine. Now comes the important part - mixing the batter to the correct consistency. Again, this video does a good job of explaining it. Fold the mixture in a series of 'turns', deflating the batter by spreading it against the side of the bowl. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat the movement - scooping the batter from the bottom of the bowl, and spreading it against the side. Continuously check the consistency of the batter - you want it to flow like lava when you lift the spatula from the bowl, and you should be able to 'draw' a figure 8 with it, without the batter breaking (again, watch lots of videos to get an idea! They help so much). This step can take some practice until you know what it should feel and look like. If in doubt you are better to under mix them than over mix them - the process of putting the batter into the bag and piping out will help mix a little too.
Fit a large pastry bag with a medium sized round tip, such as an ateco #805. Place the macaron template on a sheet pan, and place a second piece of parchment over it. Holding the piping bag at a 90˚ angle to the surface, pipe out the batter into blobs the size of the circles drawn on the template. Finish off each piped circle with a little "flick" of your wrist to minimise the batter forming a point (it will still form a small one, but we can get rid of this with banging). Remove the template from under the macarons.
Hold the baking sheet in two hands, and carefully but firmly, evenly bang it against the bench. Repeat this a few more times - this will get rid of any air bubbles, remove points on the top, and help them to spread out slightly.
Repeat the piping and banging process until you have used up all of the batter - I usually make three sheet pans worth. Sprinkle the tops of the macarons with the hundreds and thousands sprinkles.
Allow the macarons to dry at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes, or until they form a skin that you can touch without your finger sticking to them. This time will drastically vary depending on the humidity.
About fifteen minutes before you are going to bake the macarons, place a spare sheet pan in the oven to preheat - this is going to be used to place under the pan with the macarons on it, to double up, which should help with even baking. Bake the macarons one sheet at a time - place the sheet with the macarons on the preheated sheet, and place in the oven.
Bake for approximately 18 minutes, rotating the pan once during the cooking process, and checking for doneness after 15 minutes. The macarons should develop a foot (the ruffled part on the bottom of the macaron), and bake without browning. To see if they are done - press down lightly on a shell. If the foot gives way, it needs a little longer, if it is stable, then it is close to being done. Test a macaron shell - if you can peel it away cleanly from the paper, they are done. If they are stable but cannot yet peel away cleanly, give them another minute or so. Again, this part takes a little trial and error depending on your oven. If they seem done but do not peel away cleanly, do not worry - there is a little trick for that!
Remove from the oven, and allow to cool on the sheet pan for 10 minutes before peeling off the parchment paper and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat the baking with the remaining trays, using the same spare sheet pan to double up.
If your macs do not peel away cleanly, place them, on the parchment paper, into the freezer for 5-10 minutes, then peel away from the paper.
Store cooled macarons in an airtight container until ready to use.
AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM FILLING
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter, vanilla bean paste and salt until pale and creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar, and mix on medium speed until well combined. If needed, add milk a tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is light and fluffy, and a pipeable consistency. Add gel food colouring until the desired colour is reached. Transfer to a bag fitted with a large french star tip (I used an ateco #866).
Pair each macaron shell with another of a similar size. Pipe a circle of buttercream on one half, and then sandwich with the second shell. Macarons taste best if you 'mature' them in the fridge overnight to let the flavours meld, but they are perfect eaten immediately too! Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.