Macarons....some thoughts

My Lime & Basil macarons, recipe by Pierre Herme.

Up until a couple of months ago the food 'blogosphere' was crammed full of macaron images and recipes. No matter which way you looked they were everywhere ! It might be just me but I have noticed a cooling down of the macaron frenzy and I had the feeling it was the right time to take stock and look at the subject from a slightly different perspective.

There seems to be as many recipe variations for macarons in terms of method and procedure as there are days in the year and for an aspiring macaron baker the task is daunting when researching the recipe that works for you. And this is the key. Find the recipe that works for you because there are so many variations it is impossible to say that this is the 'master' macaron recipe. There is no such thing.

If I was asked what I think is the most important issue in getting them right I would say, without doubt,
that oven temperature and the behaviour of your oven is critical.

Pierre Herme throughout his illustrious book advocates 180C for 12 minutes. Without equivocation I would say that for the domestic oven this is certainly not the correct advice. He may well have a walk in purpose built oven with a rotating floor that somehow manages to finish the procedure in 12 minutes but I have never accomplished this in my oven at home. Furthermore if you maintain that temperature for a second too long all of your very light coloured macarons will discolour and start to brown.

My raspberry macarons with a near perfect 'foot' and smooth surfaces.

Above you will see a batch of raspberry macaron shells that have a near perfect development of the foot and a beautifully smooth surface. I promise you that this was achieved in a bog standard domestic oven on a central shelf. With careful thought and a method that you must repeat every time you can achieve the same result. However they are indeed unforgiving and if you get 'sloppy' and think you have nailed it they will take their revenge ! You must concentrate and not assume that they will work out simply because the batch before did!

I was watching a professional chef on TV this week who said he thought macarons were as difficult as souffles. Wrong on both counts ! Souffles are nowhere near as difficult as people make out, in fact I would say they are really quite easy. Macarons are infinitely more temperamental than a souffle !

I am sure you have seen so many lists of '10 steps to perfect macarons', 'macarons do's and don'ts', 'a step by step guide to macarons' etc., etc.. You will have also seen more recipes and recipe variations than you can possibly cope with. Can they all be right ? No!

Today I am not going to give you a recipe but I am going to give you what I would consider are the factors that you should not stray from, no matter how famous the authority or book. You will almost certainly never achieve 100% success but these pointers will help you get as close as you can to a successful bake.

Some boxes of my own macarons.

Here they are;

Never use French meringue, it's not stable and will never produce consistent results. Always use Italian meringue.
Always add your sugar slowly and continue whisking until the meringue has cooled to be only just warm to the touch.
Drop your tray on the work surface to remove air from about 10-15cms several times.
Never exceed 140C oven temperature.
Bake for a minimum of 25 minutes.
Use a digital thermometer whilst baking. Once the foot is established don't worry how many times you open the oven door to control the temperature. Open it at least five times !
Never use those silicon macaron mats. They prevent bottom heat.
Use silicon paper available from most supermarkets now, it's great !
Wipe your work top with a damp cloth and immediately put your finished sheet on top and let the macarons cool totally before removing them.
Never use too little colorant. Always err on the side of too much.
Use digital scales for everything. Weigh everything in grams including liquids.
Take enormous effort with your fillings and please don't use buttercream ! ;)
Always err on the side of your filling being too solid rather than too liquid.

I would be pleased to answer any individual questions either by email or through the comments section.

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