Saturday, April 29, 2006

Macarons, My Chocolate Nemesis

I am slightly obsessed with chocolate macarons. More specifically, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with these tempestuous things. I love them because they are so damn delicious to eat. I hate them because they are so damn difficult to get right.

But sometimes, the only way to deal with a phobia is to grab it by its horns. Or in a macaron's case, by its frilly feet. Call me stubborn, but since that ridiculously painful 48 hour ordeal, I've fought the urge to look back and prudently steer clear. Taking the bottom-up approach, I've been practising on the paler-skinned specimens, my favourite being the vanilla bean-flavoured ones, adapted from a recipe in Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook.

Earlier this week, I decided it was time to cross over to the dark side. It was time to tackle the recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé which had proved so totally traumatic the first time round (am I a sucker or am I a sucker?), this time armed with the humbling hindsight paid for in failed and otherwise foiled attempts. The results, while certainly still in need of refinement, were a damn sight nearer to what a chocolate macaron should look and taste like - crisp yet chewy, damply moist without being dense, smoothly domed on top but "footed" with a craggy circlet, and above all, intensely chocolatey. A few handy hints below which, while by no means complete, I found helpful in turning out consistent batches (for more complete details on the hows and the whys, see this thread and this thread on eGullet), whether chocolate or otherwise. Some will seem awfully obvious, but I've listed them nonetheless seeing as they helped goof-proof the process for me.

1.Sift everything. Twice Sift the confectioner's sugar. Sift the cocoa if making chocolate macarons. Sift the almond flour (and ruthlessly discard the larger bits caught in your fine-meshed sieve however much this may go against the thrifty core of your being - they will inevitably ruin the otherwise pebble-smooth domes of the end result). Having carefully measured out the required weight of each sifted ingredient, mix the three ingredients and sift the blend once more.

2.Weigh everything This includes the egg whites. Going by volume rather than weight is a dicey proposition - my 1 cup of slightly packed almond flour is most likely not equal to the cookbook's 1 cup of slightly packed almond flour, given as the definition of "slightly packed" is subjective to one's heavy-handedness. Accurate digital scales, on the other hand, don't lie.

3.The egg whites should be scrupulously separated from the yolks, placed in a scrupulously clean bowl, and ultimately whipped with a scrupulously clean whisk - the slightest taint of yolk or fat will prevent the whites from whipping to the correct consistency (just-firm and still glossy). The whites also benefit from an overnight "ageing" at room temperature before whipping - if the idea freaks you out, then simply ensure the whites are at room temperature before whipping.

4.Fold the batter carefully Easier said than done. That having been said, a little practice helps in gauging the right consistency. The idea is to judiciously deflate, knocking some (but not all) air out of the whipped whites whilst folding in the almond flour, confectioner's sugar and cocoa (if making chocolate macarons) mixture - this is what ensures you won't wind up with poufy peaky meringues as opposed to smooth-topped macarons. One fold of the spatula too many, however, and the batter will not only be a nightmare to pipe (it will spread too much) but will bake up rather heavy. A good test of whether the batter has been mixed to the right consistency is to pick up a little with your finger - it should form a gentle peak that quickly dissolves back into the batter. The importance of getting the consistency right will become apparent when piping (see 5).

5.Pipe consistently Again, gets easier with a little practice. Some find using a penciled template (circles drawn on parchment, parchment flipped over with circles acting as a guide) helpful. It takes a pair to form a macaron, typically a sandwich cookie. Uniformity of size and shape counts, and requires piping with even pressure and a steady hand. Size-wise, if you're after the gerbet-type as seen in those fancy Parisian outfits, aim for rounds 1-inch in diameter using a pastry bag fitted with a plain 0.5-inch tip. Pipe in staggered rows (this makes for more even baking) with at least an inch of space between rounds to allow for the natural spreading that occurs - each round, of its own accord and under its own weight, will spread to 1.5-inch diameter circles. Pipe holding the pastry bag upright and perpendicular to the parchment (or even better, Silpat-type baking mat; more on this in 8) lined heavy baking sheet, holding the tip 0.5 inch above (less, and the dome will be compromised, more, and the flow becomes less controlled - the idea is to hold the tip slightly higher than where the top of the dome should be) the centre of the traced or imagined circle, and let the batter flow out (which it will do without much prompting or squeezing) into a circle. Hold the tip steadily in place without spiralling. If the batter has been mixed correctly, you will have no problems with any peaks or points when finishing each round, which should naturally "melt" unto itself, much the way the little peak of batter did when you were testing the batch with your finger earlier. At any rate, finish each round by sealing off to the side so there's no unruly bump of batter to ruin the dome.

6.Let piped rounds form skins After piping, let the batter sit out at room temperature until skins form, about 2 hours. This makes for a nice, glossy, and smooth appearance. It also helps in the development of feet.

7.Watch the oven like a hawk Bake one tray of macarons at a time (unless, of course, you happen to have access to an industrial oven). Quite a few recipes start at a high temperature then turn the temperature down as soon as the baking sheet is in, with the oven door held slightly ajar. The temperature that's worked best for me is 160˚C (from start to finish, with a closed oven door). For macarons less than 2 inches in diameter, this takes anywhere from 7 to 13 minutes, depending on the flavour and/or recipe. In other words, from the 7-minute mark onwards, watch the goings-on closely - just a half-minute too many, and the macarons will overbake into rusks to choke a small brown dog. Also, I must confess to finding the evolution from batter to macaron riveting stuff to witness - if correctly mixed and rested, the batter will rise ever so slightly, with the smooth-skinned domed tops lifting just a little up and away from the gently bubbling bottoms, the beginnings of the formation of feet.

8.The removal There are scores of nifty tricks out there for removing baked macarons (from freezing the macarons with attached parchment in tow for a couple of minutes to "steaming" the lot with a little hot water). I find that using a silicon-coated baking mat such as a Silpat does away with the issue entirely. Using a baking mat also has the added bonus of giving you perfectly flat-bottomed cookies; parchment tends to pucker a little from the moisture in the batter - if this sounds irrational (and it probably is, given as once sandwiched any crease or crinkle is well-hidden from view), then by all means use parchment. In which case, it's a far better idea to peel the parchment away from the macaron rather than prying the macaron away from the parchment - the latter manoeuvre almost always results in crisp (and very fragile) dome in one hand, chewy bottom still stuck to parchment, and tears of frustration.

W, while as into his food as the best of them, is not into cooking. There are only a few things he will deign to step into the kitchen to cook. However, as select a handful as it may be, it's a handful that he does exceedingly well - I can't honestly think of anyone who grills a steak to such a precise degree of medium-rare succulence, or flips a more sublimely simple and utterly perfect omelette. For dinner on Friday, it was fondue - I won't go into the intricacies (which frankly merit several separate posts) except to say he makes a very very fine example, worthy of any trad old school alpine Swiss chalet. Given the richness and communal spirit of the main event, I thought it might be fun to end with some Swiss-inspired konfekt, in a mignardise-like assortment served on an étagère from which everyone could help themselves to whatever they fancied. Interestingly, while all were chocolate-flavoured and meringue-based, each had a very distinct character.

The chocolate macarons were made in lieu of the famous Luxemburgerli from Confiserie Sprungli (although the latter, while much like macarons in appearance, are much lighter in texture than their French cousins), for which unsurprisingly I couldn't find a recipe. As for the others:

Basler Brunsli

The recipe I used for this Basel speciality comes from Carole Walter's Great Cookies (Nick Malgieri also has a recipe in How to Bake). Almond flour, ground chocolate and cocoa are folded into a sugary meringue to form a stiff dough that's a dream to handle. Given the festive notes of cinnamon, cloves and Kirsch used to flavour the cookie, and the possibilities where shapes are concerned (limited only by one's imagination and cookie cutter collection), it's definitely a recipe I'm planning to revisit come Christmas baking.

Schiesser "S's"

From Nick Malgieri's Chocolate, in which he credits Stephan Schiesser of Basel's legendary Confiserie Schiesser for the recipe. A real breeze to make, in which a simplified Italian meringue is flavoured with melted chocolate. The batter pipes beautifully, and bakes into the most featherlight and airy of cookies.


A pair of crumbly nut meringue rings sandwiched with luscious buttercream, the recipe can be found in Nick Malgieri's latest book, A Baker's Tour, a discriminating tour of the world's greatest baking traditions and finest bakeries via a collection of fabulous recipes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

...finally... tips on making macaroon. fabulous post.

thrilled to be the first let you know.

12:29 am, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow what an awesome post, the chocolate macaroons are one of my favourites too

1:08 am, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, as someone who worships precision in cooking generally, but in baking specifically, I'm hardpressed to find suitable superlatives for your discussion of macaron-making. I have a serious addiction to vanilla and a copy of the Bouchon cookbook that I adore, so I think I'm going to have to give vanilla macarons a try.

I'm a stickler for using weight measurements too, but the Bouchon vanilla macarons recipe uses volume (do you think Keller really uses volume measurement in his kitchen? Ha!). Any chance you have weight measurements (in metric, ideally) you'd be willing to share?

Your photos and writing are, as ever, wonderful.

1:23 am, April 30, 2006  
Blogger rlf said...

J, i have bought a 12 pieces package of macaroons yesterday.. and i started eating while and then two, three, four, five and ohhh six.. i finish the half quantity before ariving home..
yayyykkk... pity i have to leave the rest for my husband!

3:27 am, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't you realise I have an essay to write? ACK! (LOL ....)
I am going to be obsessing with making these now..... I haven't attempted them as my oven is sooo not accurate enough... but I could drive to my mums... hmmmmm

9:58 am, April 30, 2006  
Blogger Cindy said...

Wahou, they're perfect. You could without any doubt work at Ladurée in Paris.

11:42 am, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your macarons looks perfect! Thanks for sharing your experiences...maybe I'll try doing some myself if I can get my hands on some almond meal (my food processor can't process it fine enough unfortunately)

2:05 pm, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your macarons looks simply stunning yet again J. Nemesis it might be, you've certainly grabbed it by it's feet! Fantastically yummy looking treats. I had a go in baking a few batches of Basler Brunsli as an added christmas treats for family and friends at christmas past and they were a hit. I often get asked to bake some more as they were devilishly delicious [if i say so myself].

By the way, i have a new site [which is still under construction - but you can now view] - come and visit my new kitchen when you get a chance."


4:29 pm, April 30, 2006  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

We had the Schoggiringli for breakfast this morning. They were amazing. Super-yummy. Thanks for sharing. Of course, every thing was great.

7:27 pm, April 30, 2006  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Hi J, I can imagine your satisfaction when the chocolate macarons came out the way you desired them to be.
I love how glossy they look!

10:58 pm, April 30, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

I will NEVER gobble another macaron ever again! These things are as complex as Einstein's theory to pull off. I am so impressed.

1:56 am, May 01, 2006  
Blogger Antti said...

Oh, the first picture in this posting is the most beautiful brown-shaded picture of this century! Totally yummylicious!!!

1:59 am, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stunning! I fall at your feet and humbly thank you for the tips. I have failed many times and now feel re-inspired to take this on again!

7:29 am, May 01, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

You have certainly been busy! As always, every one of them looks awesome. Now can you do a similar post on making pasta please? I'm still hopeless at it. For some reason my pasta keeps coming out tough. With those macarons, you have crossed the barrier to greatness :D

10:45 am, May 01, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

i have no guts to try those macarons! too imtimidating to make but just too good to resist!

5:49 pm, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J,
Although I'm not a big fan of macarons, yours look so perfectly shaped, I'd love to try every single one of them! I can so visualize Ladurée and Hermé starting to sweat ... ;)

11:16 pm, May 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admire your persistence in taming those tempermental macarons - you achieved such beautiful results! I am envious of how you manage to put together such varied and multi-layered presentations every single time - a lucky life you have indeed!

2:03 am, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Your macaroons look perfect, J! Thanks for the detailed tips as well - who knows, I might give the mighty macaroon another go, and weigh and sift everything after all:)

8:40 pm, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

fabulous post & gorgeous photos, who could ask for more.

It seems like it's been forever since I've visited my favorite sites and your's is definitely one!

I probably gained 2 pounds just reading!

12:01 am, May 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks absolutely delicious! Do you give out recipes for your creations?

11:43 am, May 03, 2006  
Blogger Vivilicious said...

J., these look so fantastic, as good as the Ladurée ones I had recently. We are unworthy!

3:11 pm, May 03, 2006  
Blogger hinata said...

Your macarons look amazing... really impressed that you had the courage to attempt them again after your first ordeal. Congrats on conquering the beast in style, you're definitely an inspiration!

3:29 pm, May 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, I don't even try with macarons anymore. I just order them, or come to your site and salivate (as usual).

8:15 pm, May 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zounds! You are amazing.

9:24 pm, May 03, 2006  
Blogger tanvi said...

Haha, chocolate macaroons are my nemesis, too! All macaroons, come to that. Never been brave enough to try to make them myself, though perhaps thats a good thing for my waistline!

10:44 am, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

This is my first time here, so far, I like what I see. Nice photos, I plan to have a look around and visit again. I recently bought the Pierre Herme book and drool over the photos. Well, enough commenting, let me go look some more.

1:34 am, May 05, 2006  
Blogger cucina testa rossa said...

wow! these are spectacular! i made thousands of these a day at pierre herme so i know a good macaron when i see it and these are fabulous! felicitations!

2:56 am, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

wow, lots of careful work went into those. good tips!

i love the DSC_3270 pic (4th from the bottom)

3:49 am, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Ulterior Epicure said...

Absolutely gorgeous!


11:58 am, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a fabulous baker! You can make and eat macarons anytime you want! Do you take orders? :P
Thanks for your very detailed sharing of the process.

1:17 pm, May 06, 2006  
Blogger Michèle said...

Wow J, they look as good as any I've seen in Paris. Truly impressive! And those Schoggiringli look and sound fabulous too, I like the idea of the crumbly nut meringue--it would make such a great contrast.

11:41 pm, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi J been checking here in south of france who sells the best macarrons.
anyway brunsli is one of my fave you know being swiss

Just came back from portofino

11:27 pm, May 07, 2006  
Blogger Reid said...


Sorry for being absent from your blog...that said, the macarons look gorgeous and I'm sure they were utterly delicious.

I've finally had the opportunity to taste a macaron and don't know if I liked it or was a bit sweet and quite crumbly.

5:55 pm, May 08, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

you have a gift. they are so meticulously done. thanks for sharing!

1:26 pm, May 09, 2006  
Blogger tugce:-) said...

i just can't dare to get my hands on macarons after all the disaster scenarios i heard. but you've really made it easy for me. thanks for the great and detailed tips, thanks to your positive stubbornness on getting what you want maybe i'll get to perfect macaroons in just few attempts :)

6:45 pm, May 09, 2006  
Blogger Altaf said...

Beatufill photos

3:16 am, May 10, 2006  
Blogger sooishi said...

It's so beautiful!!! Bravo!

7:35 pm, May 10, 2006  
Blogger G said...

you must be some sort of genius. jealous!

3:57 am, May 11, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

another salivating post, and so wonderfully set up... methinks you're Singapore's Domestic Goddess to rival Nigella L!

12:18 pm, May 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything looks so good!


8:10 am, May 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your photos are amazing!

I always look forward to getting Basler Brunsli at Christmas, they're yummy.

I try to stay away from Confiserie Sprungli since the Luxemburgerli there are the closest thing to heaven in a bite that exist. For the sake of my waistline and bank balance this is sadly necessary.

5:56 pm, May 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So tempting photo. Macarons seems alive, ready to eat... You made me crazy, J!...I DO NOW go to Hermé shop, two blocks away....

6:29 pm, May 28, 2006  
Blogger persis said...

Kowtowing to you as I type. What an inspiration! Thank you. Will definitely be back.

6:04 pm, June 14, 2006  
Blogger Verano said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post. I tried the PH chocolate macaron too, and it didn't not turned out nearly as good looking as yours. I'll try it again w/ ur tips in mind.

3:14 pm, August 02, 2006  
Blogger nini said...

Un vrais Paradis, bravo!

8:19 pm, November 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. ive signed up for your macaron class..........

I was just thinking, everytime I make macarons using parchment, I do encounter the problem of them being hollow-ish and sticking to the parchment with little gooey undercooked bits. Can i confirm that this really IS because of parchment? And do you think greasing the parchment would help?

- An

12:48 pm, April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful tips. I recently survived my first trauma of making macaroons (pistachio). I will follow your advice on the next attempt. What is a half inch tip? I mean, what Ateco number does this correspond to? Thank you again.

6:52 am, March 13, 2008  
Blogger Ivana said...

Nice photos and macarons, at the end of august I want to try do it!!! It'll be my first time!!

2:23 am, July 25, 2008  
Blogger Claudia said...

I am impressed. I have read you entire blog lately and this post is the champion. Your adoration for the mysteries of the macaroon is unique. Your blog is king!!!

I love to eat macaroons and never thought they were so complicated. They are totally worth the price then. I am not a good recipe follower, I always disagree with something but my results are mostly good. I am a good meringue and Pavlova maker though. Little meringues are a family tradition!

Well, my question is: I have a large selection of yolks-only recipes. I wonder, what do you do with your yolks?

Portuguese patisserie, if I can put this way, is based on yolks, sugar and almonds. Eventually egg white. The egg white used to serve another purpose. Anyway, there is this girl, Tessa Kiros, who just wrote a book on Portugal's cuisine, in English. It is my tip for you.

I would love to see your adventures on yolks desserts. It is really crazy, some recipes ask for something like 12 to 24 yolks!!!

However, anything you make is so fantastic.



6:38 pm, October 11, 2008  
Blogger Ro-chan said...

The macarons look so beautiful. Nice photos too! I've just started to attempt making chocolate macarons but i am having problems. Thank you for the tips and pointers. It is very helpful.

7:57 pm, May 21, 2009  
Anonymous Isabelle said...

Making macarons has become a real passion and I find that with practice they are easy to make.
Your tips are very useful and it's true that you need to be very meticoulous when making macarons.
I personally like the book by Christophe Felder called Les Macarons de Christophe as his recipes are very well explained.
I recently made some macarons a la violette and they came out delicious:
Thanks for your great blog!

11:34 pm, March 08, 2010  
Anonymous V said...

As a Singaporean living in Basel, it's great to see so many Basel specialties in this blog.

5:39 am, June 07, 2010  

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