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Macarons, take 4 or is it take 5?

Kevin, Jen, and I got together recently for another round of macaron recipe testing. Kevin has now dubbed us “Team Macaron – South Minneapolis.” Prior to our big baking day, I had received an email from an online dessert magazine. Low and behold, it included a YouTube clip of two French pastry chefs making macarons.

Watching in earnest, we were struck by two distinct techniques, neither of which we had seen nor heard. The first was how long the whites were whipped:  they were way past “stiff peaks.”  The other was the manner in which the batter was mixed. It was not delicate, but rather with the use of a rubber bench scraper.  According to the YouTube clip, one can go to town, mixing and folding the batter, though only until it drops off the scraper like lava.  “Dropping like lava” is the most common analogy for how the batter should look.

We made four ½ sheet pans of the vanilla flavored ones, piping them out on silpats. They were allowed to “cure” for about ½ hour or until they formed a skin across the top. One pan went into a 300º F oven. Other batch was double panned, but the oven remained at 300º F.  That was a big mistake.

A double pan should have been cooked at 375º F. They had a beautiful top and foot but were hollow inside.  The batch cooked on the single jelly roll pan at 300º F turned out great:  crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and not hollow.  Could success finally be at our fingertips?

The chocolate ones we whipped up that day were not quite as successful. Jen believed it was because we actually under-folded the batter, meaning the batter was not as lava-like as we would have preferred. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20.

If the success was at our fingertips, it was only a fluke.  On Monday, I made another batch of the vanilla. I didn’t fare well at all. I tried baking some at two different temperatures and came out with totally different results. The ones baked in the 300º F were hollow; the ones baked at 375º F had no bottoms whatsoever. I believe it is the folding technique that I have not perfected.  The photographs are the ones from Sunday that actually worked.

We’re continue to strive for the perfect shell and using the recipe from Helen of Tartelette [1] seems to be most reliable:

What you’ll need for the shells:
90 g egg whites (roughly 3 egg whites)
25 g to 50 g granulated sugar (2 tbsp to 1/4 cup)
200 g powdered sugar (1.5 cups + 2 tbsp)
110 g slivered, blanched, or sliced almonds (3/4 cup)

What to do:
Prep the eggs:
48 hrs in advance, separate the whites from the yolks and place the whites in a super clean bowl. Leave at room temp, uncovered or loosely covered with a towel at least 24 hrs. Refrigerate after that, if desired. You can use eggs that have been “aging” for up to 5 days.

Prepare the macarons:
Place the powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Sift a couple of time to remove bits and pieces. Regrind if necessary. You can also use a coffee grinder for the nuts.

Once your nuts and powdered sugar are mixed together, rub them in between your fingertips to break the bigger pieces.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, (think bubble bath foam) gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (think shaving cream). Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry.

Add the nuts and powdered sugar to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate.  If the tops flattens on its own, you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit.

If using convection, preheat the oven to 280° F. If using regular electric or gas, preheat the oven to 300° F. When ready, bake for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.