Perfect Macarons – The Holy Grail

Creating the perfect Macaron is like finding the Holy Grail for some Cakers. These heavenly little things have driven more people to quit than I can count – just spend a day in a cake group on Facebook and you’ll see exactly what I mean. These little meringue/biscuit hybrids are well worth the effort though, and once you’ve mastered them, they’ll take pride of place at every afternoon tea party.

Four raspberry ripple macarons.
Raspberry Ripple Mini Macaron, available as part of an Afternoon Tea at For Cakes Sake

When you first set out to make these impossible treats you’ll probably read a ton of blogs (like this one), you might even watch a bunch of tutorials. I know I did. In that case you will already know about perfect feet (that’s the bit under the smooth dome!) You’ll also want a smooth top, and a great rise with no cracks. But the fact is, that they only have to taste lovely, anything else is a bonus. Remember that, and you can’t go wrong!

I have researched these to within an inch of their life. Different techniques, recipes and tips. I’ve messed them up, and I’ve experimented, and I came through the other side. So here are my best tips for a great macaron.

And, crucially, what to do with them when they go wrong which they will!

Your eggs

They need to be fresh and at room temperature before you use them. This is good advice for most baking, but is especially so for bakes where you need to get air into the whites. You should also make sure you weigh them accurately. Some people suggest you need to age your whites too. This allows them to dry out, making your batter dryer. I don’t do this and I have never had a problem. But, if your batter is too wet, then consider measuring your whites out a few days in advance and keeping them in the fridge. Just remember to bring them back to room temperature again before you use them.

Almond flour or ground almonds?

Either! They are pretty much the same thing. You could even grind your own almonds – it would be cheaper! But, either way, it will not be fine enough to make good macarons, so you will need to blitz it in your food processor. I add the icing sugar to the almonds at this stage and pulse it all a dozen or so times. Don’t over work it though, as oils will release from the almonds, and they will spoil your mixture. After blitzing, there will still be some large bits, about a spoon full. So always sift your icing sugar and almond flour at least once. Don’t be tempted to push the bits through the sieve, just throw them out. If you have a lot of bits though, then you could blitz it a few more times to break them up, and sift it again.

Colours and Flavourings

Moisture is your enemy when you are making macarons so I am always very careful how I add flavour and colour. Your best bet is to flavour and colour the filling instead. Not only will you be able to control the finished flavour, but your mixture will be very forgiving of moisture. This means you will be free to add puree, fruit, chocolate, or whatever you feel like, to add flavour. If you add it to your batter instead, you will be restricted to dry flavourings and super strength gels. You’ll also have to wait until the macarons are baked to find out how strong the flavour ended up.

A silicone baking mat with a template for perfect mararons
A silicone baking mat is your best friend when baking macarons

Once your batter is made, you shouldn’t over mix it otherwise it could become too thin. Fold it together until it is only just mixed, and then a few more times only. It should form thick ribbons when dribbled from a spoon. If you are not sure, fold it again, one turn at a time and keep checking it. If they spread out and touch their neighbours then your batter was too thin, stir it less next time. Don’t worry, they’ll still taste nice though.

Piping your macarons

Piping your macarons properly will ensure an even bake. Don’t be tempted to use a spoon or any other way of getting the batter onto the tray. A piping bag, with the end snipped off, is the only way to go. Start by half filling your bag, if you add too much batter it will warm and thin in your hands (tip: that happens with buttercream too). Now hold the bag vertically to your tray. If you have used a template then aim for the centre of the circle and squeeze firmly. Keep the bag still and watch as the mixture oozes out from the centre. Stop squeezing as soon as the circle is filled and move on the the next one.

Your baking tray

For a start you will need a completely flat baking sheet. I tried to use a sheet with sides once and some ended up some very odd shapes! You should also use a silicone baking mat in place of baking paper or parchment. I have tried them all and I always get good results with this mat. It comes with a handy template printed on it too. So you can pipe them all the same size and shape. I haven’t tried to make hearts or bears yet, but I’m sure I will at valentines!

Mini Macarons cooling on the silicone baking mat
Mini Macarons Cooling Off on my Baking Mat
Knock out the air

Once you have piped out all your lovely macarons you must get out any air that has become trapped in the batter. The air will expand in the oven and can also cause your treats to erupt. To solve this, simply lift your baking tray a few inches and drop it onto the counter. I do this four times. Some people recommend three but I add one for luck! Have a quick look for any bubbles that haven’t quite popped and if you find any, simply pop them with a cocktails stick. Don’t worry about the hole that is left, it should fill in by itself.

Take a break

Once you have piped out your macarons you should rest them for around an hour. If your kitchen is quite dry you might be able to speed this part up, although I wouldn’t risk it. Likewise, if it is quite humid then it will take much longer for a decent skin to form. The skin is important as it will stop the filling from erupting out the top of the macaron causing them to look like volcanos. Instead, your macarons will rise like mushrooms as the top gets pushed up. If they rise evenly you will get those perfect feet we all strive for.

Mini Macarons in a gift box with a ribbon and bow, ready to be enjoyed.
A lovely gift
Time to Bake

Make sure your oven has reached the correct temperature before you start baking. These are always baked on quite a low temperature. If your oven is set too high, they won’t rise evenly. Getting an oven thermometer is a great way of monitoring the “actual” oven temperature as domestic ovens are not always very accurate. You should definitely consider doing this if you ever have problems with your baking.

When you get them out the oven, place the tray on a cooling rack. This will allow them to cool slightly. Then, after about five minutes, you can slide the tray out from under the baking mat leaving the mat on the cooling rack to cool completely.

When it all goes wrong?

This will happen – more than once!

If they are completely terrible looking then make Dundee (because I invented it in Dundee) Mess. Like Eaton Mess, it has whipped cream, fresh berries, and tons of sauce drizzled over it. But unlike Eaton Mess, it has broken pieces of macaron mixed through. You could even add some flavoured buttercream, and maybe some mousse, for a really awesome treat!

If they have turned into volcano’s, then you just made macaron kisses instead. No one will know, and they will still taste divine. You could even drizzle some sauce over the top and make them look even better.

What’s your baking nemesis?

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