If you are looking for something sweet to get your significant other for Valentine’s Day, think about some tasty French macaroons. With their vibrant colors and lacy frills, dainty, crisp-crusted French macaroons are the perfect Valentine's Day baking project. But these lovely little delicacies are temperamental enough to stump even the most accomplished chefs.
Even if you follow a detailed recipe down to the letter, a batch of macaroons can go very wrong very quickly. Thanks to humidity, an unreliable oven temperature gauge, or an overly enthusiastic stirring hand, you may find yourself facing a macaroon-crisis rather than baking bliss. But before you throw in the towel, here are a few tips to solve your sugary conundrums.
Use aged egg whites: Aging the egg whites dehydrates them, resulting in a firmer, more stable meringue. Place your egg whites in a plastic wrap-covered, nonporous bowl, and poke a few holes in the plastic with a toothpick. Leave the bowl in the refrigerator for up to three days. Be sure to bring the egg whites back to room temperature before using.
Use the freshest ingredients: A recipe calling for aged eggs does not mean that you should use eggs past their expiration date. Buy only the freshest ingredients including almond flour as the old kind causes a macaroon to lose its glossy luster.
Back to the grind: Your almond flour should be very finely ground so that it fits through a mesh sieve. If you are using packaged almond flour that appears too coarse to sift, give it a good grind in a food processor to break apart any larger pieces.
Gel with your color: Liquid food coloring can alter the texture of your macaroons, making your batter too runny. Instead use gel color and add it while whipping the meringue. Don't be afraid to use a little too much: incorporating the almond flour mixture slightly diminishes the potency of the color.
Don't sweat the technique: Every baker has an opinion about the best way to create the perfect macaroon batter, a process known as macaronnage. The idea is to press out just enough air from the batter so that it runs off your spatula thickly, slowly, but consistently. One trick you can try is to gently fold the dry ingredients into the meringue, scooping from the sides, and then punch the center of the batter with your spatula. Others prefer pressing the batter into the side of the bowl. Find what works best for you.
Let dry: If you find that the tops of your macaroons are cracking in the oven, allow your piped macaroons ample time to dry with the next batch. This can take upwards of 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the humidity of the room. You will know they are adequately dried when you dab the tops with your finger and nothing sticks.
A crackling shame: If you sufficiently dry your piped macaroons but find that they still crack while baking, your oven may be trapping too much humidity. Try using a wooden spoon handle to prop open the oven door just a smidge for the first two minutes of baking.
Practice: No one gets it right the first time around. With so many variables, you will need to find the equation that works best for you, your kitchen, and your oven. Get ready for a baking adventure, and when you create the perfect, airy-light macaroon; it will all be worth it
The anatomy of a perfect macaroon: The texture of the macaroon should not be super crunchy or crispy like biscotti. Shells can turn hard from over baking so learn when to stop baking and mature your shells with a higher moisture filling if needed. Stale macaroons can also turn hard so make sure to place them in an air tight container in the fridge as they are best eaten within 5-7 days.
Another coveted attribute for any macaroon is the absence of hollows. When handled, hollow macaroons can be easily broken because there is a big gaping hole inside the shell. Macaroon bodies should be fully set with a nice fluffy interior and a crispy egg-shell like exterior. It is the presence of these two contrasting textures which makes this cookie so special. Aim for reducing hollows by baking at the correct temperature (not too low), proper meringue whipping and using the correct folding techniques.
Another important thing to take note of, the shells should have a healthy rise, not too puffy yet not too flat. A bloated shell that is disproportionate to the whole macaroon is often hollow or conversely, dense and not as moist. Fix this by working on your folding technique and making sure that your temperature is just right.
On the flip side, a pancake like macaroon is usually a sign that you have over mixed your batter. These aren’t too attractive so learn to judge the consistency and know when to stop folding. Remember, the batter should flow slowly like lava and fall a few times on itself like a ribbon.
Also another point to consider, macaroon shells should be round. There are several reasons for oddly shaped shells including: over mixed batter, wrong piping techniques, and use of parchment paper, either through improper use or just plain bad quality. Invest in a Silpat pan; it will work wonders to keep your shapes round.