I tried a couple of macarons variations from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook a little while back – and while they were scrumptious, I knew I could do a little better in terms of technique and look.
When trying to decide on a treat to bake for my beloved book club meeting, I decided to give the macarons another whirl – but this time, to do it right. Madagascar Vanilla seemed like a good bet: simple, but delicious if done well – and nothing to hide behind if I failed spectacularly.
I googled a few macaron-making tips and came across this website, which I found helpful. Then I realized that many of the tips were actually written in the Bobbette & Belle cookbook. Towards the beginning of the book, there is a two-page spread with tips on baking French macarons. Where was this when I needed it a few months ago?!?
Here’s what I did differently this time around.
A note on sifting: I once bought a proper sifter, the kind that has a little handle that you squeeze to grind the contents. Then I stupidly washed it, and all the flour bits got hard and become stuck between the mesh. It no longer functioned properly.
These days, I use a good old fashioned mesh strainer as a sifter. I tap it against the palm of my hand – low fi, but effective.
Evidently, sifting is a big deal in the world of macaron making. First, I sifted the almond meal (I measured it out post, not pre, sifting). Then, I combined the almond meal with the icing sugar – and I sifted it again. No lumpy macaron batter here, folks.
I also strained the egg whites, which was probably overkill – but go big or go home, right? (FYI – I will not do this again.)
My last macarons lacked the cute, dainty touch that the best macarons have. I used a template for a tinier cookie this time. I liked the outcome a lot better – and it made more cookies, so that’s a bonus.
Patience, Patience, Patience
I relied on tactile cues over time-based cues. For instance, the book suggests letting the macarons rest for 30 minutes: “The shells should feel dry to the touch on top. The length of time they need to sit will vary depending on the time of year and the humidity.” Mine took longer than 30 minutes – more like 40-45.
I did the same with the buttercream frosting. I’ve had some bad luck with the Bobbette & Belle buttercream, but this time, I let the egg white/sugar mixture cool for almost twice as long as the book suggested. The icing seemed to hold together much better – although I didn’t have any additions like I’ve had in the past with raspberry puree or lemon juice.
I cooked my macarons in two batches. The white vanilla shells are very unforgiving, and the first batch was just a little golden. For the second batch, I dropped the temperature from 300 to 285. It was a minor adjustment, but it worked: the second batch was snow white.
Okay, let’s not kid ourselves here. Though I’ve made progress, I’m not yet a macaron master. Here are a few things I have yet to figure out:
My shells are somewhat rounded. When placed on a counter, they wobble a little bit. I feel like traditional macarons have flatter tops and bottoms.
Actually, I think my whole shell piping skills could use some work. Although they came out quite pretty and uniform (and I didn’t lose any to cracking, though a couple rose unevenly and sacrificed themselves to become taste testers), they have that Hershey kiss swirl that I can’t seem to avoid when piping. I fixed the swirls by dipping my finger in water and pressing them down, but you can tell my shells aren’t perfect.
The Damn Buttercream Icing Temperature
Bobbette & Belle, I love your recipes – but I hate your buttercream icing! I can’t figure out how to use my candy thermometer with shallow amounts of food. You’re supposed to whisk the egg whites and sugar over a bain marin until it hits 140, but mine never seemed to go much higher than 110. When I used a meat thermometer out of desperation, it skyrocketed well above 140. It seems to have worked itself out in the end, but that’s more due to luck than talent.
To make a batch of macarons, you only need half of the buttercream icing recipe. I think you’d be fine with only a quarter batch. I had so much icing and I feel like I may have overfilled the shells just to avoid wasting the icing – and I still ended up with tons of leftovers. It kills me a little bit to watch that expensive unsalted butter melt down the drain.
I’m proud of my little vanilla macarons. They turned out very well. The shells have a crispy outer and chewy inner. My icing didn’t dribble. They are cute. They are delicate. I think I may – finally – be ready to graduate to fancier variations, like mint caramel or earl grey.