Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Let's make macarons

First of all, I think something needs to be said about my long absence from this blog. I guess I just lost the motivation to write. Surprisingly, two days of school generated such copious amounts of notes to be typed up that it usually takes me two or three days to put them all in order. After that, who has the will to type anything else!

So what brought me out of “retirement”? Macarons! Yes, ever since I had my first taste of real Parisian macarons at Laduree, I have been obsessed. But it’s not easy to find macarons of the perfect texture. Since they’ve become somewhat of a trend in Tokyo recently, you can’t walk through a depa-chika (department store basement food section) without coming fact to face with a couple of macaron showcases. Some are pretty good, but some are downright horrible. The perfect macaron, in my humble opinion, should have a crunchy and dry surface with a slightly moist center. When you bite into one, the surface should crackle and crumble, before collapsing into the marzipan filling. At any rate, that’s the golden macaron standard I adhere to.

As much as I love macarons, however, I never tried to make it myself, because I know they are extremely temperamental little fellows and will not just puff up perfectly for just anybody. This fact changed, however, when I had to make them at Le Cordon Bleu. The three batches I made in class, although not perfect, were good enough to give me the confidence to try more. My bubbles were soon busted though as the first two home-baked batches cracked and spread out like a flat disc and had the texture of sticky gum. The key thing missing, I figured, was the powerful Electrolux oven we used in school. But how do I find a way to circumvent that? Time for some research. I hit the bookstores and read every recipe I could find on macarons, got some ideas and hit the kitchen again. The third and fourth batches turned out better but it wasn’t until the fifth batch that I was finally somewhat satisfied with the results.

Without further ado, I present to you a working recipe that I will probably continue to tweak further every time I make it, until perfection is finally achieved.

Basic macaron recipe:
60g almond powder
110g confectioner’s sugar
50g egg white
3g dry egg white
15g granule sugar

1. Sift together confectioner’s sugar and almond powder
2. Place egg white in a large bowl and break up the thick parts with whisk
3. Add dry egg white and beat with whisk (dry egg white absorbs moisture from egg white and makes meringue firm)
4. Add the granule sugar in two portions and beat into soft peaked meringue
5. Add half of the sifted sugar and almond powder into bowl, fold with spatula gently. If adding food dye, add with the first addition of dry ingredients.
6. Add the other half and fold (this is called macoronage). Stop mixing when batter becomes shiny. Do not over-mix.
7. Immediately fill pastry bag fitted with 11mm round tip and pipe onto baking sheet lined with silpat into rounds.
8. Leave macarons out to dry for about 30minutes, until it doesn’t stick to your finger when touched. Preheat oven to 350C.
9. When surface of macarons are sufficiently dry, place inside the oven to bake. After about five minutes, the “ruffled skirt” should develop around the bottom edge of each macaron. Rotate the baking sheet 180 degrees, and bake for another five to 7 minutes.
10. Check to see if macarons are done by grabbing the top of one macaron and try to shake it. It’s done if the top barely slides against the “ruffled skirt”. If it’s not done, extend baking time by two minutes intervals and checking after each extension.
11. Move silpat to a cooling rack. After macarons have cooled to touch, remove them from silpat and place upside down on rack. Place inside fridge to cool.
12. Sandwich with desired filling when macarons are cooled, and store in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.
Macarons taste the best the next day, after they’ve had a chance to dry out further.

1. The first step to successful macarons is the consistency of the meringue. If using stand-mixer, watch carefully and not let the meringue get too stiff, or it will become hard to incorporate the dry ingredients, which will lead to over-mixing.
2. It takes practice to know when to stop “macoronage”. If batter is over-mixed, macarons will have a very smooth and shiny surface but will not rise in the oven. If not mixed enough, surface will crack while baking. Within the acceptable range, you can adjust the degree of macaronage to achieve the right balance between smooth surface and airy texture.
3. If you have a good convection oven with circulating hot air, you may be able to reduce oven temperature to 150C/300F, as long as macarons are baked in about 12 minutes. If macarons don’t rise within the first five minutes, increase oven temperature.
4. If you have to take the macarons out of the oven before they are completely baked because they have started to brown, you may dry them out by leaving them in the fridge uncovered, bottom side up.
5. If on the other hand, you’ve over-baked them and the bottom is too dry, leave in the freezer so they soak up moisture (make sure there’s no smell in your freezer).

Final word of caution:
This recipe is developed to suit my big old GE gas oven, with the room humidity between 55-65% and room temperature around 22C. It will almost certainly need adjustment to suit your oven and climate. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up! Remember, fifth time was the charm for me.