The Secrets to Making Perfect Macarons at Home, According to a Pastry Chef
The key to success is mastering the nuances of your own kitchen.
In pastry school, we spent a full week learning how to make macarons. The cookies are notoriously fickle — the meringue must be perfectly stiff but not overmixed; the ingredients must be gently folded to achieve the right consistency, then piped in uniform circles and allowed to rest. Even the baking requires your full attention.
After grueling days of precise work, our professor asked for a volunteer to make another batch on their own; we didn’t have enough macarons and our chef didn’t have the time. I stepped up — and made the macarons without incident.
When I pulled them out of the oven, they were perfect — with pronounced feet and smooth faces. The outside was crunchy and gave way to a soft, chewy center that was sure to pair seamlessly with the filling. I didn’t think of it then, but my flawless batch of macarons had everything to do with the professional equipment, the temperature-controlled kitchen, the watchful eyes of my professor and last — and least — my decent technique.
Things changed when I launched my own made-to-order bake shop from my home kitchen in New Jersey, and added macarons to the menu. Despite the lessons, my first batch of macarons did not look like macarons at all. The meringue never got to stiff peaks, the cookies cracked everywhere, the feet were nowhere to be found and some crumbled when I picked them up. It was a disaster. And it scared me into abandoning ship.
But after another few weeks, with the help of a newly acquired stand mixer, I achieved success — finally!
Macarons require leaning into one’s setbacks. While it would be idyllic to succeed on the first try, more likely than not, you’ll need a failed attempt to inform your success. The failures teach you about your kitchen – how your stove heats or how long you need to whisk to get the meringue just right. The nuances of your kitchen – and mastering them – are just as critical as the technique itself. In fact, it’s part of mastering that technique.
I found ways to adapt and replicate pastry school conditions to home baking. The process is involved but if you’re willing to persevere, you’ll be biting into beautifully executed macarons in no time. Here’s what I learned:
Add Powdered Egg Whites to Stabilize French Meringue.
Macaron recipes include either French meringue or Italian meringue. For French meringue, you can add a few grams of powdered egg whites, which help stabilize the liquid egg whites. Add your sugar gradually after achieving soft peaks and mix until the peaks on your whisk can stand upright. For Italian meringue, as you heat the water and sugar to 250 degrees F/121 degrees C, whisk your egg whites to soft peaks. You should be able to tip your bowl without the eggs moving. Slowly add your syrup while the mixer is on low and switch to high speed. You should start to see stiff peaks after about five to eight minutes. Don’t overmix!
If you don’t have a hand or stand mixer, I recommend consulting a recipe using French meringue.
Sift Your Almond Flour and Powdered Sugar Several Times.
Before you combine with the egg whites, sift your almond flour and confectioners’ sugar several times. If you have a food processor, you can process the dry ingredients until you get a fine powder.
After making the meringue, you’ll need to fold it into your almond flour, powdered sugar and egg white mix, a process known as macronage. Be gentle here! The goal is to mix until the batter, when disturbed, returns to a smooth glossy state. For example, if you pass a spatula through the batter, the batter should slowly move to cover the trace left by the spatula and eventually look as if it hasn’t been touched. This is important because when you pipe onto your baking mat or baking paper, any peaks or irregularities should disappear as the batter settles into a smooth rounded shape.
Add a quarter of your meringue first and stir normally. Then add the remaining meringue and fold it in gently. Mimic the movement of a bicycle pedal: Scoop along the bottom and then place on top, and repeat.
Factor in Your Kitchen’s Humidity Level.
Keep an eye on the humidity in your kitchen. Higher humidity means that you’ll have to allow the macarons to "dry" longer to develop a skin. The skin is formed when the outer layer of batter dries and solidifies the macarons' shape; you should be able to touch the shell and have no batter remain on your finger. You can also blast air conditioning to help keep your kitchen as dry as possible.
Opt for Powdered Food Coloring Instead of Gel.
Be careful with food coloring. I’ve had the most success with powdered food coloring rather than gel since the latter adds moisture. Add your food coloring to the almond flour, powdered sugar and egg white mix to avoid overmixing.
Troubleshoot, Troubleshoot, Troubleshoot.
If your macarons are hollow, pay close attention to make sure you’re not overbeating the meringue. You can also try baking at a lower temperature for longer, say 275 degrees F for about 20 minutes.
If your macarons don’t have feet, your mix is too wet. Let the macarons dry for longer before baking and avoid using any gel food coloring or flavoring.
If your macarons crack, there is too much air in the batter. Try rapping your piped macarons on the counter before letting the skin form. The louder, the better! If the problem persists, you have hot spots in your oven. Try moving your tray to the middle rack. Always bake on double trays – this helps with both removing air bubbles and minimizing the effects of oven hot spots.
Finally, Save Creativity for Fillings.
There is no room to experiment with macaron shells, so dream big for the fillings. Here, wetness is still a factor, so think of flavors you want to try that can be made into a buttercream, ganache or a jam.