I have been asked by some of you to explain how to bake the perfect French macaron and while they are the divas of the cookie world, you can make them at home with a little bit of practice and patience. The result is worth it, as what you can achieve are perfectly smooth, rounded little sweets that you can colour to your hearts desire and fill with the most intoxicating flavours. Macarons are the picture of class, dainty tea parties and are perfect for any gathering you wish!
First-off, what are they?
Macarons are little, almond-meringue based cookies that have a crisp, eggshell-like top and a soft interior. Macarons are usually filled with buttercream, ganache or fruit gels and are a very dainty, fragile and sought after French/Italian pastry. A version of macarons have been produced since the 8th century AD and were a popular sweet in the household of Catherine de’ Medici and Henry II of France. In 1792, another version of the macaron was created by two Carmelite nuns who baked and sold the sweets to pay for their housing during the French Revolution. The colourful “sandwich” version of macarons did not exist until the 1830’s, their creation generally credited to the French patisserie Laduree .
I first made these when I worked at Europea as the stand-in pastry chef when the restaurant lost theirs overnight. The macarons craze was just beginning and I had only just heard of them. I had to learn how to make the small sweets quite quickly as they were a staple on the menu and had to be perfect each time. As I had not been trained how to make them, I lost a few batches along the way.
One night, after service, I started a batch of about 500 mini macarons intent on getting a jump on the next days’ mise en place. The executive chef sat in the restaurant, unbuttoned his pristine chef coat and cracked a beer as he waited for me to finish up. I followed all the steps closely, making sure everything was precisely measured, sifted and at the right temperatures. The batter looked perfect, I piped perfect little rounds on multiple baking trays and fed them into the convection oven, set the timer and cleaned the kitchen to a gleaming shine. When the timer went off, I flung open the oven doors and my heart sank to the floor, as every single macarons was cracked, dull and uneven. I still had about 20 baking sheets left to bake and I foolishly hoped that maybe the next trays would come out better than the last, which they did not. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed and I didn’t know what to say to the chef who had waited for hours for me to finish.
At 2 am, I shame walked out of the kitchen, wringing an imaginary towel in my hands, and timidly explained that the whole batch of expensive macarons were ruined and that I had wasted his time. Oh my goodness… My heart felt like a sinking ship and my fingers and toes were tingling with embarrassment. Luckily I wasn’t scolded, as he was exhausted and a few beers in. Instead, he began to chuckle, which turned into a loud, deep, hearty laugh and tears formed in the corners of his eyes. He walked me back into the kitchen and looked at the costly disaster I had made, picked up some of the ruined macarons and crushed them in his chef-scarred fist, letting the crushed cookies sprinkle down to the baking sheet like shattered egg shells. “Look, it’s decoration! Not all is lost.” he exclaimed. My heart stopped racing, the tears burning the back of eyes subsided and I realized that although I royally screwed the pooch, it was OK…
As the years have passed, I have come up with my own little tricks to ensure a 98% success rate when making macarons, and I have since made thousands. Once you get the hang of it, macarons will become one of your favourite sweets to make and you can play with colours and flavours to create your own version. There are many ways to make these beautiful little sweets, and while I am going to walk you through my favourite way to make them, you can always try a different way and see how it goes!
While I pray you succeed, and I will instruct you so that you have the best chance of success, remember this story the first time you mess these up, because as I did, so will you, a few times. Don’t feel bad, just crush them up and use them on ice cream, cakes, add the crushed cookies to icing for texture or top your favourite mousse for some crunch. The crumbs will keep in the freezer for quite a while!