Learn the tips and tricks to creating a beautiful almond cookie sandwiches with delicious fillings.
By Phillip F
Ahhhhh, les macarons. Could there be a better treat? These sweet, bite-sized almond pastries have exploded right out of their tiny shells during the past couple years. For good reason, I say. Out with the cupcakes and in with the macarons. (Ok… Cupcakes can stay, too.)
I’m going to share my ups and downs of homemade macarons and hopefully save you a few exhausting days and bins full of squished, deflated, hollow, crunchy batches.
Keep reading for Macarons 101: A Beginner’s Guide and a free downloadable/printable macaron piping template.
First thing first… Macaron vs Macaroon:
A macaron is what you see (look up) there. A tiny, round, dainty little sweet thang that you will soon learn to perfectly bake.
A macaroon is a more dense, large, blob-like, coconut-based sweet.
Now that we have that out of the way… The origin of these delicate pastries is somewhat mysterious. Almonds, the natuarally gluten-free (for those of you who enjoy that sorta thing) base of a macaron were exported from Syria into Europe way back in the 1400s. Once these almonds hit Europe, the Italians called the macaron concoction “macaroni” or “maccherone”. Yes. Exactly like the pasta. Think about it for a bit… Pasta base is made basically the same way. Eggs, flour. These confections simply substitute your regular old grain flour for the ground almond seed ‘flour’.
Did you know almonds aren’t actually nuts? They are seeds of a fruit. As such, they are botanically a drupe.
It is said that the Italians created a version of the macarons as early as the 1500s. Typically thought of as French, the famed Renaissance author Rabelais was the first to have provided a written account, “…petite pâtisserie ronde aux amandes”. For those of you that are a bit rusty on your french, this means “small round pastry with almonds”.
Macarons were originally just a single cookie. Like taking the top off of a traditional , modern macaron and leaving the filling and other half behind. Apparently, they used to have little macaron bars setup with the cookies and a bunch of fillings that you could spread on top. Now… THAT is a good idea.
Jump to Paris, middle of the 20th Century. Prestigious Chef Pierre Desfontaines of Maison Ladurée (the same one that is there today) decided to put two of the cookies together with some ganache cream between.
There are SO many different ways that people will tell you to make a proper macaron. Do this, do that, don’t do that! I’ve tried most all of them and have at times noticed a difference and then haven’t at other times. Does drying the egg whites really help? Should you fold this many or that many times? I find that this is what intimidates people the most, I did a few experiments at home. I kept my controls controlled, variables varied. I got this science thing down, y’all. I was told in this mini-intensive class that these things really don’t matter all that much. They make ‘em in the rain, with old eggs, blindfolded. It’s all about precision and technique. Baking is a science, remember?
Making the Macarons
Macarons are made with almonds, egg whites, sugar. Almond flour is simply raw almonds that have been finely ground into a flour-like textured mix. To create a more smooth textured cookie base, you need to sift the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar together. Go ahead and do this like 3-4 times. Dump any large bits of almond back into your bag and use it for something else. You’ll notice that I used raw, unprocessed almond meal (flour) for the macarons shown in this post. That accounts for the tiny bits on the shells. If you don’t want that at all (I think it adds a bit of character), get processed almond meal that doesn’t contain any of the skins. You can also make your own almond meal with a good processor, almond and the sugar to keep it from turning to paste. Be sure you are using a kitchen scale for all of this (and all of your baking, really). US measurements vary so much depending on the user and the product being measured. Weigh everything out. This makes a huge difference.
Making the Batter Matter
After you separate the eggs into whites and yolks, toss the yolks away to use for something else. Strain the egg whites to be sure you don’t have any bits of big globs of whatever that stuff is that you sometimes find in there. From my experience, egg age doesn’t matter much if you strain them out. Be sure you have let your eggs come to room temperature before you plan to use them. Cold whites just don’t whip up like warmer ones do. THIS is one of those odd prep steps that I wouldn’t recommend skipping. Have a drink. Wait 10 minutes.
You’ll whip the whites just a bit until they are broken up and foamy (seriously like 10 seconds…) and then add the sugar to beat and form stiff peaks. This is one place people seem to start to go wrong. Stiff means STIFF. Like a good cocktail. You want this meringue to stick straight up in the air when you turn over the whisk and look like it is climbing to the clouds. Ignore the haters that say too much air in this step will ruin everything. If you are worried, just whip it for another minute anyway.
Fold, fold, fold, fold, STOP!
Take the almond meal/confectioners sugar mix that you have sifted the hell out of and dump it in. All of it. It’s cool. I promise. NOW… Here is where I hypothesize most people make their mistakes. Folding. If you just go stir-crazy on this mix, you’ll ruin everything. Lightly, but with great confidence, take your rubber spatula and roll it around the edge of the bowl (that you are holding like it’s your first born) and fold the mixture over itself. Resist at all costs the desire to drag the spatula around and stir. It will look like it just isn’t mixing and that you have too much of the almond mix. Keep going. Until you really get the hang of it, I recommend forcing your small child or closest (in proximity) loved one to count your folding strokes. Aim for about 60-70 folds. Once you get to about 50, you’ll see things have started to magically combine and mix like you never thought would happen when you started.
The secret test that I learned for determining the exact consistency and viscosity for the perfect macaron batter is when you pick up the batter with the spatula, try to create an “8” pattern with a solid, streaming ribbon of batter. If you can make an “8” a few times over top of itself and see the entire shape not disappear, you have mixed the batter to readiness to pipe. Pat yourself on the back and have another drink.
Piping Symmetrical Cookies
You really want all of these shells to line up perfectly to create a symmetrical sweet sandwich. I’ve tried silicone macaron molded mats, parchment paper, no paper, regular silicone mats. With all of this trial and error (mostly error), I found that the absolute best choice is a simple parchment paper. The delicate macarons tend to stick to silicone, the macaron mat molds are USELESS, and the paper gives you the ability to pull it off of the cookies if needed. I looked around for a while to figure out how to make sure I pipe each circle just like the last. There are some templates out there, but nothing that really hit home with me. So, being the total nerd that I am….
Printed out, I found that you can place this under parchment paper and trace the outlines. You can then flip it and pipe away. After a bunch of these, I also finally figured out that you could just place it under the paper and pipe, moving the paper over to pipe more. MUCH more convenient.
The template gives you a bullseye for piping aim and a few guidelines to ensure consistently size cookies. If your batter is correctly folded, you should be able to pipe, holding the bag an inch above the paper, until it reaches the outer edge of the inside circle.
Once you get your macarons piped, you’ll be happy to know that I encourage you to beat the daylights out of them. Hold the baking sheet a good foot or so above your table/floor/whatever flat, solid surface is nearby. Drop the pan (evenly) like Missy drops a beat. Repeat several times. Then do it once more. This ensures that all of the bubbles make their way out of the batter. If you don’t do this well, you will end up with hollow macarons.
Some will say at this point, you need to rest the macarons forever. Others will say that you can pop them directly into the oven. The risk in not aging the macaron shells is that you will ruin the opportunity for the “feet” (the less smooth part under the glossy tops) to form while baking. I was taught to rest the shells and tend to agree with this, having had poor results without resting the piped rounds. I recommend just letting them sit for 30 minutes on the baking sheets. You will notice that they harden and appear a bit glossy already. This is good!
Resting the shells will force the macarons to bake upward and not outward. This is what is responsible for forming the iconic shape of each cookie.
Heat the oven. Put the macarons into the oven. Bake. Let them cool completely before you attempt to poke or grab them off of the sheets. Completely! These things are delicate, ya know?!
Macarons aren’t super easy. They take time, effort, and whole lot of love. It took me several batches before they ended up working for me when I started making them.
Hopefully with these tips, you’ll be able to whip them up in no time for some very appreciative recipients. Check out the recipe for the Valentine’s-inspired Raspberry Buttercream Almond Macrons that are pictured in the post. These are the basic macaron shells that you can play with to create any flavor combinations that you can think of.
- 90 grams egg whites (3 large egg whites), room temperature
- 55 grams (~ ¼ cup) superfine sugar (granulated sugar in food processor until fine)
- 200 grams (~ 1 and ⅔ cup) confectioner's sugar
- 110 grams (~ 1 cup) almond flour
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- pinch salt
- food coloring, optional (color will slightly lighten with baking)
- 8 tablespoons butter, unsalted, softened
- 1 cup raspberries, fresh
- 1 and ½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste or extract
- 16-24 ounces confectioner's sugar, sifted well
- pinch salt
- Place room temperature egg whites (very important!) in mixer bowl.
- With whisk attachment, whisk at medium speed until foamy, about a minute.
- Add superfine granulated sugar and mix until VERY stiff peaks form. You should be able to reverse the whisk and have the peak stands very tall without falling.
- Mix in any food coloring, if desired and mix just until well-combined.
- In different bowl, sift together almond flour and confectioner's sugar. Repeat and sift a total of 4-5 times, removing any large pieces left behind after each sift.
- Add almond flour mix to stiffened egg whites.
- Using proper folding technique (see blog post for explanation of this!), fold until you can ribbon an "8" that holds into the batter. This should take about 60-70 proper strokes. THIS is the most important step in proper macarons.
- Add food coloring here if desired.
- Visit the blog post for full instructions.
- Pipe macaron circles onto paper-lined baking sheets using the macaron template and instructions available in link above.
- Let the shells rest for 30 minutes to form hardened tops.
- Bake at 300 F for about 16 minutes. Be sure your oven temperature is exact.
- Remove and let cool completely before removing from baking sheets.
- Add softened butter to mixer. Whip until smooth.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Add more confectioner's sugar as needed for tight enough texture.
- Pipe filling between two shells and enjoy!