Thursday, February 25, 2010

Macaron 101: Italian Meringue Part 2


[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]

So I baked up a new batch of mac's today just because including photos of old macarons with yesterday's post felt like cheating.

I wanted to make a cassis macaron today since I love the flavor of black currant. However, my butter cream wasn't taking on the flavor of the cassis liqueur and I was just dumping it into the mixing bowl. It just tasted like plain ol' butter cream. Well good, vaguely fruity butter cream, but not certainly cassis butter cream.

So yea, I fail.

Anyway, I was also played around a bit with my recipe ratios today. Baking up the following:

Macarons That Were Supposed To Taste Like Cassis But In Reality Do Not:
150g confectioners sugar
150g almond meal
150g granulated sugar for syrup (plus one tablespoon for the meringue)
110g egg whites (divided)
50g water
violet food gel coloring

Cassis Butter cream:
4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
cassis liqueur

Beat together the butter and sugar, add several tablespoons cassis liqueur to taste. If your liqueur is like mine, it won't taste like cassis. /sigh

Okay, so lets pick up with the Macaron 101 again, shall we.





Ingredients:

Egg Whites:
To age or not to age, that is the question. I've made Italian meringue macarons with egg whites of various ages. The oldest were whites aged in an open bowl on my counter for four days. It did liquefy the egg whites (ew) and gave my meringue an edge. However, I've also made perfectly fine macarons with freshly cracked eggs. For example, the macarons pictured above were made this morning with non-aged whites, though the eggs themselves where roughly 2 weeks old.

So don't worry about how old your whites are. Older whites do whip up a little better than fresh whites and will give you an edge in your baking, but I still don't feel this will make or break your macarons.

Things that you should be concerned about regarding your eggs:

Oil/yolk in your eggs, or in any bowl/instrument that will come in contact with your eggs. Oil, grease, yolk etc, mean limp, pathetic meringue (if it comes together at all). Separate your eggs carefully to a different bowl than the one you will be using for mixing, just in case you have any rogue yolk issues.

Temperature: Make sure your whites are at room temperature before beating. If it is cold at my house (which it often is) I will place the bowl over a pan of very warm tap water. This helps the whites beat up lighter and fluffier.

Mixing Bowl: Use copper or stainless steel. Copper ions strengthen the egg proteins giving you a nice airy meringue. Stainless is non-reactive and also works well. Plastic (plastic is difficult to clean and can hold onto oils. Say it with me "Oil bad!"), aluminum (gray meringue, ewwww), glass (slippery sides, meringue and egg whites tend to slide down and pool in the bottom of the bowl) are not not ideal mixing bowls for meringue.

Almond Meal: My preferred brand is Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal. It is finely ground and neither too moist nor too dry.

Some folks do grind their own blanched almonds to make almond meal. I've never done so at home because, well... I'm just too busy to bother.

If you do decided to grind your own at home, blanch the almonds and remove the seed coat. Let the almonds dry overnight before attempting to grind them. Try not to over grind as it will turn into almond paste. There is a thin line between a fine meal and the makings of marzipan.

Pinch the almond meal between your fingers. If it turns into a solid lump it is too moist and will need to be dried in your oven (preheated to about 170°F and then turn it off) spread the almond meal out onto a baking sheet and allow it to sit in the warm oven until it has dried out. A good meal will cling together when pinched but will easily crumble back into a fine meal.

An easier method is to weight out the blanched almonds and the powdered sugar needed for a recipe and then grind them together in the food processor. The sugar helps absorb some of the moisture from the almonds and keeps the mixture light and easy to process (read: doesn't turn into a paste).

I've gotten good results with this method using store bought slivered blanched almonds. If you're going to do this, you will need to sift/grind/repeat a few times until the mixture is fine and uniform.

Confectioners Sugar: Or powdered sugar as it is called here in the States. Opt for brands that contain only 100% sugar, as some confectioners sugar has starch added to prevent clumping. I've read that the starch in your batter can contribute to cracked shells. [Edit: I've realized that I may very well be using 3% starched sugar in my own baking. I can't tell because I buy my sugar in 50lb bags, dump it into a large bin and then toss the bag. I'll double check the sugar's ingredient list next time I am at the store.][UPDATE: Checked the 50lb bag! I AM using starched sugar and I never get cracked macarons. I can't even make them crack when I try. I'm narrowing down cracked shell mac problems to: strong heat from the bottom of your oven and not resting shells long enough]

Granulated Sugar: Not much to note here, other than that I prefer to use pure cane sugar over beet sugar when making candy or cooked sugar syrups.

Extras: Many macaron recipes call for a little something extra to boost your meringue. There are several things that will help increase the volume of your eggs and stabilize the egg proteins. You're welcome to use a pinch of cream of tartar, salt or a couple drops of lemon juice in your egg whites to boost them. Just don't use these if you're beating in a copper bowl.



Okay all that ingredient stuff aside, lets get to the macs from yesterday.

So I filled three piping bags, if you recall with a good batter, a slightly over mixed batter and a over mixed batter.

I piped rows of each onto a baking sheet and then baked them at various temperatures.


These are the shells resting, after being tapped on the counter. They look deceptively similar, don't they. The one difference is that you can tell a slight difference in color between the good batter and the over mixed batter.

All of these batters had the "nipple" that remains when pipped onto the sheet, one that eventually sinks back into the little piped round. The good batter lost its nipple slower than the bad batter. So just having a nipple does not mean you've made the batter correctly. If you've really stiff nippl... GAH. Why isn't there a better term for this... if they're stiff on your macarons and you need to tap them down or bang the pan thoroughly on the counter to get them to sink you DO very likely have a good batter.

MOVING ON...


(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)

(Non-rested shells - Baked 300°F - 15 min - double pan)

This was the first round of baking. Now you can see the clear difference between a good batter and a bad batter.

I had hollow shells in both the good macaron (GM) and the slightly over mixed macaron (SOM), the over mixed batter (OM) was a chewy disk.

The foot formation was also not great. The GM had a short foot. The SOM macaron barely had a foot at all and the OM macaron had a projecting frilly foot.

The bottoms were good on the GM and SOM macarons, the OM mac was sticky.


(Over Mixed)
(Slightly Over Mixed)
(Good Mix)

(Rested shells (15 min) - Baked 300°F - 15 min - double pan)

This round is the same as the above, only it was rested before baking.

The rested macarons developed better feet all around. Even the SOM macaron had a foot this time. That was the only difference, they were still not great macs.

Cooking at 300°F for 15 minutes is clearly too low and too long, it results in hollow shells that are a little crunchy.


(Over Mixed)
(Slightly Over Mixed)
(Good Mix)
(Rested Shells (15min) - 325°F - 12min - double pan)

Much nicer feet on these. Non sticky bottoms on all accept the OM macaron. There are some scattered air pockets in these, so this temperature is probably not ideal.

The over mixed macaron is looking less pathetic this time. The shell is now smooth and looks fairly decent, the cookie still has little height and the feet project awkwardly.


(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)

(Rested Shells (nearly 20min) - 345°F : 10 min - double pan)

Wonderful high feet on these, particularly the GM. Possibly too high a profile, as there is an air pocket between the interior and the shell. Non sticky bottoms on the GM macaron, the SOM and OM macs were both sticky.

(I did another pan with similar results in the 335°F range and found it was the best for these cookies. I baked the cassis macarons today at this temperature for 12-13 minutes with lovely results.)


(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)

(Rested Shells (15min) - 370°F - 10min - double pan)

EW! Clearly this is too hot. The interior of the cookies tried to escape out the foot, creating lopsided shells and projecting feet. I imagine had I not rested the shells and formed a dry outer layer, the cookies would have likely cracked too.


(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)
(Rested Shells (10min) - 345°F - 10 minutes - old cookie sheet with parchment)

To demonstrate the importance of having nice flat pans I'm going to bake a batch at nearly the right temperature. Look at this... UGH! This is what my first macarons looked like. I couldn't figure out why they were so ugly, I followed the instructions exactly and yet my cookies were hideous little beasts.

It took three attempts before I tossed a level onto my pan and discovered that my old thin cookie sheets were bowed. Also, note how the foot projects from these cookies. This is likely because of the lack of insulation from the bottom of the pan. The interior of the cookie is cooking quickly and it tries to escape the confines of its little shell.

Also, I piped the rounds exactly the same as I do on the good pans. The mutant shapes are all due to the wonky pan.



Then I ran out of batter.

Which was a good thing, because I was sick of running back and forth between batches of macarons, taking notes, sampling cookies and snapping really bad photos (sorry for that). It was an absolutely crazy morning.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to create a cookie with no feet or cracked shells. I feel that not resting your cookies before baking, using a single baking sheet and cooking in an oven with strong heat from the bottom is a primary culprit for cracked shells but I wasn't able to recreate this.

Nor was I able to get a totally footless mac. Perhaps if I cooked them at below 300°F this would happen. For yesterday's experiment though, I just wasn't able to mess up bad enough. Truly sorry.

So that's it for today.

I'm going to go lay on the couch and eat my cassis fail-macs.

Also, check out some of the science cookie buzz at HuffPo and Smithsonian Blog. I'm just loving it.


32 comments:

  1. Maybe, if you used black currant syrup instead of cassis, you'd get a more definite flavor.

    Thanks for the tutorial.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A syrup or a fruit purée would work much, much better in the butter cream, for sure. However the only purees I have on hand are mango, blueberry, raspberry and pomegranate and I wanted a cassis macaron so badly.

    Oh well, they're actually not too bad.

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  3. Well, I got my hands on some almond meal today, sneaky little devil was hiding in the organic section af Krogers, AND GeekBaby took a long nap, so I made a macaron attempt. It all comes down to either the pans or the heat. My batter looked lovely, but they were hollow and had funky feet. I'm not going to bother with a second attempt until I can afford to upgrade my cookie sheets.

    But boy are these things sweet. I can't imagine how you could eat them with buttercream! The baby didn't care, he kept stealing them from the table where they were supposed to be cooling. I finally had to dispose of them.

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  4. Yea, they are very sweet cookies. I can't eat more than a couple in a sitting.

    I once read about a guy who went do Adriano Zumbo's macaron shop and ate one of each flavor (like 30+ cookies!). Just the thought of doing that makes me a little ill. I get put into a sugar coma just testing a few of these things out of the oven (without the fillings).

    You can cut the sweetness by using chocolate ganaches (my favorite). Otherwise these things are just a diabetic's nightmare.

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  5. Oh and don't feel too bad about the hollow shells. I've paid good money for fancy macarons and bitten into them only to find out they're hollow.

    With Italian meringue, I think some air pockets are normal. What you don't want is the filling reduced to a thin crisp pancake at the foot of the shell. You want to retain some semblance of a moist fluffy interior. If you have that, then a hollow between the interior and the top of the shell isn't a big deal.

    With smaller macarons (> size of a quarter when you pipe them) I too get some air at the top of the shell, perhaps because more of the interior goes into producing the foot.

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  6. cassis is a good idea; i'll try soon! thanx for the recipe and the explanations!!!

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  7. Oh, bear in mind that I used my cheap, 6 year old cookie sheets. Theoretically they're insulated sheets... But not enough. But after reading this tutorial, I also think I baked them too long at too low a temperature. I've never had a baked good that I've failed this badly at.., Oh how the mighty have fallen!

    I'm making almond biscotti tonight to sooth my poor ego!

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  8. ms. humble...you deserve "gold" for this post!
    tremendous...getting my courage up to start mac baking!!
    great piece in the huff post...saw it this morning!

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  9. Thank you for the great tips.
    I was wondering what size piping nozzle you use when piping the batter out?
    Cheers

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  10. For most of my macs I use an Ateco #11 or #12 tip.

    ReplyDelete
  11. What a difference a "g" makes.

    Let's fix that...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Congrats on the Smithsonian and Huffpo shout-outs! I tell all my friends about your blog but to have the big guns roll in -- wow! Well deserved, especially after the back and forth trying to make bad macarons today.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love the batter difference pics! And I really like how those currant colored macs look!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Interesting since all of my bad ones are cracked and/or footless. Although I can't seem to get a flat disk one at all. Ovens are so strange!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I haven't made macarons for a while, as I find them very sweet (even the ones in Paris were not pleasing to my palate, such as Laduree.) Your tutorial is tempting me! I want to make the pistachio macarons or lemon ones you made- are they very sweet?

    P.S. I adore your blog! As a baker/very analytical person, I really like the approach you take on baking!

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  16. Cat,

    The pistachio ones are very sweet (butter cream filled macs are probably the sweetest you can eat, followed by white chocolate ganache).

    The Lemon macarons I have posted on the blog are my favorite, just because the mascarpone really cuts the overall sweetness of the cookie. It is a great filling base for macarons, one that you can add endless flavors to without creating a total sugar bomb.

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  17. omfg soo funny you labeled them om som & gm that belongs with the other science cookie posts cus ur assigning cookie phenotypes. genius

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  18. when you say double pan do you mean 2 baking pans on top of each other or 2 racks in oven at the same time?

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  19. I've skimmed this while waiting to bake daughter's loaf for her pack lunch tomorrow so I can go to bed...pass my bedtime here :)!

    but had to comment...you sound like me...in that when you tackle something you really go into detail...so glad I'm not the only one who suffers from this obsession :)

    Isn't it amazing the amount of stuff you start to notice when you compare recipes...making your own...noticing variables on the same ingredients?

    I have this with the everyday loaf I created...because I have a need to bake for my daughter I started to tackle the art of making easy but good loaf and in this process I've discovered how the same ingredients can and will produce different results based on how you treat it...small variables will give different crumb and so on...even now it still surprises me at times.

    I find this kind of stuff fascinating.

    I have tasted French macarons made by top French chefs and for me they're not enticing since it's just fancy meringue...not a meringue fan so no surprises there. Egg white & ground almonds are two pretty tasteless ingredients so for me the ones that work are ones with vibrant fillings like passionfruit and such like.

    But I get why those that love such sweet things would fall in love with them...everything about the look of them is seductive, they have the signature of Haute Couture about them!

    I have set in my mind to try and make them for myself only so that I can say I've made it, box ticked...and will look forward to return to your post and give it the proper attention it deserves!

    by the way I can't post on your blog as me and have to use husband's account because I don't have an email account with the choice your blog gives me on posting. On the drop-down menu it should have "Name/URL" then I can proceed to add my name & blog...

    azelias kitchen

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  20. I just want you to know you've turned me into a macaron-making fiend. I've loved them for years but never had the gumption to make them myself until recently. I've made 3 or 4 batches in the last two days, trying to perfect these finnicky buggers. Luckily, even when they're not perfect, they still taste pretty daggone good and look good enough that my friends/guinea pigs don't care. I'll keep trying anyway.

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  21. I've been working on my own macaron "quest" and your posts have been incredibly helpful!

    I wanted to ask if you've ever used the liquid egg whites sold in cartons at the grocery stores for the meringues. I've only used egg whites that I've separated myself, but a friend of mine used egg whites from a carton and she said hers came out well using them! The carton does state that it won't whip up meringues properly due to pasteurization. I'm wondering if you've ever experimented with it?

    Thanks!!

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  22. I've never worked with cartons of pasteurized egg whites myself. I tend to blow through so many whole eggs, using yolks for custards and curds and whites for cakes and macarons that its more economical for me to use whole eggs.

    As for carton whites for macarons, if the product states that they don't make the best meringues then they probably best reserved for other uses (royal icing, etc). A good meringue is key to successful macarons.

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  23. unfortunately the second time yesterday i made my macarons, it did not come out well, no feet, cracked. :( pls help i will not stop until i get this right. thank you!

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  24. See this post:

    Macaron Troubleshooting

    Much of the troubleshooting for French meringue will also apply for the Italian style.

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  25. Hi Ms. Humble,

    I just got my hands on a copy of Herme's Macaron last night, and I'm eager to give these recipes a go. However, I've never made macarons with Italian meringue before. I noticed in the photos that Herme is using a stand mixer to incorporate the simple syrup into his egg whites, and I don't have a mixer of any kind. I just beat the whites by hand for French meringue. Would it be foolish to try and beat hot sugar syrup into egg whites by hand? I take it that I would need a second set of hands at the very least to do the pouring while I beat and hold the bowl.

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  26. Recovering from having the baby so I'm a little behind on answering macaron questions so bear with me folks, however I will answer Katie here because this is fairly straight forward.

    Katie,

    It would be really tough but it is possible, provided you have the stamina. And yes, you would certainly need someone else to pour the syrup while you beat your heart out.

    You beat italian meringues for a very long time in a stand mixer (after adding the syrup) and you can expect to beat it even longer by hand to achieve the same results by hand. Meaning, you might need to switch off on the beating with your partner, because I can almost guarantee you will tire before you're done.

    Mind you don't cook your eggs with the hot syrup (so beat it hard) and keep at it so when the syrup cools you've got a lot of volume to support it.

    No mixer... but do you have hand beaters? Those would be easier.

    Anyway good luck and a big gold star if you can do it.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Baking is my solace, my art, my time away from the harsh realities of life, for a moment creating something, that will make others smile, if for a second. So,since I have become gluten intolerant,I have been trying to remake recipes that call for wheat flour and it is a huge challenge. Nothing will ever be perfect, or as I remember it. But...I came across macarons in a gluten free cook book.Cookies that are naturally gluten free! Honestly, being a Texas transplant from California, I had never seen one, let alone tasted one. Doing a search, I came across your blog. And boy, I am glad I did. You make this undertaking seem possible. And I am very excited to try what sounds like a new chapter in my culinary life. I will let you know the results.

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  28. Dear Ms. Humble,

    Thanks for the extensive tests and explanations on macarons. Really merits an applause.

    I just started making macarons to and would like to ask how does the inside of the macaron look like when it just comes out of the oven? I understand the bottom should generally be flat but the inside, is it slightly moist and wet. Cos I face that problem with my macarons.

    Thank you so much!

    Adrian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If the insides are still soft and wet, generally you need only to cook them longer. If you find that longer cooking time results in browning, just lower the temperature about 20 degrees.

      Cook the cookies until the insides are set, if they're a little crispy overall, that's okay. Once the cookies have matured they'll have the proper texture.

      Delete
  29. Have you had any issues with discoloration with your macarons? From what I can tell in your pictures, the color turned out beautifully. I find (especially with pastel colors- which I love the most) that the color usually turns brownish/greyish when baked. I can't get the solid color I want, I only get a nice color inside when you bite into the cookie. Any tips?

    ReplyDelete

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