Friday, February 26, 2010

Macaron 101: Italian Meringue Part 3

[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]

Part three!

Everyone is now wondering if a single cookie really warrants a three-post discussion, right?

Well if you've ever had trouble baking these cookies you'll understand why this is getting long. There are forums with huge bloated threads devoted to discussing macarons (B%&*&ing too, naturally). Don't worry though, this will be the last full post I devote to rambling on about Italian Meringue.

Besides my kitchen is an utter disaster today and I need to spend time restoring order, not adding to the disorder by baking.

So, I'm just going to write today. That's right, I'm going to blog on my blog (heaven forbid!). For the macaron non-fanatics, feel free to disregard this post. I'll get back to the normal routine on Monday.



To start I'm going to take a moment to ask a question that hounded me when I first started baking macarons:

Why can't I find photos of the interiors of macarons online?!

You can fine page after page of gorgeous macarons online, yet rarely do you see photos of the cookies interior. At best you get a single half-nom'd shell.

Of course now that I've been baking these cookies for a while I'm beginning to understand why this is.

Posting photos of the inside of your macarons
is a little like removing your perfect black dress.

You might end up revealing your Spanx.


You can make macarons that look perfect in every way, with the exception of the interior. They can have lovely feet, rounded domes that disguise the horror on the inside.

I really feel this is the hardest thing to master when executing the Italian meringue macarons. All else considered they are pretty forgiving. You can do everything else with precision only to have your results blighted by your oven. As another blogger put it: "My oven is where macarons come to die."

Attaining the correct texture and interior requires getting a really good feel for your oven. Every oven is a little different, they all have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. That is why it can be very tough to advise others on how to properly bake a macaron, since you don't share the same oven.

Now you're probably thinking to yourself, 'Ms. Humble, you don't post the insides of your cookies either!" This is correct, I don't often post the shells cut in half or bit into, simply because it isn't all that attractive to photograph (look there is a smear of Ms. Humble's drool! Lovely!). However, I've realized that I am now part of the problem. Don't worry, I'm not going to try to hide behind spanx for this post.

So I threw a couple of my cassis-fail mac's into the freezer last night, so I could cut them without squishing them. You see, biting into the mac, or cutting it while it is soft will hide most minor air pockets. Also, maturing the macarons also improves the interior and can make the pockets less obvious.

However I, for the sake of full macaron disclosure, am going to freeze and then splay them open. No crushing, no maturation (butter cream needs ~72 hours) nothing that might help obscure any flaws.



There you have it.

Yes, there are some small pockets of air in them. I even placed the biggest offender smack dab in the center of the shot. BAM!

I've never seen another macaron shot like this online and I would love to.

The stark, unforgiving nakedness of this cut lets you know a lot about the cookie. In the quest for the perfect Italian meringue macaron, I want to know what works and what doesn't. However it is pretty hard to determine if a recipe works if the baker is bashful about the interiors of their cookies.

And no, those bitten into cookies don't tell me much either.



This mac had a good sized bubble, but you can't tell after it has been bitten into crushing the air pocket.

I'd love, love, love to see some of the macaron pros out there take their cookies and LET ME SEE INSIDE! Please! I've never been disciplined enough to actually buy macarons from a good bakery, bring them home, freeze them and then cut into them.

Actually...

Know what, when I am in London in a few weeks, I'm going to buy some of Pierre Hermé's Macarons at Selfridges and take them home and dissect them. It is my scientific baker duty.


To folks who produce Italian meringue macarons with the height of mine and no air bubbles: Please tell me, what are you doing?

I can make air pocket-devoid macs if I lean towards over mixing the batter and cook them at a relatively high temperature. However it is basically a cheat, as I'm using the density of the over mixed batter. I want tight feet, high profiles and moist fluffy insides.

To those who have achieved good results but have not quite gotten the right interior this is my amateur advice to you:

Learn your oven.

You can do this with as little as one batch of good macaron batter.

This is where Italian Meringue is great for beginners. The batter once inside the piping bag is fairly stable. You can pipe a small set of shells. Bake them, test them and repeat. Increasing or decreasing your oven temperature and baking times as needed until you find that sweet spot. I've done this for two hours without my batter suffering.

Practice does make perfect.

I'm going to go restore order to my kitchen now. Hope everyone out there has a great weekend.

Cheers,

Ms. H



35 comments:

  1. Color me stupid, but why do you make them violet? Is that traditional or just for kicks?
    I have only ever made/had pasty white macaroons (I haven't had a macaron). They are so much prettier with the food color.

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  2. I love love love these last three recent posts because of the thoroughness and scientific approach you take.(I love your blog and writing style and pics etc etc too) I've tried making macarons for the 5th time now and my macarons never get feet! But I admit I've never tried the italian method because I lack the utensils/tools. Also, since I prefer the macarons to be less sweet, I try to reduce the sugar by 1/3 or so. Do you think that would have an effect on how they turn out?
    Thanks for the great posts! I'm going to try some of the tips you gave.

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  3. Thank you so much for posting this series and especially for the interior shot. I've been absolutely intimidated by the macaron until now! And I really appreciate the scientific method since I am a molecular geneticist (btw, congrats on all the attention for your science cookies - they rock!).

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  4. Dear Ms H,

    Reading your delightful blog has made me need to go out and purchase a pair of Spanx (if only I wore a little black dress more often).

    I bought a candy thermometer! You know what that means... :) One of these days...

    Apologies for getting sidetracked, but (at this point I could blame you for providing me with so much inspiration that I had to drive an hour and spend a small fortune on loads of gorgeous cake-supply-things), may I have some advice? I bought some instant just-add-water royal icing, spent quite a while perfecting the consistency but about a day after I iced by pretty lilac cupcakes, the icing appeared to "melt". Maybe royal icing isn't meant to be used on cupcakes, just cookies? Should I just stick to buttercream and (yet to be tried...) fondant for cupcakes? Also, when you royal-ice your amazing science cookies, does it make them go a little soggy?

    Thanks Ms H - you are so smart and clever and quite amazing.

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  5. i have reprinted the 3 parts of this fabulous & inspiring series!

    will read & re-read until i feel comfortable about making my first batch...

    & yes, ms. h...it is your duty to dissect pierre hermé's macs & report you findings to us!

    enjoy your w/e.

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  6. My god I want to come to your house! I'm not really into food blogging normally, but your macarons look so awesomely delicious I'm tempted to try a batch of my own. The colours are fantastic! (Well, everything looks fantastic... can I just take a moment to wipe the drool off my keys... )

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  7. These macarons are beyond beautiful!

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  8. Labmom,

    Macarons are often colored in such a way that reflects the cookie's flavor, even if the shell itself is not flavored (though after maturation the shell takes on the flavor of the filling). They're basically the painted ladies of the cookie world. Sweet, brightly colored with gingerbread and frills.

    Pepperboy,

    I'm not as intimately familiar with the french meringue method as I am with Italian meringue. I hope to tackle and learn the ins and outs of the french meringue someday and do a similar post. I've made a few batches of french meringue mac's without too much trouble. However they do have a higher failure rate so hopefully I can coax them into some dramatic failures for the sake of cookie-science.

    As for tools, the one difference between french and italian is basically a thermometer, which you can do without if you are comfortable with the cold water test. Just bring the sugar to the soft ball stage as seen here

    As for reducing the sugar, I wouldn't recommend playing with the ratios until you have gotten the hang of a particular recipe as is. Yes, macarons are sweet--the italian meringue slightly more so than the french--but if you allow them to mature for a few days the shells become a little less saccharine. Filling them with dark chocolate ganaches or mascarpone based fillings also cuts down on the overall sweetness.

    As for not getting feet. As I understand it, under mixing the batter (yes, you can under mix) and over mixing the batter, as well as baking them in too cool of an oven can result in no feet in french meringue macs. I'm sure there are more reasons and yes, perhaps your reduction of the sugar plays a roll in this.

    Aileen,

    Thanks! Posting such an unforgiving shot was a little rattling. Still, someone has to do it. I'm taking the cookie bullet for food bloggers everywhere.

    Katie,

    Cake supply stores are intensely dangerous. You're lucky you live an hour away.

    So did you glaze the cupcakes with the icing or create a very thick royal icing and frost the cupcakes? Regardless it probably isn't the best cupcake topping. If the icing was thin it will absorb into the cake, too thick and it will dry like cement and crack your teeth. Generally for cakes and cupcakes, you use royal icing to create decorative elements (lace work, flowers, etc) to add to a cake/cupcake. Or pipe it onto a fondant covered cupcake to decorate. Not saying that royal icing isn't a cake frosting (it is) it just isn't my favorite. Old fashioned wedding cakes are often entombed in royal icing, creating a shell that could protect the cake inside from a gamma ray burst.

    My favorite cupcake frosting is swiss meringue butter cream. It's a very grown up frosting, rich and not overly sweet like a traditional butter cream. Of course it will kill you if eaten in excess.

    As for icing my cookies, it doesn't make them soggy. The icing actually improves the texture and flavor of the cookies. Without the moisture from the icing, the sugar cookies would be hard and dry. With it, they develop a wonderful texture and they resist going stale for a week or more.

    Linda,

    I promise to spend way too much money on Perre Herme's Macs while in London. I'll probably drop 20-30£ in that store, which of course is basically a million billion U.S. dollars.

    Pupsinmelb,

    I need a bunch of hungry neighbors. I've got about 4 dozen macarons that need a home right now and my family is sick to death of them after this week.

    Angie's Recipes,

    Thanks!

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  9. I have yet to have a macaron, but am totally captivated by your posts, and some day when the table and the counter are clean I'll get around to trying it.

    As for the bubbles, in my mind they have the pleasing shattering tenderness of a bubble in a potato chip. Is this so?

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  10. Really hollow, dry macarons do have the potato chip bubble effect. However, that isn't the ideal texture for the cookies. It isn't inherently bad, it just isn't what most bakers are striving for.

    When the macarons above are mature, the little air pockets in mine are not at all perceptible. The interior of the cookies is actually quite moist, though from dry appearance of the frozen-cookie cross section this isn't very apparent.

    With a 'perfect macaron', when you bite into it the shell should give way with a delicate crackle that then melts in your mouth. Inside the shell, the interior should be light and moist with a slight chew to the texture.

    They're complicated little devils, these cookies.

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  11. Posting photos of the inside of your macarons
    is a little like removing your perfect black dress. You might end up revealing your Spanx.


    Hahaha :) LOve this! Somehow you cut in hald macs remind me of mushrooms :S I'm weird, I know!

    Pierre Herme!! Ah! Enjoy their goodies while you're in London!!

    "Learn your oven" is a perfect advice for just about any type of cooking or baking! I swear I can't make the proper scrambled eggs until I'm used to the oven I'm using to cook them!

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  12. p.s. Sorry for the typos, of course I meant "youR cut in halF"

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  13. Ms. Humble - These macarons are absolutely gorgeous! They are so vibrant in color they make you want to try grabbing them out of the computer screen. Please do dissect some of Pierre's macarons for us. I'd love to see inside his.

    I've only made macarons once and mine tended to have one great big air bubble under the crust...I wonder if it was because I made them gluten free or if it was me or my oven. Hmmmmmm.....I'll have to try making them again and see what happens.

    Thanks for sharing your macarons and your gorgeous photos.

    Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

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  14. So I'm at a fantastic genomics conference this weekend and one speaker shows a slide of nucleosomes. My first thought is "ooh, macarons!". Ms Humble, what have you done!

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  15. Fiona,

    Ha! That is fantastic!

    Should I wrap my macarons in kitchen twine DNA and link them up? I could finally find a way to turn macarons into a science cookie!

    OOOOH! I could make a 30 nm chromatin fiber!

    *mad cackling*

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  16. Awe, macarons are easy to turn into science cookies. Make them cell organelles. Wee green round ones for chlorolasts, big honking ones for nuclei, oblong mitochondria...

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  17. Dear Ms.Humble, I too looked far and wide for a picture of the inside of a macaron, until I had to make them myself and realize they aren't particularly photogenic. I even went as far as taking a picture before putting the filling. Hardcore. Yes, the belly of the beast. I usually press the halves slightly before I fill them, so the air pockets unnoticeable. Here it is, for the sake of science!:)
    http://tinyurl.com/yaovhpy

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  18. I could never even BEGIN to think up something this wonderful.

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  19. enjoyed reading your 101 post, tks for taking time to share especially the experiments in Part II. Tried the italian method with good results (will need to dissect it to check for bubbles - too busy tasting these beauties to notice), tks for being such a generous sharer.

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  20. I have just discovered your blog and your pictures are AMAZING! I signed up to read you through google reader and I have realized that the first picture, the one that would lure me in to read the rest of the entry, is not being shown!!! Is there anything I can so when I sign up so I can enjoy reading your blog AND seeing your pictures? thank you if you can let me know what I can do!

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  21. Irene,

    I'm not very familiar with Google reader and how it pulls information off my site. I will look into it. Perhaps I can fix that.

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  22. Hello Ms Humble,

    Just wanted to thank you for your advice. I made my first attempt at macarons this week-end, and used a lot of what you said in previous posts (well, these very posts might be what prompted me to try them too ^^). I used the French meringue recipe (might be because I am French), and the first batch came out almost perfect (well, it looked good and tasted good, but I did not have the courage to look inside as you did...). The second one however, was an utter failure, but there I blame the recipe - it had me adding a lot of chocolate powder to the meringue and keeping the same weight in almond powder and sugar, thus resulting in mushy shells.

    Anyway, what success I had I think I can lay off at your feet, because "DO NOT OVERMIX" was pretty much my motto during the whole afternoon. Not to mention my desperation at the lack of flat pans in my closets (but soon, that will change, hehe).

    Might I add, I'm in love with your blog, and really enjoying the way you make it all look, if not easy, but at least not so daunting in prospect !

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  23. I'm a little late to the party, but such is life. While moving from San Diego to my little Wallingford home, I made a stop in Portland and discovered that Pix Patisserie now ships their macarons. More importantly, Pix's website has a few of inside macaron photos you have been inquiring about.

    Love your site!

    jphillips

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  24. i am going to make macs saturday, results to follow.

    thank you so so so so so sosososososososoosooooooooo much for all this effort you've put here.

    you've really inspired me to give these amazing little cookies a try ^____^

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  25. also, this blog post

    http://pigged-out.com/?p=2335

    pictures a cut macaron by what i assume is a professional baker

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  26. Oh yes, Adriano Zumbo is certainly a professional (a bit of a macaron rock star, actually). I wonder if he uses Italian or french meringue for his macarons. Anyone know?

    As for the links (thanks jp and Katy) I just wish I knew what kind of meringue they were using. Italian meringue is generally more pesky when it comes to hollows in the shells. Generally one doesn't have that problem with french meringue.

    I'm going to start working on the full french meringue experimentation here soon. After all the ice cream making I've done I've got 20 aged egg whites ready to go.

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  27. I love your post! I've tried several different recipes, including an Italian meringue recipe. I totally agree about the lack of meringue cross-sections. With the Italian merginue, I got macarons that look nice on the inside, but I have a huge hollow air bubble on the inside! I ordered an oven thermometer, so that'll probably help. I think I'm going to also switch back to French Meringue recipes since I really want a soft, fluffy, non-air-bubble interior like the ones I had at Sadahaku Aoki.

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  28. http://somethingkaty.blogspot.com/2010/03/katy-makes-macarons-part-6.html

    eeerrrr. the link above is my first try ever. i am going for another spin on thursday (my husband's birthday is friday and he wants some more!!!)

    i am looking forward to your french experiment! thanks for all the hints and pointers and pictures and lovely personality ^___^

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  29. Here's the funny thing about macarons...they taste good no matter how many air bubbles they have in them. Sure, you don't want a huge, gaping hole in the top of the shell (a problem I ran into). But, after filling with something yummy (like buttercream) and letting mature, they are delish!
    I can understand the obsession with the 'perfect macaron'. Everyone wants to make something friends and family will ohh and ahh over. But, I learned after several attempts, lots of not so nice words aimed at my little meringue saucers of sadness, and plenty of tears - they still taste fantastic (unless you don't sift your almond meal...I learned the hard way not to skip that step), and your friends and family will likely be unaware of their un-perfectness. You're the only one who will care.
    Now, granted, if you're entering a contest judged by uber-french chefs who are looking for that perfect macaron....well, then it matters. But, I was perfectly happy to munch away on my imperfect cookies. The flavor combos are endless, and it's a fantastic opportunity to be as creative as you want.
    That's what baking is about after all: having your cake and eating it too!
    Rock on with the blog, Ms. Humble. I absolutely love it!!

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  30. How long can I let my macarons rest? Is overnight too long? It is a fairly dry day here in Indianapolis, but it has been 3 hours and they are still slightly gummy. Any ideas??

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  31. Unfortunately there is such a thing as resting your Italian macs for too long. Italian meringue macarons don't require prolonged resting periods, so after 15 minutes or so, go ahead and pop them into the oven.

    The resting period simply allows some moisture to evaporate from the shell and strengthens it against cracking in the oven. If your shells are not prone to cracking, you can go ahead and skip the resting period all together (I do not advise this with french meringue macarons however).

    I don't advise resting the French or Italian meringue macs for prolonged periods of time, as you risk the cookies not rising at all in the oven.

    One note though, if the cookies are very sticky, this may signal something has gone wrong in the process of making the batter.

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  32. Thank yo,thank you, thank you, I am a self-taught baker and have been searching for a tutorial like yours. The photo of the split macaron is fantastic and have cleared many of my doubts. I love your blog!!!

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  33. Mrs H

    Thanks for sharing your macaron ideas with us.

    I have a practical question. I see that the colouring gel is added before folding in the almond. Is it possible to put it at the end, separating the ready made "dough" so that it can be easier to make many colours?

    Thanks,
    George

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  34. Nope. Sadly you have to add the color when stated. If you divide the batter and then mix in colors you're pretty much guaranteed to over mix the batter. While I wish it were otherwise, we're stuck with one color per batch.

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  35. Just want to say that I enjoyed your posts. And 3 posts is not going overboard when it comes to understanding macarons. The Cordon Bleu in Paris spends 3 weeks JUST on the macaron. Yes - 3 weeks.

    Your macarons are beautiful and thanks again for sharing your knowledge. If you have any updates, please post them. I'm sure you've encountered a few additional issues since you've posted this tutorial.

    Thanks,
    Misheil

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