By Christina Brauer
I’m a passionate baker – passionate in this case meaning I’m not necessarily perfect at baking but I still love doing it. Although, now that I think of it, I might even consider myself a talented baker. I’m a talented baker that hasn’t been trained yet. Every time I mess up in the process of baking something, it ends up tasting good and even looks presentable. For me, talent is when you mess up but you still succeed somehow. That’s pure talent right there.
Now that my personal, definitely not common definition of talent is out in the open, I want to share a recipe my talent has failed at time and time again: the good old, French macarons. They have a reputation of being a bit tricky because of their rather complicated and moody batter. If the temperature isn’t right, the macaron shells won’t rise. If the folding technique isn’t right, they won’t rise. If the measurements are just slightly off – say it with me: they won’t rise! They definitely earned this reputation which I had to experience first-hand multiple times. Luckily, I came across a recipe for macarons by Tasty. After so many disappointments, I had little hope for the macarons to turn out nicely but lo and behold! There they sat on my baking sheet – well risen, picture-perfect macarons. I hope that by sharing this recipe alongside a few anecdotes from when things didn’t go as planned I can minimize the times you fail at making macarons. For me, macarons are a little spark of joy in life and it’s even better if they’re self-made. Sure, the journey might be hell but the end result is heaven. Trust me, the effort is worth it. On top of that, they’re just so pretty to look at and you can show off your baking skills to your friends and family at your next event. If that’s not a reason to make these macarons, I don’t know what is. So let’s get into the recipe!
Firstly, beat 3 egg whites (at room temperature) with an electric hand mixer in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Then gradually add 50g of granulated sugar and a pinch of salt until it is fully incorporated. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Also add in ½ tea spoon vanilla extract as well as about 2 drops of gel food colouring and mix until combined. Choose any colour you’d like your macarons to be, but definitely use gel food colouring because liquid ones and powders either mess with the consistency of the batter or fade in the baking process. Luckily, I didn’t have to find that out myself because I read that on the internet and I simply assumed that’s correct, as any enlightened person would do. But this actually seems like a pretty well-known fact in the world of baking.
A way to test if beaten egg whites are done and stiff enough is to turn the bowl upside down. If you like the risk, even flip it over your head. If I think about it now, I actually was at danger of this test going terribly wrong. Somebody once told me to start adding sugar to the egg whites when they start to foam up. However, little me didn’t quite understand this instruction and added the sugar way too early for probably the first three times beating egg whites. They always ended up runny. Then I learned that you should actually whip the egg whites until they’re already pretty stiff on their own and then add the sugar. Is it just me who always got this step wrong at first? Anybody? No? Just me? Okay then…moving on!
Next, you will need 95g of ground almonds. Most recipes will tell you to process the ground almonds further in a food processor. Doing so makes the macaron shells extra-smooth on top but honestly, I found it’s not worth the hassle, especially not if you don’t have a food processor like me. Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying to grind the ground almonds nevertheless. The first time, I attempted to use a hand blender. Eventually, I figured it wasn’t meant for powdery and loose substances like ground almonds. They just stuck to the bottom of the bowl and the blender couldn’t get all the way to the bottom. On the next try I figured a mortar would be a good idea. After an hour of grinding already ground almonds in vain, I had to accept that it was a bit too ambitious of me to think I could efficiently grind 95g of almond flour. In hindsight, I should’ve already given up when I saw that the only mortar we had was this tiny mortar that you usually grind small amounts of herbs in. The third time, I had already given up on pulverising the almonds. In my opinion, this step isn’t even necessary unless these macarons are supposed to be sold in a fancy bakery. In this case, I would suggest actually splurging on a food processor.
Back to the recipe. Take your 95g of ground almonds, 210g of powdered sugar and another pinch of salt, combine them and gradually sift the mixture into the beaten egg whites. Even though we skipped the step of pulverising the ground almonds, I have to insist on sifting these ingredients. Skipping the sifting would cause major lumps in the batter and we might not care about slightly uneven macaron tops but we don’t want lumpy macarons.
Sift in about 1/3 of the powdered sugar and ground almonds at a time, take a spatula and gently fold the ingredients in until combined. The best technique for folding is to move the spatula the way they move their wands for the spell “Alohomora” in Harry Potter. Starting at the top, draw a circle with the spatula and then move the spatula down the middle, “cutting” the imaginary circle in half. You know the batter is ready if it falls into ribbons and you can draw the figure “8” without the batter interrupting.
Transfer the macaron batter into a piping bag fitted with a round tip and pipe 3-cm circles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Don’t draw actual circles but pipe the batter evenly onto one spot only until it reaches about 3-cm in width. It will create this perfectly round blob of batter. After you’re done piping, slam the baking sheet onto a flat surface a few times (or tap it, if you’re not of aggressive nature) to release any air bubbles. But make sure to warn the rest of your household and be mindful of any easily scared animals that might be around. Then let the macarons sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until they’re dry to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 150°C and bake the macarons for 17 minutes, until the feet are well-risen and the macarons don’t stick to the parchment paper. Let them cool completely before filling them.
In terms of the filling, the world is your oyster. Don’t put an actual oyster on your macaron though. Instead, consider any flavour of jam, buttercream, chocolate ganache or any kind of chocolate spread. Me and my friends once attempted to make a raspberry jam filling. The recipe seemed simple: let the jam and a bit of lemon juice come to a boil, take it off the heat and the jam should have a more gelatinous consistency so that it doesn’t drip off of the macaron. Well, we successfully proofed the simplicity of this recipe wrong. One of my friends got out a pot, put it onto the stove and turned on the heat without the jam being in the pot. Of course the pot got boiling hot and I realised it made weird noises so I said something like: “The pot is getting really hot. Why is nothing in there?” In retrospect, we should’ve seen the catastrophe coming when one of us poured the jam into the boiling hot pot. Needless to say that the extreme heat and the sugar in the jam didn’t mix well. Let’s just say, the pope apparently hadn’t been elected that day because the smoke was as black as it could get. The one at whose house we were baking at, took the pot and ran outside. By the way, the rain was pouring that day. Before anyone wonders, the pot did not survive, sadly.
Today, I’m understandably sceptical towards jam fillings which is why I’m going to explain how to make the classic vanilla buttercream. In a large bowl, add 230g butter and beat it with a mixer for one minute until light and fluffy. Sift in 360g powdered sugar and beat again until it’s fully incorporated. Then add one teaspoon vanilla extract as well as 3 tablespoons of heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, and beat to combine until it has reached the desired consistency. Transfer the buttercream to a piping bag and add a dollop of buttercream to one macaron shell. Top it with another macaron shell to create a sandwich and repeat this process with the remaining macaron shells and buttercream. Place the macarons in an airtight container for 24 hours to “bloom”, which gives the macarons this perfect consistency they have in a French bakery. And that’s it – you mastered the art of making macarons!
I really hope that me messing up helped you not to. To be honest, messing up is 100% worth it if someone else can learn from my mistakes. So please give some purpose to my mistakes by trying this recipe and hopefully not failing at it. But if there’s anything to learn from this recipe and my little stories behind it then that you should never give up and quit trying because success only comes with trial and error – except if you’re the common (and not my) definition of being talented.