I had a career confidence crisis moment this week. Actually, it wasn't just a moment, it freakin' lasted all-week from when I had to step in to fill in for our team member who was making our macarons using my recipe at large scale. As we prepare for a quieter August we need fewer macarons so I thought no biggie, I'll just jump in and whip up a few smaller batches in no time - macaron making must be like muscle memory, riding a bike etc. How absolutely wrong was I?! I went about scaling down our recipe we use for large scale production (1,200 macarons a batch) and made some really ugly macarons, batch after batch. Spilling feet, blotchy hollow shells, blech. My confidence was shot to shizz; I mean I did this for 4 years, how could it be going so wrong?? There's nothing quite like having my own recipe fail on me when I thought it was idiot-proof.
When macarons are produced at large scale, there is a much higher tolerance in the recipe. This one time, in band camp, we even missed 2 or 3 litres of egg whites and it was just fine! We don't fold by hand (you physically could not fold 30 quarts of dough evenly) and everything is a lot easier to time. When they are made at much smaller quantities, 50-100 macarons, every minute and every fold counts.
Our Italian meringue recipe works a treat, and after seeing some photos on Instagram of our recipe being used by others I felt encouraged and had a Eureka moment of "Why am I wasting time scaling down?! I already HAVE a recipe that WORKS for small batches!!" Would you believe it, it bombed as well. TWICE. After scratching my head loads and throwing hissy fits I noticed that our sugar thermometer was off and I tried another batch with temperature guess work which of course is never recommended, but hey, I got cocky. And I got done for it, and was so depressed.
So what's a baker to do with macarons to make and no thermometer? Adapt and improvise, but not through guess-work, clearly. I searched high and low for a French Meringue macaron method that does not call for a sugar thermometer and found Brave Tart's recipe. Why did I choose to use hers as a starting point? Because I liked the way she wrote - she quashed a lot of common fussy conditions that many bakers, including myself, swear by, and defends her recipe like a true mac-warrior. I tried her recipe 5 times, with the first time yielding astonishing results - IT WORKED. Sure, it wasn't 10/10 perfect the first time, and I was so incredibly nervous and feeling under-equipped without my thermometer (even if broken!) but it only took a few more batches to finding my perfect "feet". I tweaked along the way and learnt from each batch and I am finally so happy to have got my groove back.
The beauty of this recipe is that it shaves off a lot of time - no weighing up of different measures of egg whites/sugars/water, no extra washing up from boiling sugar syrup, and NO WAITING for half an hour for piped batter to form a skin! I made a variety of flavours in just a few hours and was doing happy skips all day.
The observations I made throughout the batches has helped me perfect this and make it work for us. Here they are:
Quality - It matters. I used barn farmed (ie: sad caged hens) egg whites for my test batches. The meringue just was not whipping up. It remained "soupy", perhaps due to a higher water content. Switched over to good quality free-range egg whites, and the meringue stiffened right up just as it should.
Temperature - It matters. I used free range egg whites straight from the fridge and the meringue did not stiffen up as well as the room temp egg whites.
Macaronage ie the folding of meringue into the dry ingredients
Changing over from Italian meringue to French meringue was quite alarming. Both turn glossy but Italian meringue is a LOT stiffer, and French meringue is airier. Using a smaller bendy rubber spatula to fold smaller batches is key, and being gentle is advisable. It literally takes seconds from "just right" to over-folded. I found that folding just till a few light lumps are still visible is a safe bet and it evens out at the piping stage.
The original recipe calls for 148-149 Celsius. As we use a commercial oven 148 was actually too hot and caused the shells to crack and no feet (when temperature is too high, batter rises too quickly causing cracks and no feet). I then dropped the temp down to 140 for another batch and found teeny tiny feet. So finally I have found the holy grail for my oven, 144 Celsius, which gave lovely even frilly feet.
Every recipe needs work. After my week of failed batches I told myself that a warrior works through finding a way to make things work, and Stella's blog post helped me buckle up and get my groove back - Big Thanks Stella!
Here's my version of the Brave Tart's recipe that is adjusted for measurements of ingredients and temperature:
French Meringue Macarons Recipe
(Makes approx. 60 macarons ie 120 shells)
120g ground almonds
230g icing sugar
140g egg whites, free-range and room temp
70g caster sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of powder colouring, optional
1. Pre-heat oven to 143-148 degrees Celsius (you may have to test this out with your own oven). Pulse together the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor. I didn't bother sifting and it has had no effect on my results but if you want you can - it certainly doesn't hurt.
2. Place egg whites, sugar and salt into a SQUEAKY CLEAN (no trace of grease) electric mixer bowl and whip with a whisk attachment on just below medium speed (4 on KitchenAid) for 3 minutes. It should look like toothpaste foam by the end - loose, white and frothy.
3. Crank up the speed on the mixer to medium-high (7 on Kitchen Aid) for another three minutes. It should start looking like thicker shaving foam. Then, crank it up further to high (8 on KitchenAid) for another 3 minutes - this is where it stiffens up and clumps into the whisk attachment.
4. Add in any colouring desired (powder/gel only) and whip at the highest setting (10 on KitchenAid) for another minute and you're ready for the Macaronage. Remember, by now if you have not reached a stiff meringue, ditch it and re-start with new egg whites and a really clean bowl. Save your almonds!
5. Throw in the dry ingredients into the meringue at once and using a small bendy rubber spatula gently fold the meringue into the dry stuff.
Use even circular folding motions to bring in the meringue from the sides of the bowl into the powders through the middle.
You will need a maximum of 25-27 folds. If you keep folding till all lumps disappear I'm afraid you would have gone too far.
The batter needs to flow slowly, even if with a few smallish lumps.
6. Prep a piping bag with a 1cm round nozzle and fill it with a few ladles of the batter. Pipe on a silpat/parchment lined baking tray in small 2cm discs with gaps of about 3-4 cm in between each.
You can use this A4 template under your mat if you want (just remember to slide it out once you're done piping!).
Lift up the tray once piped and tap it against the work surface twice before sliding it straight into the pre-heated oven to bake for 16-18 minutes. You heard me right, NO WAITING BEFORE BAKING!
7. Once baked, pull them out and let cool on their mats.
You can now fill them with anything - Swiss meringue buttercream, ganache, or ice cream. I've filled these with vanilla and raspberry Swiss meringue buttercream and I love the cute contrast.
While this recipe is working like a dream for our small batches I do have to get a new thermometer ASAP for scaling up with Italian Meringue method as it is more stable. But till then, I'm off doing happy skips feeling like the MACDADDY!
Lots of love,