I’m all about keeping it real on this blog, as those of you who read regularly will know. I have no problem posting dishes that don’t quite work out as they are supposed to or posting complete failures because one of my own pet peeves as a blog reader is blogs where people post about difficult dishes – like MACARONS – with no nod to the fact that they require practice and patience. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I have been a little, ahem, obsessed, with the not-so-humble macaron. Getting them right is important to me. Especially now I am teaching other people how to make them.
I’ve done a pretty decent job of the basics of French meringue macarons over the past year (see here for the description of the different types of meringue) and have been able to pass that on to others through my classes. But so often, people will ask about the Italian meringue method. You know, the one Hermé uses. The one Zumbo uses. The method I was taught over and over again last summer in Paris “because it’s more reliable.” I KNOW it’s more reliable. Of course it is. You’re cooking most of the egg whites before they even go near the oven, with a hot sugar syrup. So less chance of failure. Less chance of “no feet”. Less chance of cracking.
Why, then, do I persist with (and teach) the French meringue method? Because I have always felt (since the first class I took in Paris – at Lenôtre, where they DO use the French meringue method), that it required a true understanding of the chemistry of ingredients in baking. I really felt that if I understood how those ingredients worked together without the helping hand of the sugar syrup to cook the egg whites before the shells are baked, then I would be able to say I had mastered the macaron.
Recently though, just in the last few weeks or so, despite the fact that I feel I have had pretty good success with my French meringue macarons over the past year, I’ve started to experience the dreaded hollow shell (more on that on Wednesday). Despite doing what I have always done, despite not changing one single thing, I’ve been getting hollows. Most people don’t even care but when Neil notices and comments on it, then it’s time to figure out what is going on. I’ll be posting a “fix” on Wednesday for the French meringue method but in the meantime, I really wanted to try the Italian meringue method – for the first time on my own since all those classes in the summer. I figured now was as good a time as any, as I pondered the mystery of the hollow shells using the French meringue method. The arrival of this was also an incentive…
I’ve actually visited Zumbo’s patisserie in Sydney (excuse the dreadful pictures – I had only been blogging for 2 months) and was pretty impressed. I like that Zumbo’s macarons are not giant, like some you come across. But on the whole, I have not really been a fan of the consistency and texture of the Italian meringue macarons… I find the Italian meringue makes for a heavier, more substantial macaron so bigger does mean sweeter. I encountered this in Paris – where I found Hermé’s macarons overly sweet and just a teeny bit too big for my liking. So I figured in my experimentation, I would use Zumbo’s method (though I do own Hermé’s Macaron book) and my sizing. In general I tend to pipe my macarons much smaller than many people (about 1.5″ in diameter) and I figured that if they were that small, even if they were more substantial and sweeter, this might be acceptable to my own palate.
Zumbo calls for a much lower temperature than I am used to for baking the shells and also rests the shells pre-baking. I obediently rested the shells and baked them at 275˚F but the macarons were a little undercooked (beautiful, but undercooked) – the shells looked a little wet on top just out of the oven and even though this was not a problem after a couple of days (they dry out a little), I knew they were not baked enough. The second tray I baked at 300˚F and they were perfect.
I didn’t find the method very difficult – sure it dirties a few more dishes but what’s a few more? I actually found because I know what the batter is supposed to look like when it’s ready to pipe this was way easier than I expected it to be. What I found rewarding was the fact that there were NO cracked shells. And they ALL had feet (some of the pink ones were a little wonky which I later realised was because my baking trays are warped…). Considering I normally count on at least 5 or 6 cracking or not forming correctly (my oven has hotspots that normally make this happen with the French meringue method), this was hugely encouraging. And ok, the resting part (30 minutes before you bake the shells) is a bit annoying, adding time to something that I have pretty much got down to 45 minutes in the kitchen (for one batch of macs) but hey, during that 30 minutes resting time you get to pre-heat your oven and tidy your kitchen!
For the pink macarons, I used a tiny amount of powdered freeze-dried strawberry in the shells then again in the buttercream. I cooked them for the same amount of time as the chocolate ones but at 300˚F – just slightly higher. They were pretty perfect.
Ah yeah, I have some very lucky colleagues and neighbours. There have been a LOT of macarons around my house lately (even though I usually only make maximum 20 per batch, I rarely eat more than 1, if that). These days I’m more likely to be cutting into them (they don’t like to be cut into so you can see a cross section) to check what they look like on the inside…) than eating them. Though when I give them away and people start eating them, I will ask them to show me what they look like on the inside. Or, if they are not eating them right away, to send me a picture. Yeah. I am weird like that.
So what WERE these like in terms of texture? Well take a look for yourself:
Pretty great, if I do say so myself. Definitely chewier. But also definitely not hollow. These were declared my “best yet” by delirious oh-so-close-to-March-Break colleagues (I beg to differ about the chocolate ones but the strawberry ones were pretty darned good…). So yeah, M. Hermé, Mr Zumbo, I am declaring here that maybe after all, I DO like Italian meringue macarons. On my terms, you understand Crowd-pleasing, easy on the eye macarons? Who could ask for more?
I will definitely be experimenting more with this method. The sturdy-factor means that you can play a lot with the shells in terms of flavour (as well as adding things sprinkled over like nuts, coconut, sprinkles etc…). I love that they are reliable and that they transport well. All things to consider when one bakes many macarons a month and totes them with her all over town
*** I’m submitting these to Mactweets this month – their theme is Jour du Macaron celebration. Yup, it’s the Jour du Macaron on March 20th and for the first time, Toronto patisseries will be participating – I cannot wait!!!