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Making macarons, (always) a work in progress

Macaron eggs filled with lemon curd cream cheese frosting on eatlivetravelwrite.comIf you’d told me five years ago to apply to a campaign where I would commit to making, photographing and posting about macarons during the busy holiday season, I would have told you to rethink that plan. But here I am, six years after publishing my first (disastrous) attempt at making macarons on my own (be kind, it’s not pretty), committing to posting a macaron recipe with absolute certainly it would succeed.

It’s been a long journey to macaron success over here. Those of you who have been reading for years will remember 2010 as the year I took on the macaron.  Don’t get me wrong – macarons are not as complicated as many people think but nor are they simple. To understand them takes patience. And practice. And that’s what I did.  From December 2009 until around April 2011, I made   macarons fairly consistently. My teacher colleagues loved that period when nearly every Monday morning there would be new  macaron experiments to taste! But during that time, macarons were a constant source of frustration to me. I would regularly bake batches that were perfect, then the very next batch were duds. And there were SO many times that I wanted them to be perfect (like Christmas 2010) but they wouldn’t cooperate. People would ask me to bake batches for special occasions but I couldn’t. I just never knew how they would turn out. They were NOT the baked good you wanted to promise to a cookie exchange. They were not the treat you would promise for a New Year’s Eve party. In short, macarons didn’t used to be the guest I’d bring to any holiday party.

This holiday season, Egg Farmers of Canada have invited everyone to embrace the good, bad and the tasty of entertaining with their #ScrambledPlan holiday celebration.  Because, as we all know, things don’t always go according to plan. I’ve decided to share a little of that “scrambled” year of trying to perfect macarons – what could have simply become the ultimate in baking disaster stories, except that this one has the happiest of endings – beautiful macarons that celebrate all parts of the egg – white and yolk! But for so, so long, I wasn’t able to produce macarons “on demand” and they were part of some pretty regular kitchen disasters.

Early in my macaron-making quest, I joined an online baking group called “Mac Tweets” – a group who met on Twitter, and who bonded over macaron-making, From 2009 – 2012, we would bake macarons each month and post about the results (good or bad!). Over that period, time and time again I picked myself up after disaster after disaster or inexplicable situation after inexplicable situation to work to get it right.

Another key factor in my journey to macaron success was a class I took just weeks after that initial disastrous debut into mac-land. I’m lucky to say I “found my (macaron) feet” in Paris learning from a professional pastry chef at Lenôtre.  François Schmitt made macaron-making look pretty easy peasy but when I was back home baking in my kitchen, my results were inconsistent. Sometimes they were BEAUTIFUL, sometimes they were duds. It was SO frustrating! A few times I offered to bake these for special occasions but the pressure always seemed to get to me and either I chickened out, making something else or I made them and they didn’t work out perfectly so I had to make something else anyway. Siiiiiiiigh…..

My “lightbulb moment” came in early 2011 when I happened across Brave Tart. Written by Stella Parks (who would become one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Pastry Chefs in February 2012), I noticed the site included some macaron resources.  As a pastry chef who baked macarons every single day in bulk, I figured Stella must know her stuff. It was her “Macaron Mythbusters”article that convinced me to give her recipe a go. Stella essentially busts many of the myths associated with baking macarons. You know the ones… About how long to age the egg whites for, how you should baby the mixture, how you should dry them before baking, how you should never bake them in humid weather etcetera, etcetera….  If you’ve read anything ever about macarons, you’ll recognise one or more of those “myths”.  Stella’s recipe is pretty plain-talking. No luck necessary.  I made my first batch of Stella’s recipe in March 2011. And haven’t looked back since.  But it hasn’t all been plain sailing…

Practice makes perfect

That’s right, like most things worth doing, getting macarons right – in your kitchen with your equipment and ingredients – requires practice. I receive so many emails from people telling me they’ve made one or two batches that haven’t worked out and they feel discouraged. Well here’s the thing: In 2010 and 2011, I probably made on average a batch (if not more!) a week. Sometimes multiple batches in a weekend. I tested Stella’s recipe, tweaked it, had success, had some failures, had some inexplicable issues but the key to me being able to actually teach other people how to make these today is that I worked on ONE RECIPE. Over and over again. So I understand it inside and out. In my kitchen, in other kitchens. That old saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try again, well that is my advice. Take one recipe. Work with it. Learn how the ingredients interact with each other. Learn to understand the recipe.

And if you don’t have the time to practice over and over again, my recipe is pretty darned foolproof. Like the macarons in this post prove. Even in the midst of crazy holiday baking and a busy schedule, these came out perfectly. No fuss. No praying to the macaron gods. No more kitchen disasters. Finally, this holiday season I CAN promise macarons for special occasions!

The recipe I am sharing today celebrates all things EGGS: They’re meant to look like eggs* and are filled with lemon curd folded into cream cheese frosting – to use all parts of the egg (yolk and white!). Curds and custards are a great way to use your yolks! And hey, what food can bring more wholesome goodness, convenience, and versatility to a holiday meal more than eggs? From party appetizers, to quick dinners when you’re on the go, to desserts, eggs are a “must have” in your fridge this holiday season. Not to mention, the more than 1,000 Canadian farmers across the country who produce fresh, local and high-quality eggs for all your holiday cooking needs. So hey, here’s to the egg farmers. I wish I could send macarons to you all!

(*note: to achieve the two colours, I divided the batter as soon as my dry ingredients were roughly incorporated into the meringue then coloured a small amount yellow)

Egg macarons filled with lemon curd on eatlivetravelwrite.com

Basic French meringue macarons

Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 16 mins
Total Time 1 hr 1 min

Practically no-fail French meringue macarons.

Serves 40     adjust servings

Ingredients

  • 115g ground almonds (store bought and sifted before you weigh or home ground in a spice grinder and sifted before you weigh)
  • 230g icing sugar
  • 144g egg whites (separated, covered in plastic wrap and left at room temperature for a few hours)
  • 72g granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Make sure egg whites are at room temperature.
  2. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
  3. Prepare a 14” piping bag with a plain tip (I use Ateco 803), twist the bag at the tip end and place inside a glass to facilitate filling the bag.
  4. Combine almond flour and powdered sugar (and freeze dried fruit powder or cocoa powder) in a food processor, pulsing about 10 times for a few seconds, until all ingredients thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Sift dry ingredients twice using a fine sieve and pressing the mixture through with your hands and set aside.
  6. Using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and sugar at a low speed (KitchenAid 4) for 2 minutes, medium speed (KitchenAid 6) for 2 minutes and a high speed (KitchenAid 8) for 2 minutes. The egg whites will be a large mass at this point; don’t worry!
  7. If using food colouring, add the powder and mix for one minute at the highest speed (KitchenAid 10). If not using food colouring or if colouring two different colours, you should still whip at Speed 10 for 1 more minute here.
  8. Add the dry ingredients to the egg whites. You can do this all at once – don’t be shy!
  9. Fold the mixture, at the same time pressing it against the sides of the bowl to deflate the mixture. Fold this mixture about 40 times (counting single strokes), stopping every couple of strokes after 25 to check the consistency. It should be lava-like, flowing in ribbons off the spatula.
  10. Transfer the mixture to the piping bag, sealing the open end with a twist and holding firmly with the hand that will not be actively piping.
  11. Pipe four tiny dots of mixture under the corners of the parchment paper to make sure it stays put.
  12. Pipe your macarons, holding the piping tip at an angle to the baking sheet, about 3cm in diameter (they will spread during cooking), and quickly removing the tip when you have finished piping, making a shape like a comma. Rap the tray four times on each side hard on a countertop to remove any remaining air bubbles.
  13. REST the tray of macaron shells for 30 minutes before baking. At this point you should pre-heat the oven to 300˚F.
  14. Place the tray of macarons on an empty baking tray and bake for 16-18 minutes at 300˚F, turning the tray from back to front halfway through.
  15. Remove from oven and let the tray sit for a few minutes.
  16. Remove the parchment from the tray and place on a cooling rack and allow the macarons to cool completely. Remove from parchment paper.
  17. Pair up like shells to facilitate the filling process.
  18. Once completely cool (preferably the next day - store them at room temperature in an airtight container), fill with ganache or filling of your choice.
  19. Ideally, place the filled macarons in an airtight container in the fridge overnight. Best enjoyed 24 hours after filling.

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Lemon curd cream cheese frosting

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 30 mins

Lemon curd swirled into cream cheese frosting. So versatile but particularly good for filling macarons.

Serves approx 4 cups     adjust servings

Ingredients

For the lemon curd

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 160g (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 125 mls (1/2 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 85g (6 tablespoons/ 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes

For the cream cheese frosting

  • 250g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted

Instructions

  1. For the lemon curd:
  2. Mix eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in heavy saucepan with a wire whisk until well blended and smooth (you can also do this over a water bath - bain marie - if you are nervous about the direct heat).
  3. Continue to whisk as you cook over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the curd is thick and will coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Remove saucepan from the heat and whisk the butter in, one piece at a time. Once all the butter is combined in the curd, transfer the mix into a cool jug or bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (ideally, overnight).
  5. For the cream cheese frosting
  6. Combine cream cheese and butter with an electric hand-held beater or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until soft and creamy.
  7. Gradually add the icing sugar (to taste – I like mine on the tart side), mixing to combine well.
  8. Fold in about ¼ cup of the lemon curd - you don't want to add too much for filling macarons because it will be too wet and make the macarons soggy.

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Egg macarons with cream cheese lemon curd filling on eatlivetravelwrite.com

For videos showing each stage of macaron making, see this post.

You’ll find my key tools for macaron success on my Macaron Resource Page!

Feel you need a little more practice? I offer classes in Toronto!

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What about you – has there been ONE dish you’ve struggled to perfect? How did you overcome your disasters?

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Disclosure: I received compensation exchange for promoting Egg Farmers of Canada’s #ScrambledPlan.  As you will know, opinions are 100% my own and I only recommend products I have tried myself and love. Also, I use a LOT of eggs when I bake. Like, a lot.

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11 Responses to Making macarons, (always) a work in progress

  1. Mr. Neil December 16, 2015 at 08:09 #

    Well THESE certainly aren’t destined for the cimtière des macarons – they’re delightful! 😉

  2. Geoff December 16, 2015 at 18:23 #

    Oh my….how you can remain so enthusiastic about a macaron never ceases to amaze me. It just looks so potentially hazardous and with 19 instructions in the recipe, something like a chore. Your dedication is admirable.

    • Mardi Michels December 17, 2015 at 15:14 #

      Ah I like to get things right…. And 19 steps, yes, but it’s ONE thing per step so it’s easy to follow. Next time you are in Toronto or I am in Sydney, you can take a class. It’s easier than you think 😉

  3. Marie December 17, 2015 at 08:53 #

    Oh Mardi, your love/hate relationship with macarons sounds so much like mine! I often feel like we’re macaron soulmates. Do you think we’ll ever get to bake some together? Now that would be amazingly great! It sure looks like you’re having a love/love relationship with them now–well, most of the time, maybe–and yes, practice is the one and only key to macaron making. I love what you’ve done here, I’ve never attempted to mix colors in the shells yet, I’m taking this as a challenge! Happy holidays to you <3

    • Mardi Michels December 17, 2015 at 15:13 #

      I would LOVE to bake macarons with you someday!!!

  4. Charmian @TheMessyBaker December 17, 2015 at 15:41 #

    You are now officially The Macaron Maven. I LOVE these! They look so sunny-side-up. And the lemon curd is a perfect filling. I’m enchanted!

    If you do make macarons with Marie, invite me too! I’d love to see you in action.

    • Mardi Michels December 21, 2015 at 01:02 #

      Charmian I’d love to see you at a class sometime 🙂 And I don’t know about “Maven”. More like obsessed and determined!

  5. Tasha January 11, 2016 at 23:52 #

    These are adorable. I took a macaron making class, now I’m obsessed with perfecting them. I’d really like to make some that look like eggs, but I don’t understand how you did it.
    You said you divided the batter, but how did you get a yellow center? I’m sure once you tell me, I’ll go “doh! so simple.” Thanks!

    • Mardi Michels January 12, 2016 at 05:53 #

      Hi Tasha, Like I said in the post, I divided the batter as soon as my dry ingredients were roughly incorporated into the meringue then coloured a small amount yellow.

      • Tasha January 12, 2016 at 23:34 #

        I saw that you said that in the post but I wasn’t sure how you brought the two colors together. I’m guessing that you outlined the macaron with the white batter and filled it in with the yellow batter so when it baked it look like an egg?

        • Mardi Michels January 13, 2016 at 05:36 #

          No, I piped a white macaron and added a tiny amount of yellow on top and made sure to rap the tray down hard to blend the two colours evenly to make one macaron.

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