All this month, the Food52 Baking Club is baking through Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery. Today, Club member and professional baker Timmy Gibbons shares why the book's recipe for macarons is his favorite and reveals his secrets for making perfect macarons, every time.
When I first started baking, few things really, truly intimidated me. (Maybe I was just naive, but I thought that if I loved it and followed directions, things would just turn out.) But I do remember being mildly intimidated by macarons. I really just had no idea how they worked, what they tasted like, or what the hoopla was. Blindly, I gave them a go and was amazed that my first batch turned out flawlessly.
Beginners luck? It appears to have been, because the next 539 batches were the ultimate test of my love for this craft. They leaned, they cracked, they spread, they sank, they browned, they bubbled, they failed. What's worse? I felt like I was flying blind. Back then (in 2010—gasp), there wasn't much literature on how macarons worked or the techniques that could make them successful, and there certainly were no YouTube videos.
I tried so many different things and was about to give up until I picked up a copy of Bouchon Bakery. The Bouchon recipe (along with a little interpretation from a pastry chef friend), really helped me hone the basic technique, and understand how simple they really are. (Simple, not easy!) I've used the Bouchon recipe countless times to create thousands of these little ladies, and, over the years, I've adapted it as well, to simplify the steps.
Regardless of which macaron recipe you use though, I have some takeaway tips to make sure your next batch is a great one:
I use really finely-milled almond flour, so I can dispense with the food processor and just sift my dry ingredients. (I haaaateeee cleaning the food processor, so I avoid using it at all costs.)
I sift everything through a fine mesh strainer into a large, shallow, stainless steel bowl. I got mine at a restaurant supply store, but you can get them online. I use it for everything from macarons to cake batter to salads. It's my most used bowl. Lightweight, and easy to clean. Love it.
I use a plastic bowl scraper to mix in the smaller amount of egg white into the dry ingredients, smearing the mixture along the sides of the bowl, scraping it back up again and mixing, smearing, scraping, until the mixture is homogenous and every last bit of dry is smoothed out and there are NO lumps. Lumps will make the piping of these so difficult, you will want to cry.
Set that aside. Unless you're planning on taking another hour to finish the recipe, you don't have to worry about covering it.
This next part always seems to stress people out, but it shouldn't! I get the egg whites mixing in a stand mixer on low-ish speed while I cook the sugar syrup. In my opinion, it's easier to get the sugar syrup to sit for a moment while the egg whites beat, instead of getting the delicate egg whiles to wait for the sugar syrup. But I don't fret about getting them ready at the exact same time, just roughly the same time.
When the egg whites are soft and fluffy (like wispy clouds), I pour in the syrup. I don't do this quickly, but I don't do it slowly either. Just relax and pour in a thin, constant stream, like you would do if you were trying to pour it through the opening of a water bottle. Not slow enough so it dribbles, but not fast enough that you lose control.
This next bit everyone seems to have a different opinion about. Some people whip the meringue until its absolutely, 100% cool, others use it right away. I split the difference. I give the mixture a mix on medium-high speed—I very, very rarely push my mixer to the highest speed—for just a minute or so and then use it. It's not cool, but it's not hot. I also add my coloring here.
Keep in mind that the color of your meringue will be lightened further by the addition to the almond mixture, and it will also take on a slightly golden hue. Sometimes, I add the color I'm looking for, and then also a teensy, tiny bit of violet color as well. It's a color-correction technique to get yellow-y undertones out. Either way, I stay pretty pastel when making macarons, as I feel like it's more inviting.
From this point on, I use my plastic bowl scraper to mix the ingredients. It is delicate when I need it to be, but I can use it to scrape the paste off the side and bottom of the bowl with less effort. I just feel like I have more control because It's more of a firm extension of my hand than a regular spatula.
I mix a third of the meringue in vigorously to lighten the mixture. Again, I make sure everything is extra smooth. You don't have to be gentle here, just get it smooth. I then dump the rest of the mixture in when I'm ready to do the delicate folding. Bouchon Bakery has you add the meringue gradually and tells you that you may not need all of the meringue, but I always always always use all of the meringue, and I always just dump it in.
The next step seems to be a well-kept French secret—it took me years to stumble across it. Macaronage is the technique where you continue folding the mixture past full incorporation until you've achieved the perfect consistency. "Hot lava" is one phrase I often see used to describe that consistency, but I just like "ribbon." The batter shouldn't plop, it should flow.
You have some room to play here—slightly less mixing and you end up with a taller shell, slightly more mixing and your shells are a bit more streamlined. I personally don't think either is better than the other—don't fret the small stuff! Bruno Albouze has a really good video on macaronage if you want to see this step in action.
I pipe the shells freehand. Some people like their templates, but I find that if I'm careful, they're all pretty even...and for some reason, every shell always has a twin. If you're not confident, make a template and save it—it can be reused. (I've seen people put masking tape tabs on the ends so that they're easy to slide out after piping so you don't have to put them in the oven.)
Regardless, I use a medium-sized round tip. I don't use a big ole 1A. I think mine is #12. Either the #12 or the 2A should work. What you want to do, though, is pipe a mound that flows gently from the tip...do not trace a round circle. I hold the tip about 1/4 inch from the surface and pipe. It takes practice, but its so satisfying when you get it.
After piping out the macaron batter, tap the sheet pan up and down rapidly on the counter FLAT (don't tilt the tray as you do it), then rotate the pan 180° and repeat.
Bouchon Bakery tells you not to rest the piped macaron, but I do. It's an extra insurance policy and it adds to the fail-safe nature of this method. I rest them for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the humidity level in the room, but I've rested them for hours before. There's probably a point where they get over-rested, but I haven't gotten there yet.
I bake them, one sheet pan at a time, in my oven at 300° F. I don't fool around with temperature changes and they always get volume for me. This step is where so many things can go wrong, though—so check your oven temperature accuracy! If it's off, you won't get good macarons, that's just that.
I bake macarons for 20 to 25 minutes (in my oven, they usually take 25), or until they don't move when I poke one. If there's any wiggle, keep baking. They should be set, but there should be no color. Rotate them a few times if necessary, as long as they've been in there long enough to set their outer shell after they rise, a rotation or two should not affect them.
When they cool, they should come cleanly from the parchment. If they don't, they're underbaked. Your first few batches might just be a test in how well you know your oven, but persevere.
If you don't have a copy of Bouchon Bakery yet, here are a few other macaron recipes to get you started:
All in all, if you've never made macarons before, have an expectation that they won't be perfect and then be thankful if they do turn out.