My long-overdue macaron post! I am of course no expert but since so many of you have asked, here are my thoughts on the tasty little things.
The basic recipe I've been using with such success can be found @ Travelers Lunchbox while the buttercream recipe I love is from My Tarteltte. (I orginially used it for the candy cane buttercream (which I make by adding the candy to the buttercream rather than just rolling the edges) but liked it so much that I use it as the basic base for all my buttercreams fillings.)
Macarons are really very simple, just persnickety. If you can make a meringue you can make a macaron. However there are a few tricks and, more importantly, a few variables you need to be aware of.
With macarons you are following an unshakable formula when it comes to the dry-wet ratio of sugar to egg whites to almonds. There is a great explanation of this ratio here. However the rest of a macaron recipe needs to be, um shall we say... flexible.
Variables in Macaron Making
1. Almond flour.
I've been using the same brand of flour from the same source and yet each batch is different in exactly how fine the almonds have been ground. It's a easy fix though, combine your flour with the powdered sugar and sift. (It will go through the sifter much better with the sugar - trust me!) If it will go through a sifter it will make nice macarons, it doesn't have to be almond dust.
2. Humidity / Climate
Don't take the word of a macaron recipe on how long the piped batter should dry out before baking. I've seen everything from 30 minutes to 6 hours. You'll need to experiment to find what the perfect time is for your climate. For me, living in Virginia and baking in the winter/spring, I get the best results when I let the piped batter sit for about 1.5 hours, depending on the relative humidity that particular day. In the summer I expect that time to increase a bit as the humidity increases.
The freshness of your eggs and whether they are organic, farm fresh or not can make a difference too so be aware of that. Do a test batch, letting your trays of piped macarons sit for various times to discover the "sweet spot" for you.
3. Oven temperature
Again don't take the word of the recipe on this. I found my macarons do best at a slightly lower temperature, I guess my oven is a bit hot? I also bake them for slightly less time. Do make sure that your oven is fully up to temp though before you start baking, especially if you are doing multiple batches and want consistency in the finished results.
</a>A Couple More Tips
Under-mixing is as disastrous as over-mixing. Macaron batter turns out to be much more hardy than you'd think - don’t be afraid to stir it like I was! You need to mix it until all the ingredients are combined and then continue to mix until small peaks of batter dissolve into a flat surface in the batter bowl. (The batter should not spread once it’s piped.) Putting it another way, it should have the consistency of flowing magma. So it should flow, not be stiff (note chocolate macarons will be a bit more stiff than other macarons) but do be careful - the difference between stiff and overbeaten can be one stir around the bowl!
Some recipes call for you to let the egg whites sit out for anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight before you whip them. I haven't found this necessary but be all means experiment yourself!
I also noticed some recipes (particularly the ones in French) want you to layer multiple baking trays when you bake the macarons. I experimented with this and found I actually got better results (better feet!) if I didn't. It's worth experimenting with though since it obviously works for someone. :>
Proper cooking parchment paper really does work the best. I've also tried silpat mats and wax paper with not so good results.
Gel food coloring works better than liquid food coloring, especially if you want a medium or intense color. Too much liquid dye tips the magical balance of the wet-dry ratio, resulting in runny batters and no feet on your macarons. For extra flavoring try a gel-based vanilla bean extract for the same reason.
Don't store them in plastic as they will get soggy. Or at least it does if you live in a more humid climate like me! I've found a cookie tin lined in wax paper keeps them the longest.
They taste much better if you fill them the night before and let the flavors meld. It's one the the real keys to having a crunchy outside and a chewy inside too!
My tips for good chocolate macarons is to use the recipe above (the chocolate variation is at the bottom of the page). Also because you can’t add more if the flavor isn’t chocolaty enough, be sure to use a very high quality organic coco powder. I tried an organic non-Dutch process last time and was really happy with it! I also add a dash of instant espresso powder. It intensifies the flavor making the chocolate taste more chocolaty, not tasting like coffee.
Man that is a lot to say about something I’m not an expert on! Well I hope that it is helpful and will help you not make some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Happy baking!