Macarons can inspire an obsession that cannot be easily shaken. Obviously I am hooked. I developed an interest in these delightful confections after curiously enough, a failed experiment where these little beauties ended up looking like flying saucers :).
Could this have challenged me? This probably did! Right after this debacle, I headed out to San Francisco where I sampled more of these delicacies at Miette and Bouchon. They tasted simply heavenly! I took back with me the memory of a sublimely chewy cookie and its sinful buttercream filling. I think this was precisely when my interest was picked and started to become the inklings of an obsession.
Consequently, I decided to do some research on it. My incessant googling brought me to several blogs whose authors seemed to have also caught the “macaron bug”. It was suggested that apparently, chocolate macarons are the hardest to make. Up until now, I have not quite determined the “why” in my readings. But I suspect that the cocoa and its acidity might be interfering with the egg whites. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I’ve also read that leaving the egg whites out for 48 hours – this idea could elicit an “Eww” reaction from most people – but it does seem that egg whites have natural anti-bacterial properties; besides which I am desperate! So one weekend, I separated around 12 egg whites and let them sit for at least 24 hours. The “Hungry Hubby” (HH) started kidding me that my egg whites would soon crawl off the counter pretty soon.
TEST I : Almond Macaron recipe with 24 hour aged egg whites
I started with a simple almond macaron recipe. I think I must have made a wrong measurement of the powdered sugar because it turned out extremely thick, almost like that of brownie batter. I wanted to throw out the batter but what the heck; I wanted to see what kind of cookies I could get out of that concoction. As I piped out each circle, I noticed that although it spread out a little, it settled nicely into a really fine round-like shape. After letting it sit for 30 minutes to develop a skin on top, I popped it (Okay, I set it carefully.) into the oven at 310F. I waited. After 5 minutes, I saw the beginnings of the requisite “foot”. I quickly hollered to HH, and started prancing around the kitchen. “They’ve got feet, they’ve got feet!” I enthused merrily. I took the tray out after 11 minutes of baking and I couldn’t be happier with how they looked.
TEST II: Pistachio Macarons with 24 hour-aged egg whites
Empowered, I immediately proceeded with the second recipe, the pistachio macarons from the lovely Tartelette. Jenny from “All things Edible” had great success with it too, so I was eager to try the recipe out. Again, I carefully mixed the dry ingredients to the meringue but the batter run a bit more than my first set of macarons. However, they piped quite easily without that dripping. They also developed feet! Enthralled by two successive baking experiments with two different recipes, I concluded that aside from having great recipes and techniques to work with, it must be the aged egg whites. I made chocolate ganache fillings for both.
TEST III: Chocolate Macarons with 48 hour-aged egg whites
I had some egg whites remaining so I decided to be brave and try the chocolate macarons the next day – it would also mean that I would be aging them for the full 48 hours. I debated on which recipe to use. I saw one at David Lebovitz’ website, but I ended up using Sherry Yard’s recipe in her new book, “Desserts by the Yard”.
I had a bumpy start. I accidentally measured the required almonds twice. It became hard to scoop out enough because I put them directly on top of the powdered sugar. I had the stiffest batter yet; I almost couldn’t pipe them out of a 12 pt tip to 1½ inch circles. My wrists were tired after all that and wondered what results I would be getting. Since they were bigger I left them 2 minutes longer, a total of around 13 minutes. Again, perfect feet, perfect macarons!
It looks like no matter what the recipe, the stars were aligned for me specifically to make macarons. This time I decided to fill the chocolate macarons with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delicious! Initially the chocolate macarons were more like cake inside but the “chewiness” developed the next day.
These same cookies were also easy to remove from the parchment with a flexible spatula.
Sooo … this saw the end of the macaron experiment, right? Wrong!
I wondered what would happen if I used eggs that were aged overnight, or eggs that were freshly separated the morning of baking. Also I would really like to over beat some of the batter just to see what would happen.
To keep most parameters the same, I used the same recipe for all of them. I used the following recipe:
Basic Macaron Batter
125 grams almond flour
225 grams powdered sugar
3 egg whites
25 grams of sugar
Pinch cream of tartar.
Preheat oven to 300 °F (I used 310°F to compensate for opening and closing the oven door).
Run the almond flour and powdered sugar through a food processor and sift twice.
Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat at medium speed. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the whites attain medium-peaks and are glossy.
Add your dry ingredients slowly to the meringue taking about six additions all in all. (See folding requirements below)
Pipe the batter to a diameter of an inch. And let rest for 30 minutes before baking.
Bake for about 11 minutes or until done, turning the sheets halfway through.
Test IV: Overnight egg whites on the counter. Beaten to “flows like magma” consistency.
Test V: Overnight egg whites on the counter. Beaten senseless.
Test VI: Morning-of egg whites. Beaten to “flows like magma” consistency
Test VII: Morning-of egg whites. Beaten senseless.
RESULTS. I noticed that the quality of the macarons weren’t as good as the ones I made with the 24-hour and 48 hour-aged egg whites. For one thing, the tops tended to sink into the “feet”, more so when the batter was over-beaten. When the eggs were fresh (separated on the morning-of) the crust appeared to be thinner and more fragile. It was also obvious that they couldn’t hold their nice circular shapes and tended to get deformed. For mixtures that received more folding, they still formed “feet”, but the feet had bigger holes and the top tended to separate and curved inward like mushroom caps.
Most of the macarons were difficult to remove with a spatula. I noticed that the bottoms were not crusted over (which would actually make them easier to detach). I had to peel the parchment away from the macarons because to exert any force on these little ones would make the top crack.
In summary of what I’ve learned so far (or to spare you from my ramblings above):
1. Make sure to measure and sift your ingredients properly. I’m not yet too fanatical about sifting because I do have problems grinding my nuts to powdered form – but I do make sure clumps of powdered sugar are broken up. I started measuring my ingredients accurately to the last gram after my first test yielded an amount of powdered sugar that was suspect.
2. Fold in your dry ingredients in at least 4 additions. Do not dump the whole thing into the beaten foam or you might end up with a runny batter.
3. I used a circle template by drawing them on the reverse side of my parchment paper. Resist to the urge to follow the outline with your tip, just keep your tip positioned about ½ inch above and in the middle of the round guide, the batter is going to spread out more evenly into the circle you want. If you have trouble controlling the flow of your batter and it keeps linking to two mounds together as you move about piping, chances are you’ve got an over-beaten mixture.
4. Rapping the sheet pan before baking had no effect on your end product. They do get rid of bubbles if this develops in your mixture.
5. Fresh egg whites develop thinner, more fragile skin which tends to break easily when you try to remove the macarons from the parchment paper. If your macarons stick, peel away the parchment paper rather than force the spatula to lift the macarons out. However, with the 24/48 hour aged-egg whites, the spatula slid easily under the macaron to detach them with no problem at all.
6. Moisture plays a vital role in macaron making. Whether in the egg whites, or in the air it definitely affects the quality of these French cookies. My initial conclusion as to why the aged-egg whites yielded almost invincible macarons was because they had less moisture content due to evaporation but still have the same amount of protein bonds. That was probably why I have seen macaron recipes that called for some dried egg white powder to be mixed into regular whites. Meringues have a tendency to weep, so even if you have beaten your batter to the right viscosity, your mixture might still get runny if the protein bonds break down – but if you have less moisture to begin then it would not be a problem. I figured the large holes and sunken caps of macarons from the “deliberately over-beaten batter” were because the protein bonds were not as dense and they were separated by water that would evaporate leaving those gaping holes.
I have researched this topic in Harold Mc Gee’s book. Though he did not specifically say that egg whites could safely be left at room temperature for a long period of time, he did mention interesting information of its composition. There are three proteins that are deemed effective in maintaining the integrity of the egg white. First is Ovotransferrin, which binds tightly to iron, making it useless to bacteria that thrive on it. Second is Lysozyme, which digests bacterial cell walls, and third is Ovomucin, which inhibits viruses. It’s quite amazing, is it not? What is contained in something as simple as an egg? There’s still the obvious fact that when macarons are baked at a temperature of over 300 F, every type of bacteria is eliminated.
Stay tuned for this ongoing saga in The Macaron Chronicles!
UPDATE : Instead of aging the egg whites as stated above, you can refrigerate it covered for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. You can also microwave the egg whites for 10 seconds in the microwave and have the same results.
UPDATE: 12/18/2009 New recipe:
140 grams almonds
200 grams powdered sugar
40 grams sugar
100 grams egg white
*If your egg whites have too much water content you can add 1 g of egg white powder.