Macarons. Easy as 1,2,3…4,5,6
“One of my favorite things about teaching is that I get to learn too. Teaching is a beautiful way to contribute and a fun way to learn about each other, sharing stories and skills.” – Chef Sarah
By Chef Julie Wilson
Ok, so, making macarons is more than a 3-step process, but let’s break it down with Chef Sarah Cravedi leading the way.
I spent an afternoon in Chef Sarah’s Macaron class, and it was a real treat… pun intended. Everyone in the class learned the ins and outs of macaron making and had a pretty great time in the process.
Chef Sarah has been a pastry chef in Boston for many years, working in a variety of places along her way to CSCA, giving her the breadth of experience you need to become a macaron master. This can easily feel intimidating to many newcomers, but Chef Sarah put them all at ease right away. She let them know that mistakes often happen, and there’s no shame in that. You just have to get to the bottom of it through the process of elimination. She told the class that “baking is a practice in patience, and macarons are a great example of that.” When you’re having an issue with your recipe, stick with it, but “just make one adjustment at a time.” This way you can see if this is the root of your problem or not and be able to go from there. She also let them know that it’s alright if you don’t quite get it at first, as many people will say “It took me 100 tries to get this 1 macaron.” But she then said, “that’s not going to happen, we’re going to make beautiful macarons.” And so they did.
Let’s get started!
Chef Sarah Cravedi
Step 1: Making the Meringue
Meringue, so glossy and smooth, and important to the stability of the macaron. Chef Sarah started off by ensuring all her tools, especially her mixing bowl, were clean and dry, sans any fat particles. She noted that “Ideally, I think it’s good to crack them [the eggs] the day before and then pull them out a couple of hours ahead so that they are at room temperature when you use them. They whip up better at room temperature, but they separate better when they are cold.” From here, she whipped the egg whites she had separated at a steady speed. Chef Sarah said she likes “a nice steady speed for whipping my egg whites because it makes a stable meringue and that’s the key here. That’s the key to a stable macaron… one of many keys.” Once the whites got “nice and foamy”, she started to sprinkle in her sugar. “Don’t dump it all in. A real sprinkle.” She let the mixer go and told the class what they were looking for, “we want it shiny; the sugar dissolved. Whipping the meringue at a consistent speed, this could take anywhere from 5 – 10 minutes.”
As the meringue progressed, Chef Sarah decided to color it. “A little goes a long way. And the reason you want gel or paste or powder is so you don’t add any more liquid into the recipe. Add the color toward the end to the meringue so there’s no danger over mixing [the whole batter].” She added some pink and let the meringue continue to spin. Finally, the moment had come when she thought it might be done. “To check I’m going to stir this [the meringue] up so that it’s evenly distributed and I’m going to take my whisk straight up and flip it over.” Chef Sarah told us that the meringue hanging off the whisk should look like “a little bird’s beak”. Perfect. Time to move on to the next step!
Step 2: Macaronage
Before you go any further, check your almond flour! Chef Sarah said to make sure you “look for one that says super fine. If you don’t have super fine, put both your almond flour and your sugar in your Cuisinart and pulse it.” This is to make sure you can achieve a smooth texture for your macarons! She then noted that you need to “make sure you mix your powdered sugar and your almond flour together. We’re going to sift it.” So she began by sifting them together in a large bowl. This would also be the point where you mix in other flavors if you want to give the shell a different taste. Chef Sarah said, “I don’t normally flavor the shell, but I ground up chamomile tea and put that in there for a chamomile and lemon macaron [before].” She often punches up the flavors of her fillings instead to be on the safe side, because the batter can be temperamental. She did not flavor this batter with anything specific but instead got right into action.
Chef Sarah likes to mix the dry ingredients with the meringue in a few additions as opposed to just one, so she removed some of the dry, set them aside, and added the pink meringue to the larger flatter bowl to begin the macaronage. This is the process of combining the meringue with the almond flour and confectioners sugar by folding together. Chef Sarah explained that she was “going across from me and letting it fall. I don’t care that it looks like I’m doing nothing because it is doing something. Each time I’m turning the bowl like a quarter of a turn. Every now and then I’ll scrape the build-up off my spatula.” She was moving her spatula from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock and turning after each movement, letting the batter fall off her spatula with each turn of the wrist. After her second addition of dry ingredients, she proceeded with this process and said “You see every time I fold it’s getting looser. Each time it’s coming off the spatula more easily.” It was an excellent one-armed workout, but how will everyone know when they’re done? “It should sort of flow like lava,” she said. Once she got to that visual cue that it might be close to ready, Chef Sarah used the figure-8 technique of trying to make that shape with the batter hanging off the spatula into the bowl of batter below. The consistency that allows you to drag the batter into a figure-8 shape around the bowl, allows you to make perfect macarons! Looks like we’re ready to pipe!
Step 3: Piping the Macarons
One step closer to our ultimate goal of eating the macaron! To start, Chef Sarah got herself a piping bag and a large round tip to put into the end of the bag. She twisted the bottom so that once she got the batter into the piping bag, it didn’t immediately spill out onto her table or tray. When she was armed with a bag of filling and ready to go, she showed the class the proper way to pipe. “My bag is straight up and down, and about a 1/2 inch above the pan. I’m squeezing, and when I stop squeezing, I twist the bag away. To make the same size, I’m going to count in my head. One, two. We do want to be consistent with our sizes, so we can pair them up later.” All together that’s squeezing, consistent counting, and with a twist of the wrist, releasing pressure and pulling away to avoid that point on top. Easy, right? Right! You got this. Now for the most aggressive step.
Step 4: Banging the Trays and Setting Aside to Dry
“We want to ruin all our hard work and bang these trays to flatten out our macarons.” She was joking about ruining them, of course, but she was serious about banging the trays. Chef Sarah instructed the class to bang their pans on the table several times to flatten out those beautiful macarons they just worked so hard to incorporate air into. It does seem rather odd in the moment, but each of these steps is crucial to the success of a macaron. Chef Sarah let the class know that when “you can visually see air bubbles that have burst” then you can stop banging your trays against your table, and save your eardrums. Chef Sarah told the class that you can also take a toothpick and go through each macaron to ensure there are no bubbles if you’d like, but “you have to do this pretty soon after piping or, as you can see, my marks are sort of staying.” Once you’re bubble-free, you can add some decor to the top, if you choose, because they are still sticky enough to have it adhere to. Then you can set the trays aside to dry before baking. Chef Sarah told the class that “The air going across these is going to form a little crust. We know they will be ready to be baked when they are dry, you can gently slide your finger over the top of the macaron, and they’ve lost their shine.” Rest, little macarons.
Step 5: Baking, Cooling, and Making the Fillings
If the above criteria have been met, Chef Sarah says it’s time to get those macarons in the oven! Bake them at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes, depending on your oven. She checked to make sure they weren’t too jiggly when taking the macarons out of the oven by placing her finger on the top of one and moving it ever so slightly side to side. It shouldn’t wobble around, but rather, barely move and be firm to the touch. During the time the macaron shells took to bake and cool, Chef Sarah had the class make a filling of their choice. About half the class chose to make a flavored buttercream, and the other half made a flavored ganache. Now they were all ready for the final moments.
Step 6: Filling the Macarons
Time to put the finishing touches on their macarons. If they had not put any decoration on their macarons before sending them off into the oven, Chef Sarah told them now would be the time to sprinkle the tops with luster dust, drizzle with chocolate, paint with food coloring, etc. Then they could find the most like-sized macaron shells and pair them up on a tray. Chef Sarah said, “I like to line them up in pairs, one facing up and one facing down.” Then she filled her piping bag with her filling of choice and, using a star tip (or round tip), she piped a ring around the shell, smaller than the shell itself. She said that “you can also make a blob, but I like to make a ring and sometimes I put some jam or other filling in the center.” A surprise treat! Then Chef Sarah gently sandwiched them together. She said, “I don’t want the filling to spread out, but I do want them to adhere.” Just the right amount of pressure. And just like that, they were done!
Before they all departed, Chef Sarah left the class with some key serving tips, “They say that a macaron is at its best 36 hours after you fill them. They will mature. Some of the moisture and sugar will absorb into that shell. In 24-36 hours you should be able to bite into it and it’s one thing, not a shell and a filling. Store them in the fridge, because if you store them at room temp the top stays pretty crisp. Fill them a full day before you want to serve them.” Armed with this knowledge and everything else they learned in this class, they were ready to head out into the world and bring joy to their friends and family with magical macarons they made with Chef Sarah!
Hopefully, we’ll see YOU next time!