Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Making of French Macarons - Secrets of Success

As there are many blogs that address ratios of almond flour to icing sugar; temperature of ovens; positioning of racks; and perhaps rubbing a crystal ball before your begin so that you may obtain the pied (the ruffle around the bottom of the macaron), which will bring even the most talented pastry chefs to their knees.  I am not going to bore you or be redundant regarding the above; however, I will take you through each step and when possible, show you what each step is supposed to look like. In the near future, I will be making a video demonstrating from start to finish how to make these jewels.  

Further, it should be noted that I make French Macarons using the Italian Meringue method as they produce a sturdier and tastier shell.

A French Macaron should be just slightly crunchy on the outside and chew on the inside and yes it MUST have a pied. I have tried so many different recipes, some of which resulted in French Macarons that were cake like; no feet no matter what I did, including praying to macaron gods if they even exist; and some were just awful.  With that said, my advise to you is to practice, practice practice.  

After a few months and yes I mean months, of making French Macarons, I have finally mastered them.  In fact, I can bake 300 hundred macarons a day and I know with certainty that I will have a pied (ruffle around the bottom of the macaron) and they will be baked to perfection.  How you may ask????  I will say it again, practice, practice, practice.  I must have obliviated hundreds of eggs for egg whites, but in the end it was worth it.

You will have to go through many trial and errors before you know your oven's hot spots; what temperature to bake and for how long; and what is macaronnage?  How do you know when the batter is ready?  All these questions will be answered by following my techniques.

Every French Macaron batter contains 2 (two) additions of  egg whites. The first addition is poured over the almond flour and confectioner sugar and the second is placed by itself into the bowl of your stand mixer.  

There seems to be several schools of thought and/or disagreements among macaron makers and recipe book authors, as to whether the egg whites have to be "aged/liquified" prior to making macarons.  (It should be noted that aged egg whites are also referred to as liquified egg whites").   

The first school of thought, which is widely held by the French, and considered the holy grail, is that aged egg whites must be used for macarons.  In fact, Pierre Herme, who was dubbed by Vogue "the Picasso of Pastry", only uses "aged/liquified egg whites."  Pierre Herme, explained the importance of "liquified/aged egg whites. I provided you with an excerpt below

......." liquified egg whites are egg whites that have matured for at least several days to a week in your  refrigerator.  By separating your eggs and placing your egg whites in a clean bowl, covered with plastic wrap and holes punched in the top.  During this time your egg whites lose their elasticity, the albumen  breaks down and they will be much easier to whisk to soft peaks without the risk of running grainy. Also you don't have to worry about bacteria because the sugar added to the egg whites is at a very high temperature that it kills any bacteria.

The second school of thought which I have read in various recipe books and food blogs, is you can simply use egg whites immediately after you separate them.

The third school of thought is to separate your egg whites the night before you want to make them and leave the out overnight on your counter or kitchen table.   

So, I put these schools of thought to the test.  I have tried all three methods, several times, and performed a considerable about of research regarding the loss of elasticity and albumen breaking down.   

Verdict:  Aged/liquified egg whites do make a considerable difference.  First, the pied (the ruffle around the bottom of the macaron, which seems to give most people the most trouble), was very high, in fact impressively high; second, the batter had a better consistency; and therefore my macaronnage was perfection.  Take my advice and plan ahead and age those egg whites.  

I always have at least 1,760 grams of aged egg whites in my refrigerator at all times.  Keep in mind, I do sell French Macarons, so I always keep enough on hand at all times for at least 8 (eight) batches daily.  If  you are just planning to make a few batches just measure a little more than what you need, as the egg whites evaporate a little during the aging process.     

I will show you what the proper macaronnage should look like, but the only way to learn is to get a feel for the batter as you incorporate the ingredients.  

Equally important is the itallian meringue, which must be first made with sugar on the stove stop and carefully poured into the egg whites, until soft peaks.  Well, when I first started, soft peaks to me were not what is was to the French.  After many months of practicing I finally perfected the French Macaron.

I will guide you through the steps, but if you want to learn the art of French Macarons, again you must practice, practice and practice some more.  I can now make French Macarons in my sleep with perfect and consistent results each time.  

One last important point..... "Mise en Place"  SO VITALLY IMPORTANT!!!   Mise en Place is a French phrase which means "everything in place", as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., spices, eggs butter chocolate, etc.)

Recipes are to be reviewed several times  before you begin to bake to check for necessary ingredients and equipment. Ingredients are measured out, washed, chopped, and placed in individual bowls. Equipment, such spatulas and blenders, are prepared for use, and ovens are preheated. Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints.
It also refers to the preparation and layouts that are set up and used by line cooks at their stations in a commercial or restaurant kitchen.

I am also finicky about what ingredients I use.  Of course I use only French Butter, Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal which I buy here Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour; I use ONLY Valhrona French Chocolate, which I buy here Chocosphere.     Also, you cannot even begin to to make French Macarons without a Eat Smart Digital Scale and a digital candy thermometer, I use Maverick CT-03 Digital Candy and Oil Thermometer

Now that the above is out of my system, let's get baking:

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