Foolproof Macarons: The How-to Guide

Ever since I did a project on French cuisine, I’ve been obsessed with certain little almond meringue cookies called macarons. Now, I use the term “cookie” loosely because I really have no idea how to categorize these finicky little things. And this obsession was reignited with a fiery passion after trying macarons made by Pierre Herme.

After that moment, I proceeded to waste an obscene amount of egg whites, almonds, and sugar. It wasn’t like I was planning on eating all those calories, so in the trash went each cracked and misshapen batch. 

However, after testing various ratios and temperatures, I’ve finally come up with what I’ve deemed as the perfect macaron recipe, which also happens to be very simple.

Basic Macarons (French Meringue) 

Makes 32 shells (16 macarons)

50 g ground almonds, blanched

50 g confectioners sugar

40 g room-temperature egg whites (around one large egg)

40 g white sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F (This is the ideal temperature for my oven. Because each oven is different, you may want to start at 325 F. I know that my oven is on the cooler side, which is why my temperature is higher than normal, so make adjustments according to your oven.)

1. Sift the almond meal and confectioners sugar together. Set aside.

2. In a pristine mixing bowl, start whisking the egg whites at a high speed.

3. Once it begins foaming, start slowly pouring in the sugar. Continue whisking the egg whites until glossy and medium-stiff peaks appear.

4. Pour in 1/3 of the almond meal/confectioners sugar mixture in and fold it in    thoroughly using a spatula. There’s no need to be extremely gentle at this stage. This step is called the macronnage and it is key to the success of the macarons.

5. Pour the rest of the almond/confectioners sugar mixture into the egg whites and fold it so that everything is incorporated thoroughly. The mixture should become more glossy and it should be able to form ribbons when lifting the spatula. However, there is still more folding to be done. Be more gentle at this stage. The egg whites should not be able to hold their form, and they should slowly sink down until somewhat flattened. When making a ribbon on the surface, the ribbon should sink in and disappear at around 20 seconds.

   

6. Fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe onto parchment paper or a silpat mat. When piping the macarons, keep the piping tip still while piping to get a round macaron. Swirl the tip on the top to finish piping. If you’re like me and you can’t pipe evenly spaced or sized macarons for your life, a handy-dandy template will do the trick. I used this one from yumarama.com and I’ll never go back again. Print two to fit on either half of the baking pan and lay your parchment on top. Make sure to slide out the paper before baking it! The batter should perfectly fit one pan.

By the time you finish piping a row of macarons, the first macaron you piped in the row should already be almost perfectly settled.

7. Tap the pan to get rid of the air bubbles within the batter. Sometimes, using a toothpick to burst the bubbles at the surface can really help. Let your macarons rest until a skin forms on top. The macarons will become less glossy as the skin forms.

8. Put the macarons in a preheated oven, with an empty pan on the rack below it. Having the double pans lets the macarons rise more evenly, especially if you have an oven with uneven temperatures. If you started at 350 F, turn the temperature down to 325 F at around the 5-6  minute mark. Rotate the pan when you decrease the temperature.

9. The macarons should be done at 12-13 minutes. If the tops don’t move from the feet when nudged, they are done. The macarons should not brown, but slightly overcooking is better than undercooking. The macarons will stick and the feet will shrink if they are undercooked. Once you add the filling and refrigerate it overnight, slightly crunchy macarons as a result from overcooking won’t be a problem. Gently remove the macarons from the parchment and let it cool on a wire rack.

– If your macarons are cracked on top and/or there are no feet, it is probably a mixing problem. You might have over or undermixed during the macaronnage step. Letting it rest (if you haven’t already done so) may also help.

– If the macarons don’t smooth out on their own after you’ve piped them, you’ve undermixed.

– If your feet look like they exploded and have overgrown, decrease your oven temperature. However, if your feet look very small and minimal, increase the temperature. The feet should start to form at around the 4-5 minute mark.

– If the macarons have crooked feet, use the double pan method as the temperature in your oven isn’t equal. Often, the macarons around the edges of each batch come out crooked due to my terribly uneven oven, despite using a double pan.

– Aging your egg whites isn’t really necessary, but having them at room temperature helps a lot. They whip up much faster and easier. Separate your egg whites straight out of the fridge then let the egg whites come to room temperature.

– If your macarons stick to the baking sheet or the feet shrink after coming out of the oven, bake them for a little longer. Each oven is different so baking times and temperatures will differ as well.

– You technically should blanch your almonds but I’m just lazy. The little specks you see are the skin – I call them specks of lazy. Quite fitting, I think. However, if you decided to blanch them, make sure to dry them!

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24 Hours in New York

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I know what you’re thinking – 24 hours in New York? There’s no way you’re going to finish seeing the city in one day. But hey, one day is better than nothing, right? Having never been to New York before (nor anywhere on the East Coast), I was peeing in my pants a little exited. And having heard countless stories about the myriad of dining options, I then found myself in somewhat of a pickle. Where am I going to eat? I had way too many ideas and not enough time (and probably not enough funds either). And being the self-proclaimed tourist that I am, I couldn’t exactly leave New York without checking out Times Square or Central Park. So I sought a balance between the two and this is the result.

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First thing I did after arriving in New York after a red eye flight was to get a MetroCard. Public transportation is basically nil in California so I was going to be taking full advantage of the subway. Unfortunately, the MTA ended the unlimited one day Fun Pass (which would’ve made my life a whole lot easier) and I had to continually refill throughout the day. One thing to keep in mind is the transfers. With every ticket, you can get a free subway-bus transfer within a two hour time frame. We ended up staying on the island of Manhattan, and we first visited Columbia University. It’s in a stellar location and the campus was beautiful but come on, I didn’t come to New York City to listen to financial aid seminars! We then walked through Central Park (where they were filming a Ben Stiller movie; I may have seen the back of his head… which is an unconfirmed, and highly improbable fact) and down to Times Square. Now, let me tell you something I learned the hard way. On the map that the hotels give you, the southern tip of Central Park and Times Square look maybe 3 blocks away. In real life, it’s more like 13. Not such a pleasant surprise when your feet are already unhappy with you. So don’t do what I did – take the metro. After checking out some of the attractions in that general area (Rockefeller Center, anyone?) we then took a bus down to SoHo where we proceeded to kill our feet once again walking through Chinatown, Little Italy, and up to Union Square. The following morning, we snuck in a quick visit to Wall Street before flying out to Berlin.

And now comes the good part; what did I eat?

Veniero’s

After having heard so much about its cheesecakes and various Italian pastries, Veniero’s was the first place I visited, with my high expectations in hand. They claim to have first opened in 1894 and were voted ‘Best Desserts in New York City’ in 2010. Needless to say, I was expecting to be blown away by a plethora of old school, authentic Italian desserts. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – far from it, actually. Coming up to the pasticceria, the old school New York façade with the neon lights instilled a hope within me – a hope that I would soon be reunited with real good Italian cheesecake that I haven’t had since I was in Florence. However, everything went downhill after stepping foot into Veniero’s. The first thing I noticed was the amount of people in the store – or rather, the lack of people. We were the only ones in the store but no fear, I was not to be deterred from my slice of cheesecake quite yet. Upon entry of the store, there were two giant cheesecakes that they were selling New York and Italian cheesecake by the slice and further down, there were various Italian pastries (mini fruit tarts, cannolis, cream tarts etc.) being sold by the pound. I took advantage of both these options getting a slice of Italian cheesecake (presumably made from ricotta cheese) and some cannolis and fruit tarts. The Italian cheesecake tasted grainy and undercooked, without any of that light, fluffy goodness that I’d been craving. The cannolis and fruit tarts were alright, but it was the cheesecake (that everyone seems to rave about online) that really killed it for me (in a bad way).

My verdict? This place sounds and looks better than it tastes.

Katz’s Delicatessen

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I was first introduced to Katz’s by Mr. Anthony Bourdain on his New York episode of No Reservations. It’s famous for its sandwiches, especially the pastrami. You grab a ticket as you go in and then you head up to one of the many stations at the counter to order. You also have the option of waiter service where you can just sit yourself down at one of the tables at the back. I arrived at around 11 am and the place was already buzzing. Since I’d already eaten not too long ago, I just went ahead and ordered a pastrami sandwich with extra pickles on the side. Part of the fun of coming here is watching them make the sandwiches. And the little sample of meat (in my case, pastrami) that they hand you with every order doesn’t hurt either. The sandwich itself consists of a large pile of freshly carved smoked pastrami on sliced bread. The meat was quite tender and juicy and it really filled you up. While I did think that the brine that they use to smoke the meat could have been improved, it was already very good. The pickles were only lightly pickled so they offered a satisfying crunch between bites of the heavy pastrami sandwiches.

Despite being a tourist attraction, I definitely recommend a visit to Katz’s. The experience is unique and the food is pretty great to boot.

Russ and Daughters

Upon leaving Katz’s, I found myself at the front of Russ and Daughters only a few steps down. I’d also heard about the terrific bagel and lox available at Russ and Daughters so obviously I hopped in to go get myself one. And let me tell you – that is one sterile store. But in no way am I complaining; the fact that raw fish is one of the major items that they sell, I’d hope that I’m purchasing it from a clean and healthy environment. The white lab coats that the employees don also add to the overall image. When ordering a bagel, you can have the option of salmon from various regions of the world and you can pair it with different flavors of their cream cheese. I got Norwegian salmon with plain cream cheese on a plain bagel. I promise I’m not normally this boring but I had some skewed thought in my mind that the salmon would taste better if I got plain with everything else. Don’t ask me why. I do believe, however, it paid off because that salmon was pretty phenomenal. The texture was incredibly tender and silky and it was definitely the star of the show because I was not impressed by the bagel at all. It tasted hard and stale like it was a week old. Even my neighborhood Einstein Bro’s bagels are much better. I had all these high expectations for the New York bagel but alas, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t have the opportunity to try any of their caviar or herring, but both those items looked very promising.Image

Russ and Daughters, despite their stale bagels, is a mighty fine place to visit and if you ever find yourself wandering around the Lower East Side with a sudden, intense craving for some smoked salmon, you know where to go.

La Maison du Chocolat

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I first fell in love with this place after buying a small box of pralines from their St. Germain des Près location in Paris. The first bite was nothing less than heaven in my mouth. The same goes for the second bite and so on and so forth. I’d planned on returning to get some truffles the next day but unfortunately, they decided to close their store on a Sunday. So, fast forward a year later, and I’m back in La Maison du Chocolat… except I’m in New York this time. They only have 5 locations in North America and wouldn’t you know it, three are in Manhattan. I ended up visiting two boutiques – Rockefeller and Wall Street. The store was pristine and the service was exceptional in both locations. I got a bag of truffles and another assortment of chocolates they were selling by piece and everything I got was amazing. Although I had a slightly better impression of it when I first tried it in Paris, it might be because the element of surprise was taken out of the equation.

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One thing that really got me excited was the free samples they always offer you. I am a huge macaron fanatic so when the saleslady gave me some chocolate macarons to sample, I did not hesitate. That is probably an understatement – I probably more like lunged at her.

To be honest, the food I had in New York didn’t really reach my expectations. But that may have been because my expectations were way too inflated. However, I do think that New York could be the best food city in North America and in terms of the number of cultures being represented, New York is definitely sitting proudly at first place (of all the places I’ve been to).