Strawberry Macarons and a Lesson in Meringues
So often when I meet people and they find out that I’m a baker they quickly follow up with the questions, “Can you make macarons?” and “Will you teach me how to make macarons?”
Macarons are a tricky business. I don’t know anyone who has mastered them on the first try. When I learned to make them, a took a weekend and did basically nothing but make failed batches and Google why they failed. I read a lot of interesting facts about the science behind macarons, did you know the humidity in the air can make your macarons fail? They are literally affected by the weather. They can also be affected by using a plastic bowl versus a metal bowl, as plastic bowls usually have access oil built up in them. Or the temperature of your egg whites can change the outcome. They are probably the most fickle of baked goods. But as they have been so trendy the last few years, they are also among the most popular of baked goods. When people tell me they have attempted and failed to make macarons at home, my first question is always, “What kind of meringue are you using?”
Lesson in Meringues
One of the many reasons macarons are so tricky is that there are different ways to make them and (at least on the internet) there is a lot of debate as to which way works best. I can tell you the method I use is one of the harder methods, but once mastered it’s pretty foolproof. See macaron batter is basically a meringue folded with powdered sugar and almond flour. What kind of meringue you are using absolutely makes a difference. There are three types of meringues: French, Swiss, and Italian.
The French meringue is the easiest to make and the most commonly used. French meringue is made by whipping egg whites and granulated sugar together until fluffy and the meringue has stiff peaks. Usually, if you have meringue cookies, Lemon Meringue Pie, or Baked Alaska it was probably made with a French meringue.
The Swiss meringue is made by dissolving sugar into egg whites and then whipping them until fluffy and stiff peaks are once again achieved. I usually use Swiss meringue to make Swiss buttercream frosting. This meringue is more stable than French meringue. Adding butter to a French meringue would not go over well, but a Swiss meringue has the stability to incorporate butter and make a light and delicious frosting. It can also be used for macarons, but it is not as stable as Italian meringue.
The meringue I use for my macarons is an Italian meringue. This method is achieved by cooking sugar to approximately 230 degrees F, while whipping eggs whites, once the sugar has reached the proper temperature and the whites are light and fluffy, you slowly pour the cooked sugar into the egg whites as they beat. The result is a strong, very stable, white, shiny, thick, fluffy meringue that is perfect for macaron making. This method is trickier as it involves cooking sugar, and the timing is crucial. It may take you a few tries to get this method down but I promise IT IS WORTH IT. This mastering this method I haven’t had a batch of macarons fail! Don’t get me wrong, in the process of learning the method I sacrificed my fair share of failed macaron batches to the macaron gods, but since then every batch has worked out.
Well, there is my meringue lesson for you on this fine Monday. Now go and bake some macarons with some stable meringue!