May 16, 2012

Chocolate macarons - the final saga

The time has come for me to complete my chocolate macaron saga.
It all started last November with my very first attempt, which I dubbed a "delicious disaster" (those looked bad).  The second time around, they came out a little better but still a far cry from how they should be.  After those two tries, I learned a lot and did more research plus I got a properly working oven (the lighter needed to be replaced).  Subsequently, I successfully made coffee, hazelnut, and pistachio flavor macarons, with lovely "feet" to boot.  Now my chocolate macaron "trilogy" comes to an end with this batch...though I do fully intend to make chocolate macarons again since my family and I love to eat them.
Maybe it's my imagination but is there something about chocolate macarons in particular that makes them harder to master?  Is there some tricky chemical balance/imbalance between the cocoa powder and almonds?  It can't be but though I finally got a good batch of chocolate macarons after three tries, they still seemed a bit shaky, the foot a little less self-assured, than the other flavors I've made.  Maybe I'm just over-sensitive when it comes to chocolate macarons...
I'm still a little amazed by how finicky yet easy macarons can be to make.  But it's very satisfying to make a successful batch.  I love making my own where I get that lovely chewy texture that I love (we eat them within a couple of days so they don't have a chance to get too soft).  These chocolate macarons were delicious.  I filled them with my favorite, standby and simple chocolate ganache, and no one had any complaints. 

I feel like I'm being overly repetitive with these pictures on how I make the macarons.  But for the sake of anyone stopping by for the first time, I'll go over the basics again.  I am still essentially using the same macaron recipe you find below, with minor tweaks depending on the flavor I'm making.

1. Grind the dry ingredients.  For the chocolate macarons, I start by grinding the almonds, confectioners' sugar, and cocoa powder in the food processor.
Once the mixture is a fine powder, sift it through a medium-fine  mesh sieve (believe me, it is very hard/impossible to get it through a fine mesh one) into a large bowl.  I put the large lumps at the bottom of the sieve back into the food processor and grind it again.  I generally repeat this process at least twice to get as much of the mixture through as possible.  Set aside.
2. Whip the egg whites into a meringue.  Place 90 grams of room-temperature egg whites into the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Start whipping until the whites look frothy.  At that point, slowly add some granulated sugar and continue whipping until the whites are just stiff and glossy.  You don't want to overwhip the whites so keep a close eye on them.
3. "Macaronage" = folding together to make the batter.  Once the egg whites are ready, add all the dry mixture into the whites.  Give a couple of quick folds to break up the air and then slowly fold the dry mixture into the whites until incorporated and you have a thick, almost lava-like batter.  I've learned that this should take less than  50 strokes.  It's a good idea to scoop a little out onto a plate to test.  When the tip flattens onto itself, it's ready.  And it's better to test earlier instead of over-mixing, where it'll be too late and the macarons won't work.
Transfer the batter into a piping bag, fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip (I use Ateco #807 but #809 is another size you could use).  At Le Cordon Bleu, I learned a little tip to push the piping bag into the tip before you fill it so the batter won't leak out.  Once the bag is filled and you're ready to pipe, just pull the bag up and push the batter down into the tip.
4. Pipe it out, let it dry, and bake.  Pipe small rounds (1 1/2 is the standard but since I'm doing it by eye, I always tend to go larger) onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets.  As I've mentioned before, I really like baking macarons on silpat because they are easier to remove.  I've invested in my second silpat and I intend to put it to good use.  Rap the sheets on the counter a few times.  If you're feeling adventurous, you could dust a little unsweetened cocoa powder on top of a few as decoration.
Let the macarons sit for about 20-30 minutes to give the tops a chance to dry before baking.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees but turn it down to 300 degrees right before the macarons go in.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes.  Let cool before removing.
5. Add filling to cooled macarons.  My filling of choice is bittersweet or semisweet chocolate ganache.  The recipe follows at the end of the post.  Once the macaron shells are cooled and the ganache is set enough to use as a filling, fill the macarons and it's time for a taste test. 
Enjoy it now or later?  Most people agree that macarons taste best after a little bit of chilling time in the refrigerator.  I think they taste perfectly delicious right after they're made but it's very convenient that they are ideal candidates for storing in the refrigerator for several days so you can take your time to savor them (just take them out of the fridge about half an hour before eating).

One thing I do know is I like my macarons on the chewy side - some people prefer them more moist (and many of the ones we ate in Paris were soft) and you never know what kind you're going to bite into when you get one from a bakery.  I suspect that longer storage in the refrigerator would result in a moister macaron given humidity in the fridge and the filling sort of figuratively melding with the shells but I don't know all that much about the science behind a macaron's texture.  It could also be that the method of making the macarons (i.e, the French way like I use vs. the Italian meringue method) could affect the texture.  What I do know is mine usually come out fairly chewy and we typically finish a batch within 3 days.

Chocolate Macarons with Ganache Filling
Recipe for macaron shells adapted from Tartelette (I've incorporated techniques I learned in other places and this is what worked for me); Ganache recipe from David Lebovitz

Macaron Shells:

- Makes roughly 20 filled cookies, depending on their size -

110 grams almonds (I use blanched, slivered ones)
200 grams confectioners'/powdered sugar, minus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
90 grams egg whites, or from about 3 eggs (aged 1-2 days*)
30 grams granulated sugar

*Aging the egg whites: Separate the egg whites and place in a bowl, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours.  For longer than 24 hours (up to 5 days), store whites in the fridge and bring to room temperature before starting.  The purpose of this is to eliminate moisture from the egg whites so that the batter will be thicker and you have an edge in your macaron making.

Grind the almonds, confectioners' sugar, and cocoa power in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground and it looks like fine powder.  Pass the mixture through a medium-coarse sieve.  If there are large lumps remaining at the bottom of the sieve, place them back in the food processor and repeat.

In the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam.  Then gradually add the granulated sugar until you get a stiff, glossy meringue.  Do not overbeat the meringue or it will be too dry and the macarons won't work.

Add the dry mixture to the meringue.  Give it a quick fold to break up some air and then carefully fold the mixture together.  You want the whites to be incorporated and the mixture to be thick and lava like.  Test the batter by placing a dollop on a plate.  If it holds its shape but the top flattens on its own, it is ready.  Otherwise, give the batter a couple more folds.  The process should take less than 50 strokes; it is better to fold once and check rather than over do it.

Fill the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip that has about a 1/2 inch opening (I use Ateco #807).  Pipe 1 1/2 inch (or size you prefer) rounds onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets at least an inch apart.  Rap the baking sheets 2-3 times firmly on the counter.  Let the macarons sit for about 20-30 minutes until the surface of the shells are slightly dry.

While the macaron shells are sitting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place baking sheets into the upper and lower thirds of the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 300 degrees.  Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on size).  Let cool completely before removing and placing on cooling racks.

When fully cooled, spread ganache onto one macaron shell and sandwich with another.  Many people say macarons taste better with a little rest in the refrigerator.  Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days and bring them up to room temperature before eating. 

Chocolate Ganache Filling

- Makes more than enough to amply fill the macaron shells in the recipe above -

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Place chopped chocolate and espresso powder into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan.  Remove the cream from the heat once it begins to boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and let sit for one minute.

Beginning at the center, slowly whisk the chocolate and cream together until combined.  Stir in the butter until smooth.  Let the mixture sit at room temperature, whisking occasionally, until the ganache is fully cooled and just thick enough to spread.  (You can place the ganache in the refrigerator, if necessary, to speed up the process but make sure to check on it frequently since it will harden.)


  1. I just read through all of your chocolate macaron posts, and I just want to say that I really appreciate the time and effort you put into documenting your macaron adventures! I would like to make macarons this summer, so I'll need all the advice I can get! Your macarons look amazing (:

    1. Thank you so much, Monica! You are too kind. I think making macarons is just 'one of those things' not to think too much about it and go for it and you'll figure out your own rhythm, your own oven's quirks and such. I've come not to expect perfection...they usually taste really good regardless. : )



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