When I first started baking, very few things really intimidated me. Maybe I was just naive, but I thought that since I loved baking and could follow directions, things would just turn out.
I do, however, remember being mildly intimidated by macarons. I really just had no idea how they worked, but I knew that I couldn’t afford to keep spending $5 on one tiny little cookie. Blindly, I gave them a go and was amazed that my first batch turned out flawlessly. Textbook definition of beginners luck... because the next 50 batches were the ultimate test of my love for this craft. They leaned, they cracked, they spread, they sank, they browned, they stuck, they failed in just about every way possible.
So to prevent you from experiencing the same frustrations as me, I came up with this ultimate macaron guide. This post breaks down each stage of French macarons to help you nail perfect homemade macs every time and includes my go-to base recipe. I'll also be regularly updating the post with additional tips as you guys ask questions over time!
First thing first… macaron vs macaroon:
A macaron (say: mac-a-ron) is what you see throughout this post. A tiny, round, dainty little sweet sandwich cookie that you will soon learn to master.
A macaroon (say: mac-a-roon) is a large, blob-like, coconut-based cookie.
Now that we're all on the same page... let’s get started, shall we?
French Macarons vs. Italian Macarons
“Wait, there are different types of macarons?” Yes and no. The difference comes down to the type of meringue you use; there are three different methods to creating a meringue: French, Italian, and Swiss.
French meringue is created by whipping egg whites with granulated sugar until they form stiff peaks. This method is suggested for the casual baker since it relies on kitchen equipment most bakers already own and you don’t have to worry about handling boiling sugar! The only necessary items for creating the French meringue are a handheld electric mixer or stand mixer, egg whites, granulated sugar, and a clean glass or metal bowl. All of the ingredients are added and mixed in the same bowl, further adding to the ease of the French method.
The Italian method is more stable than the French, but it will not produce the same taste and texture of a French macaron. To create the Italian meringue, sugar is dissolved into water in a saucepan and brought to a boil at the soft-ball stage, around 235°F (110°C) to 245°F (120°C). After the syrup is created, it is slowly drizzled into the egg whites as they are whipping, until the mixture forms stiff peaks and cools.
You have to be careful while using this method, as pouring the syrup in too fast will cook the eggs and ruin the meringue.
A third method is possible, though not often used in macaron recipes…
The Swiss method calls for the sugar and eggs to be whisked together as they heat over a double boiler. The mixture must be constantly stirred so that the eggs do not cook.
After the mixture reaches a temperature of about 125°F (50°C), it is removed from the heat, whipped on a low setting until it cools, and then whipped on high speed until it forms stiff peaks.
What do I need to make macarons?
You don't need fancy kitchen equipment for making French macarons, but you do need certain tools to help ensure they turn out perfectly.
In order for your macarons to have a smooth, shiny shell, you need to have a sifter to run your almond flour and powdered sugar through. I find that one with a crank tends to be faster, especially when making larger batches. If you already have a mesh sifter, you can use that.
A kitchen scale is required for the best results. Accurate measurements = accurate results.
Mixers are definitely an essential part of making great macarons. You could spend a lot of time and effort whipping egg whites to stiff peaks by hand, but why not save time and energy? I prefer a stand mixer because I can multitask while I work. A handheld mixer works fine, too though!
If you use old, warped baking pans, your macarons will turn out lopsided and misshapen. I highly recommend these half-sheet pans from USA Pan; they've lasted for several years and not one has warped in the slightest.
It's super important to use some sort of liner to prevent your macarons from sticking to the pan. Use either parchment paper or silicone mats. Personally, I prefer parchment paper as I find the additional heat from the pan better cooks the inside of the macarons (which can help prevent the dreaded hollow shell, more on this later).
Pastry Bag and Tip
To transfer the macaron batter to the sheet pans, you'll need a piping bag and a medium round tip (I like using the Ateco #807 or Wilton #12). If you don't want to buy piping bags and a tip, you can cut a half-moon shape into the corner of a sandwich bag, however, your macarons will not come out as perfect circles!
Finally, one of the most important tools in making French macarons is a good rubber or silicone spatula; a spoon won't properly mix and fold the macaron batter.
The ingredients needed for French macarons are pretty simple. There's nothing too crazy, and you should be able to find everything at your local grocery store.
Almond flour can be found at most stores as it has gained in popularity among those who follow a gluten-free diet. It's simply made from ground, blanched (meaning their skins have been removed) almonds. It's possible to make macarons from almond meal, which is ground almonds with the skins on, however, it will affect the final results with your macarons having a more natural, rustic look and a grittier texture.
Making Your Own Almond Flour
To make almond flour from scratch, you can use raw, blanched, or sliced almonds. You can blanch your own almonds by boiling them for 30 seconds, removing the skins by hand, and letting them dry in an oven at 190°F (90°C) for 1 hour. Once dry, pulse them in a food processor until finely ground. (Be careful not to overdo it or you'll end up with almond butter!)
Sugar is a crucial part of the structure of macarons; it can't be replaced or reduced by a significant amount. The powdered sugar in the batter helps the macarons to develop their signature feet by allowing the batter to dry and form a shell. The granulated sugar is also essential to help stabilize the egg whites in the meringue.
Fresh egg whites are my go-to for macarons. You may encounter some recipes that call for "aging" your egg whites by leaving them in a covered bowl for a day. Using aged egg whites seems to produce a drier batter, making it harder to overmix, however, it is not an essential part of making macarons. If you do choose to age your egg whites, it'll act as extra insurance against failed baking attempts. Also note, pasteurized carton egg whites do not work.
Cream of Tartar
This is totally optional. Whipped egg whites need a stabilization agent, and the granulated sugar in the recipe is generally enough to do so. Cream of tartar can help fluff up whites to maximum volume without breaking or overwhipping the meringue. I don't use cream of tartar in my recipes anymore, but if you want to experiment with ways to stabilize your meringue, it won't hurt to add ¼ teaspoon to help it along.
Food Coloring and Flavorings
How do macarons get their bright and aesthetically pleasing colors? From good quality food coloring, of course. I highly recommend using Americolor or Wilton gel food coloring; a few drops goes a long way. Whatever you do, do not use liquid food coloring... it'll disrupt the texture of the batter.
Flavoring the macaron shell is also an important step. It can add a whole new element or texture. You can use a very small amount of extract or spices/powder, such as vanilla extract, cinnamon, or cocoa powder. If using powder to flavor your shells, ensure you don't add too much as it could make your batter too dry.
Making the Macaron Batter
The macaron batter is the trickiest part of making french macarons due to its finicky nature. It reminds me of the children's story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, because it has to be "juuuust right." The two critical steps are whipping the egg whites and folding the dry ingredients into the meringue, a step known as macaronage.
Whipping the Meringue
The key to a good macaron is a good meringue, with smooth, shiny, stiff peaks. You can tell it's done when you can flip the bowl upside down and nothing comes out. The peak will be stiff yet still droop slightly.
Start with aged or fresh egg whites and whip them on medium for a few minutes until bubbles form. Once the bubbles get smaller, you will start to see the whisk leaving visible trails and the meringue will start to take shape. At this point, you will add in your cream of tartar (if using) and gradually add the granulated sugar, about ⅓ at a time. Once all the sugar has been fully incorporated and before reaching stiff peaks, you'll add your gel food coloring and then continue to beat on medium-high.
For many people, including myself, the macaronage is the most challenging step in making macarons. Macaronage is the technique where you continue folding the mixture past full incorporation until you've achieved the perfect consistency. "Hot lava" is one phrase often used to describe that consistency, "ribbon" is another; the batter shouldn't plop, it should flow.
To fold the batter, scrape your rubber spatula from the bottom of the bowl upward then press the flat side of your spatula through the middle of the batter against the side of the bowl. Then turn the bowl and repeat these steps until you reach the desired consistency. The figure 8 test is a great way to check your batter’s consistency; pick up the batter with your spatula and let it flow down into the bowl while drawing the figure “8”. If you can't, it's not mixed enough; if it forms too quickly, it might be mixed too much. (Remember, you're looking for a "lava" consistency.)
It’s always better to under mix than to over mix. When you under mix, your macaron shells will still form albeit, they’ll be bumpy. But if you over mix, you'll deflate the air in your egg whites, and your macaron shells will spread like crazy when you try to pipe them.
Piping the Batter
Once your batter is ready, it's time to transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a round tip and pipe them onto your lined baking trays. Piping can be a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can do it in your sleep.
Prepping the Baking Sheets
In order to ensure your macarons are the same size, it helps to have some sort of template. If you use silicone baking mats, there are mats with pre-drawn circles perfect for macarons. However, if using parchment paper, you can print a macaron template out online or create your own by tracing something small (like a medicine bottle cap) with a pen onto a sheet of parchment paper, and placing an additional piece of parchment over the template to pipe on top of. Just don't forget to remove the template before baking!
Filling the Piping Bag
To fill the bag, just pop the tip inside and snip the end of the bag with scissors so the piping tip is exposed. Then, either place a clip on the bag right above the piping tip or twist the piping bag several times (to prevent the batter from leaking out) and place the bag inside a tall glass. Once your bag is ready, use your spatula to push all of the batter onto one side of the bowl, then slowly pour the batter into the bag, scraping off any excess onto the sides of the bag. Then, twist the top and clip it to prevent any batter from leaking out of the top while piping.
If you have experience piping frosting for cupcakes or cookies, then this step may be easier for you. For me, it took a while to get right. But once you get the hang of it, it is quite simple. To hold the piping bag correctly, use your dominant hand to twist the top and squeeze batter out while your other hand gently guides the bag near the tip. I like to start from the left side and then work my way right and down. Once you have squeezed out the batter to the right size on your template (if there is no template, I count about three seconds for each macaron shell), release pressure and then quickly pull up with a flicking motion.
Getting Rid of Air Pockets
Once you have completed your trays, you'll notice that the macarons may have peaks or you may also see air bubbles. If air bubbles are trapped in the batter and baked that way, they will crack your macaron shells or cause them to be hollow; so, popping them is essential. To do so, gently but firmly smack the baking pan on the counter a few times. If the peaks don't go away after a few taps on the counter, you can wet your finger and lightly press down on them to make them disappear. Sometimes it's necessary to go back in and pop stubborn air bubbles with a toothpick; just make sure to do this immediately after piping before the macaron shells set!
Baking the Macaron Shells
The hardest part of making macarons is over. Hooray! Now you just need to let the macarons form their skin and then bake the macaron shells. Different recipes call for different temperatures, but I have found that 300°F (150°C) works best for many ovens. Allow your oven to preheat as soon as you set your piped macarons aside to rest, and bake your macarons on the center rack!
One factor that will affect the success of your macarons is high humidity. If you live in an area with high humidity or if it's raining while you're baking, it will take longer for the macarons to rest and develop a skin on top to form the signature feet.
Cues for Doneness
Since baking macarons will turn out slightly different in every oven, I recommend you start testing for doneness around 15 minutes. If they look underdone or browned on top, make adjustments accordingly for the next batch - if the bottoms were sticky, increase the oven temperature by 5 degrees for the next batch. Conversely, if they browned (a no-no for macarons), decrease the oven temperature by 5 degrees for the next batch.
If your macarons look done at 15 minutes, there are two things you can do to verify that they are fully baked. First, check that the macarons have feet; this is a good indicator that they are baked. Next, tap a shell. If it jiggles a little, but not a lot, it is done. If it breaks, it's not done and should stay in the oven for another 2 minutes or so, until it's sturdy enough to withstand your tap.
Cooling and Removing the Shells from the Pan
Once the macarons are baked and removed from the oven, place them on a cooling rack for about 10-15 minutes. After they've cooled down, it's time for the more exciting part: matching and piping. The macarons should pop off the parchment or silicone mat easily. To remove them without damaging their bottoms, I recommend lifting up a corner of the parchment paper or silicone mat slightly and using your finger to push on the back of the baking liner to pop off one macaron at a time. This way, none gets left behind if the bottoms are slightly sticky. Then pair similarly sized shells in preparation for filling.
Assembling the Macarons
Assembling the macarons is probably my favorite part of the entire process. To see them go from a shell to a beautifully finished product is one of the best feelings. Fillings can be as simple as store-bought items such as Nutella or homemade creations like tequila-infused lime buttercream. The possibilities are endless!
Several friends say that filling macarons is the most relaxing part of making macarons. The easiest and quickest way to fill macarons is with a premade jam or spread, like Nutella, and a spoon. However, making your own fillings is SO much more rewarding.
To use a spoon to fill your macarons, scoop a dollop of jam, Nutella, buttercream, or ganache and use the side of your spoon to place it onto the middle of the bottom of the shell. Place a matching macaron shell on top and sandwich them together while twisting and pushing down slightly to secure.
My favorite method of filling macarons is using a piping bag. To do so, place the piping bag in a cup and spoon the filling inside. After twisting the top closed, pipe out a half-dollar sized dollop in the center of the bottom macaron shell and sandwich the shells together while pushing down ever so slightly and twisting to secure.
Storing French Macarons
After you make your macarons, you should store them in an airtight container and place them in the refrigerator overnight. The flavors in the filling and shell will meld together, and the moisture from the filling will soften the macaron shells inside ever so slightly giving them their signature chew. If you eat it freshly baked, it will be a little crispier and not as flavorful.
Macarons can be stored in the fridge for up to five days, and in the freezer for up to three months. If freezing, thaw to room temperature first before eating.
Troubleshooting Your French Macarons
I think all bakers have issues with macarons at one point or another, so you're not alone if you do! As I've mentioned before, it's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: everything has to be just right. The batter consistency must not be over- or undermixed. The meringue must be whipped to stiff, but not dry, peaks. The macarons must be baked at the right temperature for the right amount of time. If you fail to perform any of these steps, your macarons will be hollow, cracked, flat, underbaked, lumpy, puffy, porous, or overbaked. Fillings can be problematic as well if the recipe isn't followed correctly.
I'm going to walk you through the most common problems you'll run into, their likely causes, and how to either fix them or improve on your next batch.
Egg Whites Won't Peak in the Meringue
You may find that the egg whites are a bright white but will not stay on the beater when lifted up, no matter how long you whip them.
There are several possible culprits: there was grease in the bowl, there was a bit of egg yolk in the egg whites or you used boxed pasteurized egg whites.
Grease or fat (including a bit of egg yolk) is enemy number one when you're in pursuit of a fluffy and light meringue. It prevents the egg whites from whipping up to their fullest potential and could leave you with a soupy mess. If you used boxed pasteurized egg whites, the meringue won't whip up because the pasteurization process changes the egg white proteins.
If your meringue doesn't whip up properly, there are no fixes; you'll have to throw it out. Here are some tricks to ensure a smooth, silky meringue on your next attempt:
- Before whipping the egg whites, wipe down the mixing bowl with lemon juice to get rid of any residual grease.
- When separating the eggs, crack each on a flat surface instead of the side of a bowl. That way a shard of the shell is less likely to puncture the yolk.
Shells Are Cracked
I think one of the worst feelings when baking macarons is when you open the oven door and see all your hard work gone in an instant with cracked tops. I admit, I still get these from time to time because I'm sometimes impatient.
There are two main reasons macaron shells crack: the batter was overmixed or excess air was trapped inside the piped shells.
- Don't overmix the batter.
- Firmly bang the tray against the counter after piping to release air bubbles; pop stubborn air bubbles with a toothpick.
Shells Are Hollow
After cracked shells, this is the next macaron pet peeve of mine and one that a lot of people run into often. It's so disappointing to bite into a beautiful macaron, only to find it has nothing inside.
There are several reasons why macarons can be hollow; the most common are: the meringue was over- or underbeaten; the batter was undermixed; or the oven temperature was too low.
- Beat the meringue to stiff peaks, but don't overbeat. I usually beat on medium speed for a longer time (rather than beating at high speed) so that I don't accidentally overwhip the egg whites. The meringue is done just as soon as it forms peaks that do not droop when the mixer is pulled out of the bowl - but don't beat beyond that or you will dry out the meringue. If your macarons look perfect in just about every way except for a hollow shell, you're likely overbeating your meringue.
- Make sure to properly fold and deflate the batter.
- Increase oven temperature slightly to allow the inside body of the macaron to rise fully.
Shells Are Too Brown
Sometimes the tops or bottoms of the shells can become too brown. I have noticed that certain colors, such as light blue, purple, and green, get browner than others. Colors that don't show browning as much are brown, yellow, orange, and red.
The macarons were either too close to the heat source or the oven temperature was too high.
Try lowering the oven temperature in 5-degree increments, however, you may need to slightly increase the bake time. Be careful not to lower it too much or you can run into hollow macarons.
Shells Are Difficult to Remove or Stick to Sheet Pan
When you lift the macaron off the pan, some of it remains stuck to the mat or parchment paper.
Sticky macaron shells can be caused by an underwhipped meringue or an overmixed batter. Underbaking the shells can also cause this stickiness; this can happen if the oven temperature is too low.
Don't underbeat the meringue; make sure it has stiff, shiny peaks. And make sure to not overmix the batter; go slowly when mixing the dry ingredients into the meringue.
Make sure that the macarons are baked for the correct amount of time in the recipe. If you are also having issues with browning, be sure to adjust the temperature downward in no more than 5-degree increments to try and find your sweet spot of no browning and no stickiness.
Shells Didn't Develop Feet
You may find that there's no sign of that signature ruffle along the bottom edge of the shell, called the foot.
If there's no foot and your macarons are also cracked, you didn't allow the batter to rest long enough after piping. Resting is important because it helps the macaron develop its shell and then raise the cookie above the shell to create the ruffle.
If there's no foot and your macarons are not cracked, that means that you rested the piped macarons too long. This allows air to escape from the batter; as a result, the macarons won't rise in the oven.
Two other possible reasons for lack of feet are a poorly beaten meringue or the oven temperature was too low for the macarons to rise.
To ensure that the macarons have feet, take all of the following precautions:
- Don't overbeat the meringue. Use some cream of tartar to stabilize the meringue.
- Take care to not overmix the macaron batter; if you do, it'll prevent the macarons from forming a skin. If you realize you've overmixed your batter, you can try to correct for it by letting the piped macarons rest longer before going into the oven.
- Rest the piped macarons until they are completely dry, with no shininess on top; when you touch the top of one, the batter shouldn't stick to your finger.
- Don't rest them too long; if you do, the air will escape and prevent the macarons from rising.
- Make sure your oven temperature is correct so as to not underbake the shells.
Shells Are Misshapen
Often times, macaron shells can turn out wonky, in oval or blobby shapes rather than perfect circles.
Poor piping technique is one culprit for this problem. Using parchment paper as your liner can also be the cause; because it has such a smooth surface, it doesn't take much (just a warp in your baking sheet or rapping the tray on the counter too hard) for the macaron batter to move, causing misshapen shells.
To ensure beautifully round macarons:
- Pipe vertically, straight up and down, not from the side or in a swirl.
- Use silicone baking mats instead of parchment paper as your pan liners.
Tips for a Perfect First Batch of French Macarons
I know that making macarons can be a challenging task, but with my tips and recipes, I believe you'll be a macaron master in no time! To ensure success, I have some tips that you should follow:
- The best time to make macarons is on a sunny day with no rain, when it's not too hot. If it's raining, it will take longer for the macaron batter to dry and the shells may crack.
- When separating the eggs, make sure no yolk gets into the whites.
- Do not under- or overwhip the meringue. Make sure it has smooth, shiny, stiff peaks. Use medium-high speed rather than high speed to whip it.
- Make sure you sift the almond flour and powdered sugar together, so the sugar absorbs any excess oil from the almonds.
- When mixing the macaron batter, make sure you go slowly so you don't risk overmixing it. The batter has the right consistency when it's like thick cake batter or molten lava that slowly flows and falls in ribbons off the spatula.
- When piping macaron shells, pipe vertically rather than in a swirl or with a side motion.
- Let the piped macarons rest at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours if necessary, to develop a skin & ensure no cracks form.
- Double up on sheet pans when baking. Heat an empty sheet pan in the oven; once your macarons are ready to bake, place the pan on top of the preheated pan in the oven. This helps keep the distribution of heat even and can help prevent hollow shells.
- Wait for the macarons to completely cool before removing them from the parchment paper or silicone mat, and peel them off using the back of the silicone mat rather than the front.
Looking for macaron filling ideas? Click here!
Basic French Macarons
- 120 grams egg whites (approx. 4 large eggs) room temperature
- 100 grams granulated sugar
- 115 grams almond flour
- 200 grams powdered sugar
- gel food coloring of choice (do NOT use liquid coloring)
- In a medium bowl, sift together the almond flour & powdered sugar and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Continue to beat until your whisk begins leaving visible trails in the foamy egg whites.
- Once you can see trails, gradually add the granulated sugar, increase the mixer speed, and whip on high until the meringue forms. Add gel food coloring, if using, then beat on high until stiff peaks form. (Be sure not to over-whip your egg whites otherwise you risk drying them out.)
- Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, add the dry ingredients to the meringue and fold with a rubber spatula from the bottom of the bowl upward then press the flat side of your spatula through the middle against the side of the bowl. (The batter will look very thick at first, but it will get thinner as you fold.) Continue folding until the batter gets to a lava-like consistency.Pro Tip: The figure 8 test is a great way to check your batter’s consistency; pick up the batter with your spatula and let it flow down into the bowl while drawing the figure “8”. If it can do that without the batter breaking, immediately stop folding.
- Transfer the batter into a large pastry bag with a medium-sized round tip.
- Holding the piping bag at a 90 ̊ angle to the surface, pipe out the batter into 1.5-inch rounds about an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Holding the baking sheet with both hands, carefully bang the sheet firmly on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles. (If you don’t release the air bubbles, they will expand during baking and crack your macaron shells.)
- Repeat the piping and banging process until you have used up all the batter (usually about three sheet pans worth.)
- Let the macarons rest and dry for 30 minutes or until a skin has developed; on a humid day, it might take an hour or more. To see if they're ready to be baked, lightly touch the shells. If the batter doesn’t stick to your finger, then it’s ready. (Don’t forget to remove the macaron templates, if using, before baking!)
- While the macarons are resting, preheat the oven to 300˚F (150˚C) and position the oven rack in the center of the oven with an empty sheet pan preheating inside.
- Bake the macarons, on top of the preheated sheet pan one tray at a time, for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through the baking process.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the sheet pan for 10 minutes before peeling off the parchment paper and cooling completely on a wire rack. (If the bottoms are a tiny bit sticky, keep them on the tray to cool off for an additional 10-15 minutes. If, however, the bottoms are already brown, they peel off cleanly, or they appear over-baked, then carefully take them off the tray immediately to cool down.) Repeat the baking process with the remaining sheet pans.Pro Tip: It’s always better to over- rather than under-bake your macarons as the maturation process can typically salvage ones that are over-baked.
- Fill with your favorite filling. Leave them in the fridge in an airtight container and let them mature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, bring them back to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. ENJOY!
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