Sunday, May 23, 2010

Macarons Marathon: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

I think as food bloggers most of us are reluctant to show off our mis-steps in the kitchen, particularly when we want to be known as a resource for people who don't have a lot of experience in the kitchen. I know I feel that way: I hate thinking that I've somehow failed in the kitchen (I'm a perfectionist and sometimes that can really bite you in the ass!) and I'd like to keep all that hidden from you, my lovely readers. But, while I am honest but vague with you about my personal life I think it would be dishonest to not show you when things don't go exactly as planned. That's life, right? This brings us to the Macarons Marathon of Friday night.

I had been stockpiling egg whites - I don't even know how I keep ending up with so many, but there had to be about 12 egg whites waiting for greatness. I was suddenly struck by inspiraton: I would embark on a macarons marathon. I am determined to get these delectable treats right. I think I may have mentioned that macarons are not available (to the best of my knowledge) in Halifax and I have a sneaking, subconscious suspicion I am going to change that and as it stands, my macarons are not good enough. Remember the perfectionist thing? My lovely Mr. and extended family has gobbled them up happily but they will only get better from here.

I set about to make three varieties: Chocolate with peanut butter icing, vanilla and rhubarb and a coconut with cinnamon icing. In the end, not one was "traditional". Pierre Hermé would not be happy with me. Don't get me wrong, those that made it to the oven and beyond were delicious but not exact. I have a few ideas about where I went wrong and I plan on incorporating the changes for the next time.

Chocolate w/ Peanut Butter Icing
(adapted from Robyn Lee's recipe at

225 g icing sugar
120 g ground peanuts (careful when grinding - you don't want to make p.b.)
5 g cocoa powder
110 g egg whites
30 g granulated sugar
pinch salt

1. Pass the icing sugar, cocoa and ground peanuts through a metal sieve to make a fine powder. I do not have said metal sieve so I resort to using a silicone (it has more give than rubber) spatula to break up the lumps.

2. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. As the whites start to come together and are just beyond foamy, add the pinch of salt.

3. At the soft peak stage sprinkle the sugar over top and continue whipping until the whites form hard peaks.

4. Fold in the ground nuts and icing sugar. It should look like lava.

5. Pipe into 1-1.5 inch rounds on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheets. Tap the baking sheet on the table or counter and leave to set for about 30 minutes. They will form a dry shell under which your "feet" (the beautiful crunch) will form.

6. Bake at 325 F for 10 to 11 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to keep the oven cracked for air circulation. Rotate the pan after 5 minutes for even baking.*

7. Once cool, remove from the pan and sandwich with the peanut butter icing.

stiff egg whites, waiting to be transformed.

*I have an idea this recipe was written for a standard oven, if you are lucky enough to have a convection oven you probably don't need to do the rotating or wooden spoon trick. Plus, I envy you.

Peanut Butter Icing

Like usual, I didn't measure for icing - I'm sorry. I'm such a nightmare for people who crave exact measurements! You need your icing smooth and creamy, if it's too dry (it'll crack when you draw a spoon through it) it will not work. It won't spread and the pressure of trying to spread it will crack your macarons.

peanut butter
icing sugar
boiling water*

Mix together in a bowl.

*Use this to your discretion: Hot water is a good way to add liquid to your icing without the extra fat of more p.b. or the "shell" that comes from using milk.

Result: This batch did not form the typical and desirable feet of traditional macarons. Delicious and rich with a familiar flavour combination these are more like a regular sandwich cookie.

Why: I think the peanuts are simply too high in fat and oil to allow the macarons to have their usual light lift. Next time I think I'll use significantly less peanuts, perhaps a mix of ground almonds and peanuts. I was reticent to grind the nuts lest I end up with peanut butter and I don't think I could get it fine enough. Lesson learned.

Coconut w/ Cinnamon Icing

Didn't happen: I used coconut flour and didn't make the adjustments, I plead distraction due to Modern Family. I'm finding that coconut flour has a higher volume than other gluten-free flours and every time I use coconut flour, it throws me under the bus.

I really, really wanted a cinnamon version for two reasons:
1. My mom loves cinnamon and has been on a cinnamon kick recently.
2. She's visiting, hence needing a cinnamon variety!

Since batch number two didn't work out I decided to incorporate the flavours into batch number three.

Coconut Cinnamon w/ Rhubarb Mint Jam

225 g icing sugar
100 g ground almonds
15 g coconut flour
10 g cinnamon (quite the kick but it's beautiful!)
110 g egg whites
30 g granulated sugar

I'm not going to write down the instructions because I'm sure you can figure it out! The directions are pretty standard: Whip the whites, incorporate your dry ingredients and bake. For the filling I used a smear of my rhubarb mint jam. Delicious!

It's best to allow your macarons to rest overnight, or at least for a few hours. Why? Because the icing or jam will meld with the cookie and the outer shell remains crisp and the flavour of the filling permeates the cookie and it's just much better. Take my word for it. Yummy when just made, divine when you wait!

Results: This batch formed the feet, but my goodness they are ugly! For some reason the macarons retained the swirls of my inexpert piping and they are just kind of ugly.

Why: Thinking back on it, I don't think I properly measured my dry ingredients. I had just scared the crap out of the cat when she was hunting an extension cord and in one quick movement I made it jump off the table (she flipped upside down! I know this sounds mean but she hunts my toes in the morning) and was a little distracted. Plus, I was watching re-runs of Modern Family and Claire is my girl - Mr. always gives me a sideways glance when she does something that is so, um, me.

I fully intend to keep trying and I challenge other food bloggers to reveal their kitchen mishaps. Why? Because no one is perfect and we learn more from those mistakes than all the times our recipes turn out perfectly.

Best of luck with your macarons endeavours! For a couple of resources check out Cristina who has a lot of experience and of course, the unflappable and wonderful David Lebovitz.


  1. incredible!!! your mishaps are others finished products!! thanks for sharing such a great post, and for all your hard work! Your macarons are inspiring!

  2. The rhubarb filling and chocolate peanut butter filling. were the best.You can all be jealous because I get to eat my daughters wonderful macrons. You can't believe how good they taste.

  3. Dennis: Why, thank you! All kitchen adventures are a learning adventure and it was my pleasure to embark on this marathon! I love reading about how your girls are doing and how their lives are effected by the food you incorporate into their lives.

    Ethel: Spoiled!

  4. I can't wait to cook together.. I really want to learn how to make some of these things.. ok, can you tell I am sooo excited to come home and spend time with you guys!!!I hope you had a good long weekend!