(Let the length of this post be a confirmation: making macarons is a sickness.)
Fire up the TARDIS, we’re going back in time!
I had asked my Uncle Mark what his wife’s favorite dessert was, and he said she liked crème brûlée. YUM! The only problem was that whatever I made needed to be donated to a hospice center, and crème brûlée isn’t the friendliest dessert for doing so. Some mental problem solving came up with the following: Strawberrry Macarons with Crème Brûlée Filling! Not only would they have my aunt’s favorite dessert in them, they’d be pink. Perfect!
Well, not so fast there, buddy. Up until that point, I had only made four batches of macarons in two sessions. They were quite good (I thought) for my first tries, but I had by no means mastered them. (I posted about the first attempts here!) But then I ran across Stella of BraveTart‘s method via Mardi of Eat, Travel, Write. Her no-fuss approach to macaron-making instantly appealed to me and gave me the confidence to be wild ‘n crazy. Bonus: her recipe included a strawberry variation! Macarons it was.
The recipe/method I had used previously was that of Helene of Tartelette. My main problem was that I’d get hollows – meaning, the bottoms would stick to the pan and separate from the tops of the shells. I think the overall consensus says that this is the result of underdone macarons, so I tried baking them longer and also did the drop of water under the parchment trick, but no luck. And really, of all the things that could possibly go wrong, I was happy that this was the main issue!
Anyway, let’s see how Stella’s method is different and how it worked out for me!
Grinding: Aside from the freeze-dried strawberries, there weren’t a whole lot of differences in this first part. Stella says any kind of powdered sugar is fine while Helene recommends name brand as generics tend to contain more cornstarch. Also, after sifting the dry ingredients (3 times!), Stella says you can just toss the small amount of unsiftables back into the mix as opposed to throwing it away.
Meringue: Macarons are notorious for being high maintenance, and part of this is due to the egg whites. Many say that the whites need to be aged anywhere from overnight to up to 5 days, and also that they need to be brought to room temperature before use. Stella throws all of that out and says any age egg whites at any temperature are a-okay! She also says to throw the sugar in with them right from the start instead of after they get foamy.
One of the big things that sets Stella’s method apart from others’ is that she whips the meringue until it’s very dry. The perfectionist worry-wart in me loves that she gives timings and specific mixer speeds for this process. Basically you’ve just got to keep practicing making macarons until you’ve got a feel for this step.
Macaronage: There didn’t seem to be any difference in this step. Basically, be firm with the mixing/folding to deflate the meringue until a lava-like consistency is achieved. So simple in theory, yet this is probably what makes or breaks (literally) the macarons. It seems like you just have to keep practicing making macarons in order to really get a feel for this.
Piping: Another nitpicky thing that most macaron makers swear by is allowing the piped macaron batter time to dry out, usually 30-90 minutes before baking. Stella nixes this step and insists that all you need to do is firmly rap the sheets a few times on the counter, then bake.
Baking: Oven temperature and baking times seem to vary the most from recipe to recipe. Stella suggests that you check and calibrate your oven so that the actual temperature inside the oven matches the display, which is good advice in general. I checked mine with an oven thermometer and it was actually right on the money! Her recommended baking time is about 18 minutes at 300F.
Good news: NO hollows!! There were also feet, but they were pretty small which was also the case with my batches back in January. With both of these batches, the feet looked quite big while baking, but then after I took the sheets out, they shrunk.
To summarize the filling… I tried to make the filling from Tartelette’s Crème Brûlée Pistachio Macarons, but it never set for me. (I’m totally assuming it was user error…I was tired!) So then I had the idea of making vanilla pastry cream using Joy of Baking‘s recipe since I had made it before.
They tasted good! The flavor of the shells reminded me of the strawberry cake I made a couple months before, and the texture was about what I remembered from my previous attempts. I think overall, they were by no means a failure, but I still have a lot of practicing to do. For this reason, I decided that I wasn’t really qualified to give a tutorial on how to make them for my post on Frosting for the Cause!
In favor of the non-fussiness, I will definitely give her way a go again, but should probably vow to not let another 5 months go by before that happens… It’s been a couple months already since making these, so let me know if I said anything totally bogus!