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After a recent trip to France, I have become mildly obsessed with making macarons (using this recipe). I have made a couple of batches so far - the first didn't turn out well, more like cookies than macarons, due to under-whipped egg whites and too-coarse almonds.

The second batch has turned out better, much more like macarons. I whipped the egg whites to stiff, glossy peaks and blitzed the almonds, powdered sugar and cocoa in a food processor to remove lumps and make the almonds finer. Some of the macarons even have the characteristic little 'feet'.

However, while the flavour and texture seem generally good, they don't have the smooth, perfect surface of a proper macaron. Looking at videos online, it would seem my mixture is too stiff, because any little tip of mixture left by the piping bag fails to 'melt' into the main part of the macaron - it simply sits there. Also, any little craters left by air holes in the mixture fail to smooth themselves out, so the result is a bumpy macaron.

Given that the egg whites need to be stiff and glossy, what else could be a factor in achieving a smooth macaron? I assume the amount of powdered sugar is a factor, but how much can I safely reduce the amount by?

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Do they need to be stiff and glossy? I've never made them, but most recipes are best with soft-peaks egg whites, and the way you describe it, stiff whites are the problem of both the tip-bump problem and the crater problem (in my experience, soft-peaks whites don't form craters, but the bubbles in stiffly-whipped whites do). –  rumtscho Jun 12 '12 at 12:01
    
@rumtscho the recipe says they should be very stiff and glossy, and of the two I've tried, that one has been more successful. However, sven's excellent answer suggests you may be correct (as usual). –  ElendilTheTall Jun 12 '12 at 14:28
    
@ElendilTheTall If you still have problems with it post a new question and I am happy to help (again) ;-) –  Sven Aug 6 '13 at 17:49
    
I haven't tried making them for a while but I have recently got a bag of what looks to be very fine French ground almonds so I will have another stab. I got everything but the baking down pat before, and I have a new, better oven this time too. Fingers crossed –  ElendilTheTall Aug 6 '13 at 19:10

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The meringue should be glossy and form soft peaks. When you take your whisk out of the meringue it should look like this:

meringue

meringue

The French say that when you take the whisk out of the meringue, it has to look a bit like a bird's beak, hence the way the meringue forms a soft peak slightly pointing downwards.

But to be honest, I don't believe that is you problem. I guess you just undermix your batter. People often say it has to fall like a ribbon or like magma, but I always thought that is hard to imagine. You can take a knife and cut through the batter. If it flows back immediately, it's ready. But let me tell you: One or two strokes too much with the spatula and the batter becomes unusable.

And one tip I can give you: The process of transferring the batter into the piping bag also 'mixes' the batter, so maybe don't go too far if you are unsure.

And as already said, it is important to tap the the tray from the bottom after piping as it helps to remove any air bubbles in there. Also, always pipe straight from the top (90° angle). This also helps the batter to smooth out.

I wouldn't recommend you to chance the amount of powdered sugar, as the French use Tant pour Tant (TPT) for their macarons, which means fine almond meal and powdered sugar are mixed proportional to each other.

When mixed perfect, it looks like this:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_WhPHUKwckUw/S4WP1eBE7pI/AAAAAAAAB00/gYqFjGOvEiU/s1600-h/5.jpg

When gone too far, it looks like this:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_WhPHUKwckUw/S4WP-q8RrdI/AAAAAAAAB08/7R6uO1uGfBQ/s1600-h/6.jpg

Maybe try counting your strokes while mixing, some people say that it helped them.

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When you say undermix the batter, are you referring to the folding in of the dry ingredients? I have perhaps been erring on the side of caution - it certainly doesn't run or flow. How can I tell when it's gone too far? –  ElendilTheTall Jun 12 '12 at 14:27
    
Yes - folding the meringue with the other ingredients. You have overmixed the batter when it is completely runny. Then it looks like this after piping: farm3.static.flickr.com/2665/4106719209_88e7caee50.jpg Please note that I edited my answer above to show how the batter should be. –  Sven Jun 12 '12 at 16:13
    
Ah, excellent. So the trick is folding it enough so that it's liquid enough to be smooth, but not so much that it breaks down to a liquid. I think I have definitely been too cautious in that case. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 12 '12 at 17:55
    
I tried folding in the mix more earlier, and while the batter did get runnier, it wasn't quite right, and it didn't turn out correctly once cooked. The macarons didn't run all over the place, but they didn't form a proper shell, and they are also quite dark, which suggests too much air was beaten out of them to me. Perhaps the recipe I'm using doesn't use enough egg white? –  ElendilTheTall Jun 13 '12 at 13:51
    
I don't think it's the recipe. You know, people say macarons are hard to master for a reason ;-) What meringue do you use, French or Italian? Do you let your macarons rest before baking them? Also, it can take some time to get the temperature right as every oven is different. Do you bake them with fan turned on? If you want, here is a macaron recipe that works 100 % if done right: perthnow.com.au/adriano-zumbo-macaron-recipe/… –  Sven Jun 13 '12 at 16:43

according to Adriano Zumbo the trick to thinning the mixture comes after you have folded all your sieved ingredients into your stiff peaked egg white: using an electric beater give the mixture a pulse to loosen it. Check it & pulse again if needed. It will only take a few pulses to loosen. The consistency you are trying to achieve is still very thick but will flow slowly off the beaters like lava. Also when you pipe the little peaks should point straight up to help the mixture flow to a smooth domed finish. After piping gently tap under the tray twice to help air bubble out. To achieve a smooth finish & feet they need to sit & dry out for 10-15 minutes on the bench before baking. There are some very detailed videos on the zumbobaking website. Although they are for his baking mixes the technique is exactly the same for macarons from scratch.

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Do you happen to know which videos in particular are helpful for what's necessary to get the smooth tops? –  Jefromi Aug 8 '13 at 2:53
    
Hi zumbobaking.com.au/videos/#caramel-video watch the one called 'Mixing" & one called "Piping" –  Renbeard Aug 8 '13 at 4:27
    
Thanks, those are some useful videos, especially the one showing the desired consistency. –  ElendilTheTall Aug 8 '13 at 6:11

you probably need to sift your almond flour/confectioners sugar mixture after blitzing it in the food procesor, this ensures that you achieve the smooth domes you desire.

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I have done this a few times. The problem is it changes the weight of the almonds which then needs to be compensated for. –  ElendilTheTall Aug 5 '13 at 21:01

When I've seen people make macarons in the past, they drop the tray onto the work surface once or twice (from a relatively low height) before they leave them to sit before going in the oven. If you haven't been doing this with yours you might want to try adding this step to your process as I believe it could help with your problems.

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I have been doing this. It may help internally, but any 'spikes' on top of the macaron aren't budged. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 12 '12 at 14:25

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