French Macarons are crispy, chewy meringue shells paired with sweet fillings. They can be flavored as you like, & are a gluten-free treat!
My younger daughter is here, which means one thing...she and I will be baking.
It's ok...I'll wait...
She loves to try new, interesting, and sometimes challenging, recipes, and she inspires me to try recipes that I wouldn't necessarily attempt.
With leftover egg whites from making Lemon Curd, my daughter decided that we should make French Macarons. O-o-o-o-kay...
Sorting out what to do
French Macarons are dainty little confections with crisp outer shells and chewy seductive centers. At their base, the cookie shells feature little ridges called “feet” that are the mark of a well-made macaron.
(Side note: if you just say Macaroons, people think you mean the treats made with coconut flakes. These are definitely not those!).
And their reputation as a finicky cookie are well noted. Luckily, there are many resources available to help sort out the process.
Entertaining with Beth's Foolproof French Macaron recipe has some really good tips and tricks for making the macarons, and even a video to watch. That's really helpful for beginners.
Ahead of Thyme's Classic French Macaron with Vanilla Buttercream filling recipe is more straightforward, but it also has good clear instructions and notes.
What goes into making macarons
The ingredients that go into macarons are simple, at least. One item that may not be a pantry standard is almond flour. The other might be cream of tartar.
There are two types of almond flour available, blanched and unblanched, the difference being whether or not the almonds are ground up with their skins. If the color of the macaron is going to be light, use the lighter-shaded blanched almond flour.
Note, almond flour is not the same as almond meal. You want the finer grind of the almond flour for macarons so the resulting cookie won't be gritty.
Cream of tartar (not pictured) is an acidic dry powder that's a byproduct of winemaking. It's used to stabilize the egg whites as they're being whipped, so you get a fluffier finished meringue. It's optional, but recommended.
How to make French Macarons
The steps to making a French macaron recipe are, in and of themselves, simple. Make a French meringue, stir in sweetened almond powder, then bake.
Ok, there's a little more to it than that.
Step 1: Mix the almond flour and powdered sugar
Step 2: Make the meringue
Beat egg whites until foamy, then add the granulated sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Whip until the meringue can form a peak that stands upright (a stiff peak), about 8 to 10 minutes.
Now is the time to add any food coloring if you'd like. Gel food coloring works best. The color does fade as it bakes, so do a shade or two darker than you want them to be.
Step 3: Fold in the almond flour mixture
Folding in the almond flour mixture into the meringue is the trickiest part to making macarons. About 65 to 75 turns of your spatula is the magic number.
Under-mix, and your macarons will be lumpy and cracked when they bake and won't have feet. Over-mix and your macarons will be flat and still won't have feet.
More on that later.
Step 4: Pipe the macaron batter
Line a half sheet baking pan lined with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper. If you’re using parchment paper, place a little of the batter on the underside of each corner to hold it flat to the baking pan. Pipe out 1½-inch rounds onto the baking pan.
Let the macarons sit out for 30 to 60 minutes, allowing them time to dry out a bit before hitting the hot oven. They should be tacky, but not stick to your fingertips.
Allowing the macaron batter to dry before going into the oven is a very important step. When they dry out they can't spread out in the oven, and are forced to rise up. That's what creates the distinctive feet you want!
Step 5: Bake the macarons
Bake the macarons at 300°F for 20 minutes. Warning: do not underbake, even if they look done. Otherwise they will stick to your tray. Just bake for the prescribed time and have faith.
Turn off the oven once the macarons are done without opening the oven door to let them cool completely in the oven (about 1 to 2 hours) before removing the pan. This will keep them from cracking due to thermal shock.
Voilà, perfectly puffed macarons with their distinctive feet!
What can go wrong
The first time my daughter and I made macarons, we felt like we knew what to do and dived right in…and failed.
[insert tires screeching sound here]
These French Macarons tasted good, but the look and texture were all off.
What went wrong, you ask? We think it was several factors:
- The egg whites had been sitting for several days in the refrigerator, so they weren’t as fresh as newly cracked egg whites would be. Hmmm…maybe a reason, maybe not.
- I didn’t have any cream of tartar, which helps stabilize the meringue, so we proceeded without it. Not a likely factor.
- Sifting the almond flour and the powdered sugar took a lot time, and since I had made the meringue, it sat for quite a while. Maybe enough to deflate a bit?
- It was a humid day. The batter needs to dry out before baking to increase the surface tension of the batter as it expands, thereby allowing it to puff up properly. Humidity definitely had an effect. Probably a factor, but not the main one.
- We overmixed the almond meal mixture into the meringue, thus deflating the meringue. This is a well-noted stumbling block, and probably the main reason for our failure.
** SIGH **
Whatever the reason(s), my daughter wanted to try again. I was more hesitant, but she can be stubborn (like me). So the next day we tried again.
It was a beautiful (read: less humid) day, we had fresh eggs, I had bought the cream of tartar, and she counted the folding strokes. She piped the batter, we let it dry, baked it…and…AND…WE HAD FEET!
Such a good feeling, success.
Tips for French Macaron success
- Be patient when you sift the powdered sugar and almond flour together. This step can be tedious (especially if you don't have a sifter), but it's important to make the powder as smooth as possible and remove any larger almond pieces that would make the shells look less than ideal.
- Be careful when folding in the almond flour & sugar mixture into the meringue. You want to keep as much air in the meringue as possible because that's what causes the macarons to rise in the oven. Be diligent and count carefully.
- Allow the rounds to dry before going into the oven. When they dry out, the shells can't spread out in the oven, and are forced to rise up (that's what creates the feet). And it's such a good feeling when you have success!
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions that you might have...
Fresh out of the oven, macaron shells will be quite crisp and delicate. If you fill them and eat them immediately, the shells will still have that extra-crisp texture. However, macarons are best enjoyed the next day as the meringue shells have a chance to soften to a crispy chewiness. Yummm...
To store French macarons, place them in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, unless you have a filling that must be refrigerated.
The difference is in how the meringue is made. French meringue is just egg whites beaten until fluffy and sweetened with sugar. In Italian meringue, the sugar is boiled into a syrup before adding it to the whipped egg whites. As it's slowly added to the bowl, the egg whites cook, giving the resulting meringue a sturdier structure that's less brittle than French meringue.
The fillings are up to you
You’ll notice I didn’t include the filling recipes because there you can get creative. Use classic buttercream frosting, an Italian meringue frosting, chocolate ganache, caramel sauce, jam, peanut butter...the list goes on.
My daughter crushed up Oreo cookies with their filling for her cookies & cream filling, and used crushed graham crackers, melted marshmallow, and chocolate ganache for a s’mores variety. Be creative!
Also, you can flavor the meringue before folding in the almond flour mixture (think mint, fruit puree, coffee, cocoa…). The possibilities are endless!
French macarons are finicky, and they deserve that reputation, but my daughter didn’t let me quit.
You should’ve seen us dance about when our second attempt came out of the oven…we kept shouting, “we have feet!” over and over.
She inspired me, and I hope I’ve inspired you. Want a challenge? You've got this!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Recipes using egg yolks
If a recipe uses egg whites, what do you do with the egg yolks? I've got you covered! From custards to sauces, you'll be able to use up those yolks.
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ¾ cup almond flour, see Recipe Notes
- 1 tsp white vinegar, or lemon juice, see Recipe Notes, optional
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature, see Recipe Notes
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- pinch kosher salt
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- food coloring, optional, see Recipe Notes
- fillings, see Recipe Notes
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a half sheet baking pan with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper.
- Sift together the powdered sugar and the almond flour. Discard the larger lumps of almond pieces left behind, or have them as a snack.
- Wet a paper towel with white vinegar or lemon juice and wipe the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the egg whites in the bowl and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.
- Beat egg whites until foamy, then add the granulated sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Whip until the meringue can form a peak that stands upright, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and the food coloring (if using).
- Gently fold the almond flour mixture into the meringue, counting about 65 to 75 turns of your spatula. Folding in the almond flour mixture into the meringue is the trickiest part. Under-mix, and your macarons will be lumpy and cracked when they bake and won't have feet. Over-mix and your macarons will be flat and still won't have feet.
- Transfer the batter to a pastry bag. If you’re using parchment paper, place a little of the macaron batter on the underside of each corner to hold it flat to the baking pan. Pipe out 1½-inch rounds onto the baking pan.
- Tap the pan hard at least 2 to 3 times to release the air bubbles. This will prevent the tops of the macarons from cracking.
- Let the macarons sit out for 30 to 60 minutes, allowing them time to dry out a bit before hitting the hot oven. They should be tacky, but not stick to your fingertips.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Do not underbake, even if they look done (otherwise they will stick to your tray). Turn off the oven once the macarons are done without opening the oven door to let them cool completely in the oven (about 1 to 2 hours) before removing the pan. This will keep them from cracking due to thermal shock.
- Macarons are best enjoyed the next day as the meringue shells have a chance to soften to a crispy chewiness.