Italian Macarons are crispy, chewy Italian meringue shells paired with sweet fillings. Flavored as you like, they're a gluten-free treat!
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. One place where bakers can get tripped up is making the meringue, so having a way to stabilize the meringue can help.
Enter the Italian Meringue Macaron (or maybe just Italian Macaron).
The easiest type of meringue to make is a French meringue, i.e. egg whites beaten until fluffy and sweetened with sugar. When baked, French meringues are firm, yet fragile and crumbly.
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.
When baked, Italian meringues have a softer, marshmallowy texture. In fact, Marshmallow Creme (aka Marshmallow Fluff) is a form of Italian meringue.
There's also Swiss meringue, where the egg whites and sugar are heated together before whipping, but that's a discussion for another day.
What goes into making macarons
The ingredients used in an Italian Macarons recipe are the same as for French Macarons (small wonder). The difference is just how you prepare the meringue.
They 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 Italian Meringue Macarons
As I said earlier, the only difference between a French Macaron recipe and a recipe for Italian Macarons is how the meringue is made. Other than that, the method is the same.
Step 1: Mix the almond flour and powdered sugar
Step 2: Make the sugar syrup
As with making caramel, sugar can crystalize if stirred while boiling. Give the sugar and water a quick stir just to moisten the sugar, then leave it to boil.
Heat the sugar syrup to firm-ball stage, between 248°F to 250°F. It's best to use a digital thermometer or candy thermometer to be precise. If the syrup is done before the meringue is ready, add a very small amount of hot (not cold) water to lower the temperature slightly.
Step 3: Whip the egg whites
As soon as the sugar syrup starts to boil, it's time to start whipping your egg whites. When they're fluffy, add the cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon of sugar, then whip them to stiff peaks
Don’t overwhip or the meringue can start to separate. If it’s ready before the sugar is to temperature, turn the mixer to the lowest speed and let it continue to run.
Step 4: Slowly stream in the sugar syrup
When the syrup and meringue are both ready, pour the hot syrup into the meringue in a thin, steady stream along the side of the bowl while the mixer is running. This is now Italian meringue, and will be beautifully thick and glossy.
Step 5: Fold in the almond flour mixture
Gently fold the meringue into the almond paste mixture, being careful not to over-mix the batter.
Transfer the macaron batter to a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch round pastry tip. 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, spacing them about 1-inch apart. 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.
Step 6: Dry the macarons before baking
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!
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.
After they've dried and formed a skin, bake the macarons at 325°F for 12 to 14 minutes. Turn off the oven once the shells 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.
Step 7: Fill the macarons
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions that you might have...
Egg whites need to be absolutely free of fat to whip into a meringue. To make sure there is no yolk, separate the eggs over a bowl and dump the whites into another bowl (an egg separator can help). Also, wiping the mixing bowl with white vinegar or lemon juice prior to adding the white helps to insure there is no fat in the bowl that can inhibit the meringue formation. This step is optional but highly recommended.
To store Italian 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.
You can make macarons using a French meringue or Italian meringue (or even Swiss meringue,). All will give good results, although the Italian and Swiss meringues are more stable assuring the meringue shells will be light and airy.
Tips for 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 meringue shells 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!
Italian macarons are worth the effort
These dainty treats are nice and crispy when you first sandwich them with the filling. However, macarons are best enjoyed the next day as the meringue shells have a chance to soften to a crispy chewiness.
Since the meringue can be flavored as you like and paired with a complementary filling, your customizing options are endless. And packed well, Italian macarons can be shipped, allowing you to treat someone you love wherever they made be.
Italian Macarons might be finicky to make, but they are worth the effort.
You'll be glad you did!
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.
Italian Meringue Macarons
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1⅔ cup almond flour, see Recipe Notes
- 1 tsp white vinegar, or lemon juice, optional, see Recipe Notes
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature, see Recipe Notes
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, see Recipe Notes
- food coloring, optional, see Recipe Notes
- fillings, see Recipe Notes
- Line a half sheet baking pan with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the powdered sugar and the almond flour. Discard the larger lumps of almond pieces left behind, or have them as a snack.
- Add 2 egg whites to the sugar mixture and stir to form a paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Wet a paper towel with white vinegar or lemon juice and wipe the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the remaining egg whites in the bowl and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.
- Heat the granulated sugar with ¼ cup water in a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil.
- When the sugar starts boiling, begin beating the egg whites on a medium speed until frothy. Sprinkle in the cream of tartar, then increase speed to medium high and beat until stiff peaks form. Don’t over-whip or the meringue can start to separate. If it’s ready before the sugar is to temperature, turn the mixer to the lowest speed and let it continue to run.
- Continue boiling the sugar syrup until it reaches 245°F. Once it's to temperature, turn the mixer to medium-low and slowly start to stream the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Once all the syrup is added, turn the speed back to high and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Stir in vanilla and food coloring, if using.
- Gently fold the meringue into the almond paste mixture, being careful not to over-mix the batter. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round pastry tip.
- 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, spacing them about 1-inch apart.
- 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 meringue shells sit out for 30 to 60 minutes, allowing them time to dry out and form a skin before hitting the hot oven. They should be tacky, but not stick to your fingertips.
- While the macarons are drying, preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Bake the meringue shells for 12 to 14 minutes. Turn off the oven once the shells 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.