The Agony of the Feet: Macarons

We recently hosted a wedding shower at my office, and one of the organizers asked if I could make macarons to fit with the menu's French theme. I have made macarons in the past, albeit with mixed results. But I was happy to give it another try, and it also occurred to me that I might be able to use to sachet of hibiscus powder that I bought on impulse at Dual Specialty when we were in New York City last month.

First, I tried the recipe from Hisako Ogita's I Love Macarons. I've used it before, and this time I simply added some hibiscus powder into the batter. The results were unusable. The macarons were flat and irregularly shaped, and they became browned in the oven, obscuring the color of the hibiscus.

I decided to try a new recipe for my second attempt. After looking through some cookbooks and searching online, I settled on Stella Parks' macaron recipe from her website BraveTart. It so happens that I have tried another one of her recipes (her hazelnut-brown butter brownies) with great results, but the primary reason I wanted to try her recipe is that I love her practical advice and laid back approach to making macarons. Reading her post on macaron myths was incredibly comforting and gave me a lot of confidence going into the process.

Stella's recipe is straightforward. The most time-consuming part was sifting the dry ingredients. Even though I used a medium sieve, it was very tedious pushing the powdered sugar, almond flour, and hibiscus powder (I used two teaspoons) through it. I weighed out five ounces of egg whites, added sugar and vanilla bean seeds, and followed the recipe's precise directions for whipping the egg whites in my Kitchenaid stand mixer: three minutes on speed 4, three minutes on speed 7, three minutes on speed 8, and a minute at full speed.

The beaten egg whites were extremely dry, and when I dumped in the dry ingredients and started folding, it looked like a lost cause. But just as the recipe says, after about 40 folds, the batter looked smooth and uniform. I piped it out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (I had traced circles around a small cookie cutter on the underside of the parchment to use as piping guides), rapped the pan hard against the counter, doubled up the pan by nesting it on top of an empty baking sheet, and the put the macarons in the oven.

I could tell while I was piping out the batter that it was a good consistency. Still, I was nervous about what would happen during baking and so I kept peering through the oven window to see what was going on.  After about 10 minutes, I saw the sign I was looking for: feet! The one characteristic that a proper macaron absolutely, positively must have is a foot, the ruffle around the bottom.

Although the macarons developed a beautiful, tall spongy foot while baking, the foot collapsed after I took them out of the oven to form a short shaggy ruffle. Still, I was thrilled with the way the macarons turned out. They had a smooth, shiny surface; a nice round uniform shape; and most of all, a gorgeous lavender color that was all natural -- a result of the hibiscus powder.
I filled the macarons with vanilla Faux French Buttercream and matured them in the fridge for a couple of days before serving. The macarons tasted as good as they looked. They were wonderfully chewy with a light floral flavor from the hibiscus, and the vanilla buttercream was rich and decadent. Flat footed or not, I considered these macarons to be a home run.

Feeling emboldened, I made more macarons for our annual holiday party. I made chocolate ones (adding cocoa powder and espresso powder to the batter, filling them with chocolate buttercream), lemon ones (adding lemon extract and yellow food coloring), and plain vanilla macarons. You can see all three in the photo below.
The macarons were by no means perfect. All of them had a collapsed ruffle for a foot. The lemon macarons were oversized because the egg whites lost some of their volume after I added the lemon extract, causing the batter to be a bit runny; these macarons also ended up being hollow. And I apparently undermixed the vanilla macaron batter, because they ended up with protruding nipples; the reason that the vanilla macarons are tilted in the photo above is because they couldn't lie flat!

Still, party guests could not get enough of the macarons, and regardless of how they looked, they all tasted amazing. I'm buying in not only to Stella's macaron recipe, but also to her enlightened macaron philosophy: "Make macarons because you want to eat one, not because you want to look at one. If you just want to look at stunning macarons, spend a few hours with a Google image search and save yourself the trouble of a messy kitchen. I don’t mean to say you can’t aim for perfection, just that you have to realize that’s what you’re doing. Aiming. And you might miss. And that’s okay."

Thanks, Stella!

Recipe: "Macarons" by Stella Parks, available on her website BraveTart.

Previous Post: "Time to Quit Faking It: Espresso Macarons with Milk Chocolate Filling," February 10, 2011.


Louise said…
These look wonderful and I'm sure your party guests were impressed. How long before the party did you make the macarons? And, how did you store them until ready for use?
Thanks, Louise! I baked them on Monday and Tuesday for a party on Saturday. Once they were filled, I stored them in an airtight container in the fridge -- they stored beautifully!
Unknown said…
They look great to me! I admire your adventurous spirit in baking.