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14 Dec 2009

MacTweet #1: The return of the sad shells

As some of you might know already, more or less one month ago Jamie and Deeba, decided to draw us in a periodical macarons challenge; the point being to overcome our fear of these little delights.For this reason they have created a proper reception point for all macarons fans: MacTweets blog.
I have already reported about my first attempt at baking macarons for a past Daring Baker challenge; this is my second try at them the results being not much different actually.
This time I decided to follow a recipe published in Pierre Herme’s book “Macarons” this just because I have tried his macarons when I was in Paris last month and I have more or less an idea of what I “should” look for on them.

The main difference between the two recipes I have used so far is in the use of Meringue: the first one used a classic French meringue while Herme’s one uses Italian meringue. As I have mentioned with regards to buttercream, Italian meringues is simply made pouring hot syrup over egg whites while they are being beaten, so to cook them while the meringue is formed. This process makes more stable egg-foam that can withstand more handling and the waiting times inevitably present between successive baking rounds.
Another difference, of which I cannot state objectively the importance, is about the aging of the egg whites. What I do know is that old egg whites foam faster due to their change in pH with time (they become more alkaline and this influences the unfolding of proteins while the beating). The way that Pierre Herme recommends to age them will also influence their water content and so the rise of the macarons (more about this later on).
So let me give you the shells recipe I have followed:

Pierre Herme’s Macarons shells (from the Olive Oil macarons)
Ingredients (for roughly 72 macarons):
• 300g almonds flour
• 300g icing sugar
• 110g egg white (aged 1 week in the fridge)
• 300g granulated sugar
• 75g mineral water
• 110g egg whites (aged 1 week in the fridge)
• 10g coffee extract
• 1.5g food colorings

To age the egg whites, simply put them in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and punch in few holes with your knife and forget them in your fridge for one week (let the egg whites warm up to room temperature before using them).
When ready to bake, combine the almonds flour with the sugar in a bowl, dissolve the food colorings in the first batch of egg whites and pour them over the flour-sugar mixture, without stirring. In the meantime, combine the granulated sugar with the water in a saucepan and let the syrup warm up till 118C; at 115C start beating the second batch of egg white.
When the syrup will reach the requested temperature, start pouring it over the beating egg whites trying to avoid the wires of the whisk of the sides of the bowl. Continue beating till the meringue will cool down to 50C.
Pour the meringue over the almonds-sugar-egg-white mixture and fold them together carefully. Using a piping bag fit with a plain tip, pipe disks of roughly 1inch in diameter over some parchment paper and let the shells crust for at least 30 minutes (they should be dry to the touch). In the meantime warm up your oven to 180C/356F (if you have got a convection oven), 160C/320F otherwise and when ready, cook the shells in for 12 minutes opening rapidly the oven door twice.

I put the egg whites to age in the fridge right before leaving for London, so at the time I finally used them, they have been aging for 10 days. I took them out of the fridge the morning to let them reach room temperature; in the evening I started the baking process.
Weighted the almond (and hazelnut in my case) flour, the sugars and water. While the sugar syrup was reaching temperature, I processed the nuts flour with the sugar so to reduce its grain. When the syrup was at 115C I started beating my eggs, as directed by Pierre, but noticed that they were too few to catch on the beater on my KitchenAid, so at the last moment I switched toward a hand held beater to start the process. While beating I poured the 115C syrup in them and almost halfway through I put the bowl back onto the Kitchen Aid and continued beating and pouring ithe syrup.
The fact that I had so few egg whites made me have a flashback: might have it been that I have weighted less than what recommended by Pierre? A quick look at my pin-board cupboard and I was in the mud till my knees. I had weighted 75g of egg whites instead of the 110 requested; no wonder the meringue came out sticky like glue and quite fluid. The nuts-sugar mixture was easy to fix but not the meringue. Oh well, “let’s see what happen”, I told myself.
I piped trays after trays of shells and let them crust over (by the way, remember that if your shells do crust, also your leftover batter will; so cover it with plastic wrap).

 The oven was by then warm and so I started baking them.
They rose! “They’ve got feet!”, I run to Tweet; a quick look back at the oven and the Tweet became “They are on high heels actually”. Another fast look and I started getting worried they might be rather on platforms. Ok, no problem, fancy looking macarons might be fun. Immediately after I have come to like the fate of my macarons, I heard in my mind “Honey, I think my boobs just exploded…” Yeah, they shells were flat like an almond’s electroencephalogram. Dammit, again sad macarons.

Since I was already at it, I transformed the baking session in a sort of scientific experiment: changing the next tray’s height in the oven to see the effect of the distance from the lower heating element, changing the oven temperature, putting aluminum paper above the shells to shield the upper heating element, letting the shells crust longer and also changing piping style. The result was always the same: a disaster. More specifically:
• Putting the tray closer to the bottom heating elements will help them rising but might color the bottom (not a real problem if you are going to sandwich them somehow). If you have a convection oven, I suppose this won’t be as evident as effect;
• Lowering the baking temperature and putting some aluminum paper under the above heating element will have the same effect and that is slow the cooking process and probably avoid fall of your shells (take care that also in this situation the bottom part might color);
• Letting crust them longer, in my case didn’t make them rise at all but the interior just liquefied and spread out of the shells. Probably this was the effect of the excess of sugar.
If I wanted to bake towering high shells, I realized then that I had to reduce the oven temperature to 150deg or so, extending the cooking time and cover the upper heating elements (and not open the oven door!). In any case, the excess water in the meringue was in my opinion to blame for this behavior. The extra steam pushes the shell high but if the egg white doesn’t have enough time to harden, the bubbles run into each other and puff! the whole shell collapses. I suppose this might be also the cause for puffy macarons: extra water coming from egg whites and/or syrup.
The excess of sugar instead caused the caramelisation of the meringue and a very fast crusting (the same as icing on cakes).
Anyway, I will never be beaten by a recipe! Will try it again and again! :D
Till next MacTweet.


  1. haha, better luck my friend..keep trying!

  2. Those macs certainly are finicky! I plan on trying Italian macs next as I like the idea of the hot syrup creating a more stable mac. Thanks for posting on all that you discovered, everyone's experience really helps.

    Deb Mele

  3. Well, you had me giggling the whole way through! I'm sorry for the failed macaroons, especially that I know how much you love them... But it's my belief that we learn far more from our kitchen failures than from our successes... Your analysis at the end of your post was written as the true astrophysicist that you are and very helpful!

    Thank you for another wonderful read... :-)

  4. oh alessio - these do look miserable! it would be great to find out where it went wrong. i was laughing at this post at least you kept your sense of humor my friend!

  5. If you are getting feet you are doing something right. Here's to next month!

  6. Very sad and you are the most adament and couragious one. But your info is priceless! I think mine may dome too much because I use too much egg white (I don't weigh them). Next Mac Attack I am going Italian! Meringue that is! I am so glad that you have joined the Mac Team and we will see you achieve - and eating - perfect macs!

  7. Love your sorry macs. Bravo for trying this method. I have yet gather my guts to do it.

  8. I love the analysis - before, after & during emotions Alessio. Oh you are too funny my dear,& so game to play along too. We'll find you feet next time, do not worry, you are in safe hands, ooops, FEET! I'm sure they tasted great...they look a lot better than many of my efforts which I dared not publish! having you on board!!

  9. Ale yours have high heels and mine nipples. What a great combo huh!? Till next time!

  10. I loved the part-scientific description and method - brilliant! Keep trying Alessio... you'll get there. You just have to make them every day until you get them right!

  11. Thanks for your support my friends :-) Will keep on trying naturally ;-) I'm more stubborn than egg-whites :D

  12. Yes, my mac's were a mess as you can see from the picture posted on the Mac Tweet sight. But I did learn from the mistakes. Can't wait for the next round up- and to see your new pictures. Great sense of humor!

  13. Love this post! Espcially your description of high heels and platforms, too funny. Hoepfully all your data will help you whip those egg whites into shape for the next round :)

  14. Those were my shells in the Summer of '08. It took forever to get them right, and you will! They do loook yummy, though! Have a Happy Holiday!