After almost 2 weeks of fiddling with recipes and methods, I've finally settled on something that works consistently for me.
I made dozens of batches, adjusting the temperatures, the pans and liners. I've had my oven's convection on and the convection off. I tried using my cavernous gas oven vs. my standard electric oven. I've used fresh eggs and I've used egg whites aged at room temperature for 24, 48 and 72 hours. I've used the sucre cuit method and french meringue.
I made a lot of cookies and some really, really big messes.
Macarons couldn't be simpler when it comes to ingredients, but they are maddening to execute well. They are frustrating little cookie divas.
Finally though, after hours of baking I've got the techniques down. I've developed a very familiar relationship with my ingredients and more importantly, my ovens (you should see the burns I am sporting this week). It has paid off though, with several batches of gorgeous macarons. Ones with lovely feet, good bodies and nice non sticky bottoms (I suppose out of context that would sound a little weird).
I had success with both the french meringue method and the sucre cuit, Italian meringue method. And while I love the delicate texture and the tall profile of the french meringue macaron, I absolutely adore the smooth perfect shells obtained with the sucre cuit method. So, I've decided to use the cooked sugar method for my first completed (filled) batch of macarons.
I used La Cuisine de Mercotte's Italian meringue recipe as my starting point when I began experimenting two weeks ago. I've made some adjustments to correct some of my early awkward feet issues. This recipe does work beautifully, near perfect macarons save a few issues I had with my feet (likely due to my execution or perhaps my old pans were not perfectly level). So I began experimented with the recipe's ratios and came up with my own.
Syrup & Tang gives his formula in a scalable ratio and I thought that was rather handy so I'm going to use it here to illustrate the differences. (Also, I highly recommend Syrup & Tang for anyone looking to troubleshoot their macarons)
Scaleable Macaron Ratios:
Almond meal : Confectioners Sugar : Egg White : Sugar
1.50:1.50:1.0:1.85 La Cuisine de Mercotte
1.25:1.25:1.0:1.54 Not so Humble Pie
1.35:1.35:1.0:1.35 Syrup & Tang
A little confusing? Don't worry, I'll post the recipe below.
Not So Humble Macarons (Italian Meringue Method)
150 grams almond meal
150 grams confectioners sugar
120 grams egg whites (room temperature)
185 grams granulated sugar
50 grams water
gel food coloring
You will need 2-3 baking sheets for these (4-6 if you use stacked pans), depending on how closely you pipe them.
I had the most success with good quality aluminum pans. In fact, I went out and bought 6 new half sheet pans just to improve the results of my macarons. I really needed to upgrade and this was the perfect excuse to do so (I'm very happy I did). I double layered the pans, to help insulate the bottoms and I found it worked great. I also used silicon baking mats (though parchment works just as well).
Prep a large pastry bag with a #11 Ateco tip (or a similar medium sized round tip, little under 1cm) and pre-heat your oven to 320-325 degrees (you have an oven thermometer, right?).
You will need a candy thermometer for this method, as it will require bringing the sugar syrup to a precise temperature.
Also, I should note I didn't age the eggs for this batch, though after all my testing, I feel it does give a slight edge to do so.
Weigh out your confectioners sugar and almond meal and give them a whirl for a minute, pulsing in a food processor. Some people sift them together, but I find that the food processor works best. (A few sites also suggested toasting the almond meal in a warm oven to enhance the flavors and help dry it out, but I didn't feel like this gave better results.)
Pour the almond/sugar mixture into a bowl and set aside.
Weigh out 60 grams of egg whites into the bowl of your stand mixer (make sure the whites are yolk free and your mixer's bowl and whisk attachment are very clean and free of any traces of oil). Also measure out 35 grams of granulated sugar into a small bowl and set it near the mixer.
Weigh out another 60 grams of egg whites into a small bowl and set aside.
Weigh out 150 grams of the granulated sugar into a small sauce pan. Add 50 grams of water to the sugar, attach your candy thermometer and place it over medium heat.
(Note: Even in my smallest sauce pan this mixture is only about 1/2 an inch deep, which was/is difficult for my candy thermometer to read accurately (we're talking -50°F!). I had to gently wash the sugar syrup up a little higher (about the 1" mark) on the thermometer using a spoon to get an accurate reading. So, keep that in mind if you have a similar cheap candy thermometer)
Okay, now you're ready to rock and roll.
When the sugar hits 190°F, start beating the egg whites in your mixer on medium low speed until foamy, while keeping a close eye on the sugar syrup. No need to stir the syrup, just let it come to a boil over medium heat (you're aiming for 230°F). Once the eggs are foamy, slowly add the 35g of sugar and beat to soft peaks on medium speed.
When your sugar mixture hits 230°F pull it off the heat, increase the speed of your mixer to medium high, and slowly pour in the syrup. You want to let the mixture trickle down the side of the bowl, so doesn't splatter and get tossed onto the sides of the bowl. You want the sugar in your meringue, not a candy coated bowl.
Now you can relax, the hard part is over. Allow the mixer to beat the meringue for about 5-8 minutes until cool.
While waiting for your meringue to cool, combine the remaining 60g of egg whites with the sugar/almond mixture and mix until well combined. Add any food coloring you wish to use now, aim for a little darker than your goal as it will lighten considerably when the meringue is added.
Once the meringue is ready, add it to the almond/sugar mixture and quickly fold it together. You should fold until it is just barely uniform, using as few strokes as possible. It is very, very important you don't over mix as the batter will thin considerably with each stroke of the spatula. Your batter is perfect when you lift your spatula and a thick ribbon slowly cascades off, back into the bowl. Though I tend to err on the plop/thick ribbon side of things. If that makes any sense... which I'm sure it doesn't.
Now you're ready to fill your piping bag. If the mixture is just right, it will ooze from the tip slowly under its own weight. (If it oozes out quickly, something went horribly wrong and you'll need to start over.)
Pipe 3cm macarons onto your baking sheets, spacing them a few centimeters apart.
Once you complete a full pan, knock it on the counter gently, to bring up any bubbles and quickly pop them with toothpick.
Allow the macarons to rest like this for 15 minutes. (They can sit longer if you want to bake one or two sheets at a time, but will develop slightly thicker shells)
Bake at 320-325°F for 14 minutes.
Almost looks easy, doesn't it...
Once done, remove from the pans using the silicone baking mat and allow to cool completely (about an hour) before attempting to remove them from the mat. If you're having trouble even after an hour, pop the sheet into the freezer for about 5 minutes and they should pop off easily.
Now they are ready to fill.
For these, I wanted something a creamy and tart to help offset the sweetness of the shells. I'm in love with this mixture of lemon zest, mascarpone and lemon curd. It is a perfect silky and brightly flavored accompaniment to these little cookies.
Not So Humble Mascarpone Lemon Filling:
275 grams marscapone cheese (chilled)
150-200 grams lemon curd (I used the recipe found: here )
zest of one medium lemon
Mix the ingredients together until smooth; adding more lemon curd to intensify the lemon flavor. Fill a piping bag with the mixture and use to sandwich your macarons.
To store, keep the shells chilled in an air tight container. Bring the macarons to room temperature and then fill before serving.
The very last bite of the very last macaron.
Matured for 2 days and oh so good.
I love taking photos of these cookies... is it obvious?