Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Macaron 101: Italian Meringue Part 1

[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]

It feels really wrong writing this, after all I've only been making macarons for a few months. People have been asking for tips though, in the comments and via email so I'm going to make a How-To guide of sorts.

I do have some tips and I'm going to share them with the humility of someone who only barely knows what they are talking about. I'm still learning every time I make a new batch. Like today, where I learned that putting almond praline crunch on top of a mac shell was a really, really dumb idea.

So with that in mind, let us get down to it.


For many home bakers these are a challenging cookie. Particularly so in the United States, where many have never had a true Parisian macaron.

How do you bake something that you've never seen in person or even eaten? Well, it certainly doesn't make it easy, but I'll do my best to describe what you're aiming for in terms of looks and taste:

Now, Italian meringue macs don't have quite the same taste and texture of the French meringue macs. Both are delicate and very sweet. Just for looks, I prefer the Italian meringue method as it produces those lovely smooth shells. For taste and texture I like the standard French meringue's airy, cookie-like result.

Of course, Italian meringue macs do have a firmer shell (particularly if the cookies have rested for extended period prior to baking), but ideally it should still give way easily with just a delicate crackle.

The cookies should have a nice compact foot (French meringue tends to have a higher foot than Italian meringue, well at least for me) and a meringue like interior. Hollow, cracked shells and protruding feet (or no feet at all) are not ideal and are among the many ways this cookie can drive you to madness.


I find that macarons taste the best after they've rested in an air tight container in the fridge overnight, like the cookie above. The filling has time to flavor the shell slightly and the slight humidity improves the overall texture of the cookie. This is called maturing. The higher the moisture content of the filling, the faster the shell will mature. Ganache filled macs will mature faster than butter cream macs, etc.

Of course, overly high moisture fillings do not lend themselves to maturing as they will reduce your macarons to a blob of goo.


The following are the three things that I find are vital to making good macs. Everything else is flexible. You can whisk the meringue with a $500 stand mixter or a bundle of birch branches, doesn't matter so long as it works for you. You can even pipe the batter with those dang cut-corner ziplock baggies.

1. Kitchen Scale
Why don't you own one of these? Really. They're inexpensive and open up a whole new wonderful world of baking! That is, baking by weight rather than volume (which is totally unreliable). The scale I personally use is (here). It is roughly $25, very accurate (I've tested) and allows you to be precise with your measurements. Trust me, eventually you'll wish you could just weigh out all your ingredients in your mixing bowl and never deal with the tedium of scooping, tapping and leveling measuring cups ever again.

2. Oven Thermometer
Turn that dial to 350°F on your oven and let it heat up. Once that pre-heating indicator light goes off, what temperature is it? 350°F? Probably not. These are not precision dials. I have two very nice ovens and mine are never accurate.

Invest in a oven thermometer and I use the word 'invest' loosely as they cost almost nothing ($3-$25). A small price to pay compared to the cost of tossing out batches of bad macarons. All that almond meal gets expensive, trust me. If you're curious, the type I use in my ovens is the following: Taylor Oven Thermometer

3. Good pans
Good quality, heavy guage aluminum sheet pans. Again, compared to the macaron ingredients, they're really not all that expensive. My first three Mac attempts were mired by lopsided feet. Why? Lack of insulation from the bottom and my ancient cookie sheets were no longer perfectly level (not that I could tell just by looking at them).

So much frustration could have been avoided had I figured out early on that it was my pans not my technique.

Seattle area folks, hit up the Business Center Costco in Lynnwood. Look for the restaurant supply goods, you'll be in inexpensive pan paradise.


A key step in the macaron making, where the wet ingredients are added to the dry. The French meringue method is less forgiving than the Italian meringue for this step. This is why newbie macaron bakers tend to have more success with the Italian meringue method.

I've taken some shots of me getting my macaronage on to illustrate what a good batter should look like. I apologize for the poor quality photos, but I'm using my Macbook's camera to snap these.

Here I'm adding the food coloring (we're using brown today just for contrast) and the 60g of egg whites to the tant pour tant (half and half almond sugar mixture). You can mix this to your heart's content, no worries. It will start off crumbly and then it gets thick and fluid like molasses full of sand.

Please ignore my cave salamander pale hands (I live in Seattle, remember) and frightening double jointed thumbs.

Molasses full of sand! See, I told ya!

Now you're ready to add the meringue. Dump it into the bowl and begin folding.

As you fold the meringue the mixture will become a little more fluid with each stroke. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with your spatula as the almond mixture likes to cling to the bowl. Continue to fold until the streaks in the mixture become thinner and less apparent.

Okay, the mixture is barely uniform now. See how it flows thickly off the end of my spatula in a fat ribbon? Notice how thick the coating of the batter is on the spatula? This is a good batter. I'm going to dump half of this into a piping bag and continue mixing the remaining batter! That's right, I'm going to ruin my macarons. Just for you.

This mixture is slightly over mixed. Notice how the thick coating of batter on the spatula is gone? Note the thiner ribbon of batter flowing off the end? The batter is also slightly darker and glossier. The good batter above was lighter and more matte than this batter.

I'm going to divide this batter and place half into a pastry bag. The rest, well I'm going to mix it to the point of macaron death.

Over mixed batter. Oh this is so sad... just look at it. Fluid, overly glossy and thin. Pours quickly off the end of my spatula. The batter is clearly darker now. It took a surprising amount of mixing to get it to this state, but there it is... bad macaron batter. Of course, I'm going to bake this mess too.

So, I took my three batters and baked small batches of each under different conditions today. I took lots of notes and photos of my results.

I was aiming to recreate some common problems, like no feet and cracked shells. I wasn't able to recreate all the fail states, but I did document the conditions under which certain problems can arise.

Until tomorrow!

Ms. H


  1. Thanks for the lesson. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's sequel.

  2. I just started following your blog, and as a fellow biologist and baker, I am smitten! And so glad that you're how-to-ing macarons. Maybe with your tutorial I won't be so terrified!

  3. My main impediment is a complete lack of almond meal. Do you grind your own, or buy it, and if you buy it, from where and what brand?

  4. I was going to discuss ingredients tomorrow (yes, I know there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to my organization here).

    I don't grind my own meal, for a few reasons: Time/blanching almonds is a pain/concern about how fine I can mill it at home/moisture levels. But mostly it is a time issue.

    I use Bob's Red Mill almond meal, it is roughly $10 a bag at my local whole foods store. I can also find it on the baking aisle with the specialty flours of my local grocery store (for about $4 more).

    You can also find a less expensive almond meal at Trader Joes for $4-5, though isn't made from blanched almonds. Some bags of TJ's almond meal are nearly free from bits of the seedcoat, so I usually grab those. I usually bake torts with this almond meal, but it might be good to practice with since it is less costly.

  5. Oh wow. THANK YOU for the very detailed explanation! :) It makes the whole process seem less daunting (though it's still something I'm nervous to attempt). Keep it up; I love seeing the beautiful flavor and color combos you come up with!

  6. Glad you posted this-- I wasn't exactly planning to make them, but looking at all these different pictures day after day and just thinking, "How?!" was making my brain hurt.

  7. I love that you are a Mac user. Should have guessed! It's wonderful to see you in action... you're normal after all!

  8. Semi-normal.

    Not that anyone can tell in these photos, but I do have a giant third arm protruding from my back.

    Great for those hard to reach itches.

  9. ...Okay, why is it a bad idea to top macarons with praline almond crunch?

  10. Praline melted.

    I thought it could make it the quick 10 minutes in the oven.

    Apparently it can't.

  11. this is so amazing, interesting & informative.
    i do want to learn how to master the macaron technique...i do find it intimidating but... with your tutorials, notes, photos...i think can!

  12. What a greade macaron making guide! If I ever decide to try baking them I'll be sure to refer to this post for help.

  13. I often find that intermediate bakers (which, if you are regularly turning out pretty batches of macarons, you are at least that) make better teachers than experts (unless they are also expert teachers). Intermediate bakers still have to stop and evaluate things and think about them, rather than operating purely on instinct and reflex. Experts often don't explain things as well or in as much detail, having forgotten where the pitfalls are.

    Just my $.02 worth.

    BTW, I own a restaurant in Seattle -- The Night Kitchen, downtown near the Market -- and we simply love the idea of the sea glass candy. We're thinking of having it on the menu sometime. Would that be ok with you? (I know I'm not legally required to ask, but I feel ethically required to, especially since we're in the same city!)

  14. I love this. Cool recipe ideas and clear, step by step instructions. You are my favorite food blogger which is why I am passing an award your way:

  15. I am fascinated by this cookie. Being from the states, I have never had one myself. Do you think a good Italian bakery might have them? I'm a little intimidated by the initial investment cost- I know I'd need all the supplies you mentioned plus all the ingredients. It's a little daunting when I think about how it would all be for a cookie. (Hasn't stopped me in the past, though! haha)

  16. Renée,

    I can't argue, I don't even want to think about how much I spent perfecting mine. I think I went through $50 just in almond flour! Then there was the pans, the liners, the oven thermometer...

    All for a cookie! Of course, all the tools I bought serve me well for other baking projects too.

    K. Erickson,

    Thank you so much!

    Mad Gastronomer,

    You own the Night Kitchen! That is so cool (wow, I sound like a child of the 80's, don't I)! I'll have to stop by for some noms. Oh and of course you don't need permission for the sea glass candy. I don't pretend to have invented it.

  17. wow ms. humble!
    check out the huffington post....great!

  18. OOOOOOOOOOOOO wow !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Hi,

    I'm from Seattle, too, and haven't been having much luck finding almond flour. When I grind up almonds, it almost always turns into paste. Where can I find almond flour in Seattle? Any tips/suggestions would be great!


  20. That's ok, Ms. Humble, I'm a child of the 80s, too. If you do come in, I'd love to meet you, if you don't mind identifying yourself. I'm usually not in until after 11pm, though.

    And you may not have invented it, but you're who I'm stealing it from, and it's only polite. ;)

  21. OMG! Finally, someone who posted pictures of what the proper batter consistency should look like!

  22. Jenny,

    Check out the PCC Natural Markets around the Seattle area. They carry Bob's Red Mill.

  23. Thanks! I will check it out. With Bob's Red Mill, will I still have to grind it?

    I hope that with your tips, my macarons will turn out. I tried the first time and and it was an absolute fail. I think I over beat and I used a recipe where the egg whites didn't need to be aged. :(


  24. Jenny,

    No, you don't have to grind it.

    I do process the meal with my powdered sugar to combine and break up any lumps, but this can be achieved by thoroughly sifting the two together.

  25. Thank you for this wonderful and useful article. I totally agree with the difference between French meringue and Italian one (I prefer the last one ;-)
    Anyway, you're talented, your macs are perfect and very imaginative.

  26. I saw this on Apartment therapy today and immediately thought of the macaronathon. Perhaps you need these plates to match your creations?

  27. Waitaminnit...

    So, I'm following your recipe (macarons terrify me, personally, but I'm trying to manage >.<), and I haven't been able to figure out how much meringue to make! How much did you use in your recipe on Italian Meringue Part 2?

  28. Channie,

    The recipe on page 2 is simply quick list of amounts/ratios. You can find the instructions for making Italian meringue macarons on this post:

    It will explain the process in detail.

    You want to make the meringue with half of the egg whites and the sugar syrup. You'll use the other half of the whites to moisten the almond meal/powdered sugar mixture before adding your finished meringue.

  29. I love macarons and I love the way the ones in the 4th picture look. I have tried but failed...I will not be beaten!!!!!! beware macarons, I will perfect you!!...... sorry i can get alittle frustrated with macarons.........

  30. Thank you so much Mrs. Humble. I discovered this tutorial after four failed batches of these little devils. I am a scientist myself, so I really do appreciate your research methods, tables and all. Your picture of the perfect consistency actually led to my first successful batch! Molasses with sand in it! (I had been overmixing) Please keep it up!

  31. Beautiful macarons! I may finally try the Italian method. Thanks for sharing.

  32. can anyone with costco membership shop at the business center? or do u have to have the business member ship card?

  33. Thank you so much for the useful infortmation! This article is the best one I've found on making macarons.


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