When I was approached earlier in the year and asked whether I would donate to the Sweet Charitea high tea charity event this year, I immediately agreed and blocked the week from availability for other orders. I wanted to be able to focus all my energies into being creative – doing something for me (selfishly), as well as being able to provide something unique for this incredible cause.
I initially thought I would provide mini tarts – but as the year went on, I started to explore more with making macarons, and thought this would be a fabulous time to play with making more, while doing something good for the cause. Seemed like a win-win decision – so I contacted the organiser and said I would change to donate 100 macarons (for reference – regular macarons go for $3/each here, and mine would be worth $3.50-$4 each being decorated and gourmet. So I felt like I was being generous with this one 🙂 ).
So I started brainstorming with a friend of mine about what possible design/flavours I would do. The theme for the high tea was “At The Movies”. I immediately thought I would either go with appropriately-themed designs – or I run with appropriately-themed flavours. Me being all about flavours, I ran with that. My shortlist was narrowed down to five:
The week began just like any other week really. Me preparing my list of to-dos into my diary – and I allocated time each night after work for me to create a batch or two, thinking by the time I got to Friday I should have the 200 shells at the ready to fill and decorate before my son got home from school. Afterall, macarons are best matured for 24-48 hours prior to consumption – so it sounded like a good plan to me. And I had a million other commitments going on for the weekend, so I really needed to have these done by Friday evening. Should be a piece of cake, right?
Well, if you’ve ever attempted making macarons, you’ll know that these finicky cookies are anything but predictable. You need to pray and sacrifice your first born to the Mac Gods for them to play nice. Anything from the almond meal/flour being oily, to egg whites not being aged the right amount of time, or even if there’s extra humidity in the environment can all wreak havoc on your otherwise perfect recipe and method. And I’m not sure what happened – but this was not my mac week. My ol’ reliable French method recipe had failed me. Twice. And I was disheartened (OK, not quite this bad lol).
So back to the drawing board I went. Hunting on the All Things Macarons group I’m part of for alternative recipes that I could try to make these bastards *ahem* delightful cookies, work. By this stage it was late Wednesday night and I decided to give the Broma Bakery recipe a go, which uses the Swiss method. I’d made Swiss Meringue buttercream before, so the concept wasn’t completely foreign to me. I followed the recipe as best as I could. I even did a Macaron dance (which I would later dub the Macarona). And could not believe the result…
I’ve never been able to get macarons this full and fluffy before – I was on cloud 9. I have tried both French and Italian methods, and got most success with French method, but still hit minor hollows and just accepted them. This was just absolutely amazing, and I decided there and then, I was converted. The texture still had the slight crunch on outside but chewy centre. It was absolute heaven <3
Now, just so it doesn’t appear as though this was the miracle cure for everything, I will admit that there were still a few hiccups. Hiccups because every environment is different, and every oven is different. And I’m sure everyone uses different trays, too. Just like usual, these cookies would need to be perfected, by trial and error, based on the symptom. So here is a list of slight changes that I made to the recipe, to make it work for me. With every batch that I made, it got better and better.
- Hollow macs – you’re probably giggling at this, because how did I end up with hollow macs, when the first lot I’d made were full? Well I didn’t pay close enough attention to the temperature of the recipe the first time round and cooked them at about 160 degrees Celsius (fan-forced). The second time I attempted the recipe I followed the instruction of 150 degrees and ended up with hollows. D’oh! Batches thereafter were done by preheating the oven to 160 degrees Celsius, then reducing the temperature dial to 150 degrees when I put the tray in. I would then cook for 7 minutes, rotate the tray and cover the macs with baking paper, and cook for a further 8 minutes (on average the cooking temperature would be about 155-157 degrees, according to my oven thermometer).
- Cracked tops/small or no feet – I managed to hit a snag with this happening to me on my third batch haha I did because I rushed (all the time pressure by this stage!), and the recipe said you didn’t need to rest. Well, in my case, I obviously had to. Because they all exploded and had no feet. Disaster. So back I went to my usual resting practice, about 20 minutes, until a skin has formed.
- Cracked tops on single back row – WTAF I thought I’d sorted the cracked tops thing, but to my dismay I saw that I was still getting cracked tops along the back row while cooking at the 160 degrees temp. And then sitting there, drinking my Earl Grey with a few tears and beads of stress-sweat, I figured it out – fan-forced has its heating element at the rear of my oven. Right where the macarons were cooking and exploding. Uh ohs… so all I could come up with was to use a smaller tray, one that could be brought forward enough and away from the rear element (well either that, or just don’t pipe out the back row of macarons). In my rush to ensure I troubleshoot this issue quickly, I also decided to go with a smaller tray that also had a rim to further protect it from direct heat, start using baking paper so I could save time not having to clean my silicon mats, and just in case it would help at all with reducing the heat factor, I even double trayed it (ie nested it into another tray of same size).
- Smooth tops – I finally had the method down and they were cooking beautifully – but they still didn’t have the perfectly smooth tops that I would be seeing with the French method. After some research, I discovered that this was quite common with the Swiss method. Because it develops a firm, stable meringue (pro: no hollows woo!), the batter itself doesn’t completely meld into itself when it’s piped (con 🙁 ). The solution is to rap the trays. Hard. Multiple times. Yes, if I’d bang the tray this hard with French macaron batter, they would be pancakes and completely misshapen. But this is NOT. THE. SAME! I kept telling myself that as I rapped the tray 3x on each edge, so hard my poor corgi leapt from her bed in utter fear (note to self: get Pep to leave room before rapping tray in future lol). The action gets the tops to smooth down, and you can continue with the toothpick trick of smoothing the popped air bubbles on the surface.
What I’ve now ended up with is what I would perceive as the perfect macaron. Slight crunch on the outside, chewy middle – and full and fluffy shells. But don’t be mistaking me for a mac-snob. Nope. I’ll still be going down to the local fancy bakery, paying $3 a macaron that comes with a slight hollow, and happily enjoying my guilty little pleasure ^_^