Colouring Macarons: Review of the Master Elite range

Before I start, let me premise this post by saying I am not affiliated with brands or products mentioned in this article.

I have been making macarons for a while now, but admit to still having my good and bad batches. A friend dubs them “devil cookies”, and for anyone out there that’s made macarons before, I’m sure you can understand why she calls them that.

I found I usually got worse batches when wanting deep, vibrant colours. The general rule of thumb for colouring macarons, is to use gel colours (my usual brand preference for gel colours is Americolor), as they are high in pigment but low in liquid content. Works extremely well for pastel colours, but when wanting vibrancy, the amount of gel I found I needed to use to get the colour, affected the consistency of my macaron batter and therefore end product.

I knew I needed to invest in some powder colours. After a lot of reading other people’s reviews on Facebook, I took the plunge and bought some Master Elite colours by The Sugar Art (at AU$8.95 a little container I admit it felt a little risky – what if it didn’t work for me?).

A few hints I’d come across for using the Master Elite powder range were:

  • the powders are liquid-activated, so stir in the powder into the liquid egg whites and wait at least 30 minutes (or overnight) before using [note for reference: the recipe I use contains 60g egg whites]
  • a little bit goes a long way – most colours only need 1/8 teaspoon per batch of macarons
  • be really careful not to drop any on the bench or onto anything you don’t want stained!

I started my experimenting with Emerald Green. For my first batch, I did a light sprinkle of the powder into the liquid egg whites and found that it turned dark straight away. I didn’t want to overdo it, so I stopped adding more and proceeded to let the colour activate while I prepped everything else (following my preferred Swiss method).

When it came time to whipping the egg whites, I found within a minute or so, the colour began to fade. By the time the meringue was fully whipped, what I thought was going to be a deep, vibrant green, ended up a pale green. Keep this in mind – you won’t really know the end macaron colour from what you see at the liquid egg whites stage! What you see in the picture above was in a follow up attempt where I added 1/8 teaspoon to the liquid egg whites. The same amount worked well or the Sapphire Sky blue colour (perfect for Cookie Monster macarons ;-)), and also for Violet.

It seriously BLEW MY MIND when I saw just how well the powder colours worked! Suddenly, my concern about how wise was my investment decision dissipated, and I found myself bragging about my macarons to anyone asking in macarons groups for colour recommendations lol they really are well worth every cent.

But what about the dreaded red and black, I hear you asking? Well, I did experiments with those too!

As you can see above, the Red Rose colour also works brilliantly. In this instance, I pre-coloured the egg whites for a couple hours with 1/4 teaspoon. When the meringue was close to being done, I wasn’t quite 100% happy with the red, so added a small amount of Americolor Super Red. It was enough to ensure I got the red colour I wanted, without compromising the macaron batter with too much added liquid. For future runs, I think 1/3 or 1/2 teaspoon of red powder would be sufficient.

I was also really impressed with the Black! Although fair warning: there is a reason why the Black is sold in bigger containers lol In my first experimental run (pictured above), I went with 1 teaspoon and after whipping the meringue, found that it was a dark grey. So I added a decent squirt of Americolor Super Black to achieve the black macarons in this picture. Again, it was just enough to get the black I wanted, and because it wasn’t too much liquid added, it didn’t compromise the macarons like it would have if I used all liquid gel. I think 1.25-1.5 teaspoons of Master Elite powder would be enough to achieve black-black macarons without the need for extra Americolor gel paste assistance.

All in all, I highly rate the Master Elite by The Sugar Art powder colours for colouring macarons. A little bit really does go a long way for most of the colours, so well worth the price. If you are located in Australia and wanting to give them a try for yourself, you can buy them from Miss Biscuit.

Macaron Mania

Macarons. You either love making them, hate making them – or you pull your hair out over and over again while trying to find the perfect recipe. Sad news – there is no perfect recipe. You just need to keep trying until you find the one that works best for you and your equipment.

You may recall my previous mac-post boasting about adapting to the Swiss method – as I had never been able to achieve full macarons  with French or Italian recipes. The only issue I had with the recipe I was using: I could only successfully cook about 10 shells onto a tray lol The outer ring of macs would crack if I  filled the whole tray.

That’s OK if you’re only needing a few – but for bigger lots, it’s just impractical and takes too long… So I banked up egg whites in the freezer over a couple months, and when I had a order-free weeks I went back to looking for another suitable Swiss-method mac recipe.

I’d tried a few recipes recommended on the All Things Macarons group on Facebook – but none were working no matter the tweaks I made. So I was running low on egg whites and time; I turned to YouTube. I managed to find a recipe that worked for me and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief as I needed them for an order a week away.

Macarons

Macarons success!

I did take notes on slight adjustments/techniques that I used to get absolute success with these cookies:

  • I didn’t monitor the sugar/egg temperature while on double boiler (#lazycook). I only periodically checked to see if the sugar had dissolved – once it had, it came straight off the heat and I started whipping with my el-cheapo 5-speed hand mixer
  • I did: 2 minutes @ speed 1, 2 minutes @ speed 2, 2 minutes @ speed 3, scrape down sides (can add gel colouring at this stage), then 1 minute @ speed 2
  • Macaronaged as per YouTube video; takes me 3 scrape rotations to get the right consistency
  • Used Loyal plastic tube size 9 (9mm round tip) in 12″ bag (the recipe yields a small batch of approx 12-14 cookies, you don’t need a bigger bag)
  • Piped perpendicular onto Glad baking paper with printed mac template underneath (5cm diameter). Firmly rapped tray onto bench 4x, then used a toothpick to smooth out tops.
  • I set my oven to Fan Bake mode (it is an electric oven – top and bottom elements are on plus rear fan to circulate air around) – looking to get a 175°C reading on my oven thermometer that I have sitting on the middle rack
  • Let rest until matte finish and dry to touch. (In my area it is about 20-30 minutes)
  • Double trayed and put into oven, immediately reduce temp to 140°C setting (I find that my  oven doesn’t start heating again during the 14-minute total cooktime). I place a sheet of baking paper on top of the macarons at the 8-minute mark to help prevent any browning (while the oven elements don’t turn back on, the fan is still going around)
  • After the 14 minutes cooktime, I check that I can remove one cookie without any sticking issues – if so, I pull the tray out. If not, I leave for an extra minute and recheck
  • Once they’re out, I increase the oven temp again to 175°C to ready for the next batch to go in
  • Straight from the oven I tend to crack open a cookie to check that it’s full (om noms). Once they’re cool enough to touch, I match up pairs and place into an air-tight container.

Now here is the funny thing about doing the cookies this way – they look like a macaron (smooth tops and ruffled feet); they taste like a macaron (yummm), and they’re full (#winning). But (there’s always a but isn’t there..) – I find that they are a little on the crunchy side. So I turned to Dr Google lol And here is what I found – this is actually a common practice for some pro mac bakers! (Refs 1, and 2 who themselves reference the expertise of Pierre Hermé).

They tend to slightly overbake their macs (to ensure their macs remain full) but then apply moisture back into the bottom of the cookie by way of simple syrup, milk or sweetened condensed milk! So, I have chosen to use simple syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar, boiled until the sugar has just dissolved, with a dash of vanilla extract). I quickly dunk and then lay them bottom-side up on a cooling rack and watch the cookie absorb the syrup before piping the filling (using Loyal plastic tube size 11 (11mm round tip)). Maturation took two days (using white chocolate ganache filling). It was perfect – crunch on outside, soft filling that just melts away – divine <3

Macaron Madness

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.

Pink Lemonade Macarons

Pink Lemonade Macarons

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 🙂 ).

Bubblegum Macarons

Bubblegum Macarons

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:

Malteser Macarons

Malteser Macarons

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?

Choc Top Ice Cream Sundae Macarons

Choc Top Ice Cream Sundae Macarons

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…

Full, fluffy macarons!

Full, fluffy macarons!

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

Butter Popcorn Macarons

Butter Popcorn Macarons

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 feetI 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 ^_^

Full and fluffy Bubblegum macaron

Full and fluffy Bubblegum macaron

Mastering the Macaron


So I have been doing macarons for quite some time now and admit that even though they looked great, I was still not 100% satisfied with them. I had Googled for tips and tricks to get them absolutely perfect but it still didn’t really help.

So when I came across a book for sale (secondhand for $5 – bargain!) called “Secrets of Macarons“,  I just had to get it to give it a read.

I studied it and then gave it another whirl, hoping that the hollow I had been experiencing would go away and I would get that perfect texture. You know what I’m referring to – the slight crunch on the outside as you bite into it but still soft and chewy on the inside. Bliss!

And I couldn’t believe it when I pulled out the macarons and set them on the counter to cool – they looked amazing! Even better than that, I took one to take a bite, looked inside and NO HOLLOW! Now it may have been a fluke.. I guess I’ll just have to keep doing them to confirm 😉

In the meantime, I do highly recommend this book. And here is a snap of the macarons I did:

Bubblegum macarons with fairyfloss

Bubblegum macarons with fairyfloss

So what are the secrets of macarons? There’s so many really, but here are probably the biggest ones:

Separate the egg whites in advance and let them age 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. However, ensure the egg whites are at room temperature before you begin making the macarons

Beat the egg whites at medium speed to gradually build the foam and air bubbles. Too fast and you’ll trap big air pockets which is a no-no.

When doing the macaronage stage (combining the egg whites with the dry ingredients), you want to fold the mixture until it gets to the stage where if you drip some off the spatula into the mix it should take about 30 seconds before to meld back in (not completely just the edges.. If that makes sense?) 

When piping the shells use a template to make your life easier!

Drop the tray on a countertop a few times to bring out any bubbles. Use a toothpick to smooth them out.

Let the shells rest for about 30 minutes before lightly brushing one with your fingertip to check if they’ve formed a skin. This is important: you need it to babe formed a skin, but as soon as it does it’s time to cook! 

The oven temperature should be preheated to 150°C fan-forced. Cook for 7 minutes before reducing the temperature to 130°C fan-forced and cook for a further 5 minutes. When done, take out of the oven and immediately place the baking sheet with the macarons onto a cool countertop.

The Snickers Macaron Stackaron

Snickers Macaron StackaronThe cake was a 2-layer chocolate mudcake filled with peanut butter frosting (recipe given in an earlier post), and coated with salted caramel buttercream. It was then covered with a caramel drip and a chocolate ganache drip. The caramel drip consisted of melted Werther’s caramel chews which I think tasted better than melted caramel jerseys which tasted sort of marshmallow-y. The Werther’s caramels tasted more like tradition caramel, and textured like the sticky, stringy caramel which I would expect.

I decorated the cake with piped kisses (Ateco 849 tip), toasted peanuts, cut Snickers and homemade Snickers-inspired macarons.

Flavours of macarons (top to bottom):

  • Choc and peanut butter frosting
  • Choc and choc ganache (no cream)
  • Choc and salted caramel buttercream

To pipe the fillings I used a small-medium sized closed star nozzle to get the twirl effect on the sides. I have to say, the macarons really were the star of the show on this cake I think.