Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Systematic Approach for Optimizing Macaron Taste, Texture, and Appearance

Hsieh V, Shiue E, Lee J, and Lin K.


Anyone who has experienced a well-made macaron, like the delights purveyed by Laduree and Pierre Herme, can attest to how truly heavenly a macaron is in both taste and texture: a smooth, flavourful center enveloped by a light, airy meringue, encased in smooth, crsip shell. Unfortunately, such divine macarons are elusive and not easily found, not even in most urban areas (unless you live in Paris or Tokyo, in which case I envy you). Often times, macarons found in stores/bakeries/patisseries suffer from at least one of the following faults: dryness, lack of flavour, absence of crisp shell, air pockets, and chewiness.

The causes of these shortcomings have been previously identified by other macaron enthusiasts1. Syrup and Tang provides a comprehensive summary of macaron shortcomings and their causes. In this study, we used these findings to develop a systematic method for baking successively better macaron shells in order to achieve a macaron with ideal taste, texture, and appearance.

Results and Discussion

Since our group has no previous experience with making macarons, we first followed a French meringue shell recipe2 to the best of our abilities and knowledge to make lemon macarons with a buttercream/lemon curd filling. The recipe we used gives the amount of ingredients in weight. Since we did not have a kitchen scale to use, we had to convert our ingredients units from mass to volume based on densities found online. While this worked out fine in retrospect, we recommend using a scale when possible for better accuracy.

Most recipes warn not to over-fold the meringue, as it will become too runny. The best (but unfortunately not the most convenient) way to find out whether the meringue is mixed enough is to pipe it onto the Silpat. The meringue mixture should form a smooth dome that spreads slightly and forms a light peak when you stop piping (citation). By visual inspection, the batter of our first batch appears to spread more as the meringue gets handled more in the piping bag, suggesting that one should also mix to account for meringue handling in the bag (Figure 1). For the next batch, we mix slightly less so there is less spreading.

Figure 1. First batch of macarons piped onto Silpat. Macarons were piped row-wise from top left to bottom right.

After setting the oven to 350°F and baking for 15 min, rotating the sheet half-way in between, the first batch was taken out of the oven and the shells are inspected visually. On the sheet, we can see that the shells have the coveted “feet,” which is the thin puffy layer at the bottom of the shell that results from the meringue rising. The shells are also fairly smooth. After removing the shells from the Silpat, we see that the bottoms are fairly smooth, which is desirable. However, the bottoms were browned. The consequences and causes of this will be discussed later. To complete the visual inspection, the shell is bisected cross-wise to reveal a crisp shell with a giant air pocket underneath it (Figure 2). Air pockets are undesirable because they compromise the body and texture of the macaron, resulting in an unfulfilling macaron experience.

Figure 2. Cross section of a macaron shell from the first batch showing the crisp shell but vacuous insides.

Following the visual inspection is the taste test. The macaron shells were sandwiched together using a layer of lemon curd/buttercream and subsequently ingested. Overall, the macaron tasted mediocre: chewy, grainy texture with a noticeable almond flavour. By comparing shells with and without browning, we determine that the chewiness resulted from the browned bottoms. The grainy texture we experienced was caused by using almond meal that was too coarse. The graininess was also noticed when we were piping the meringue mixture onto the Silpats. The almond flavour was also likely caused by using coarse almond meal.

We compared our observations with findings in literature to determine the errors in our technique. Syrup and Tang attributes air pockets to incorrect baking temperature, with optimal macaron baking temperature range being 160°C-170°C. Though the oven display reads 350°F (equivalent to 176.7 °C), instruments cannot always be trusted and thus we perform an oven calibration to determine what the oven reading should be for an actual baking temperature of 170°C. We decide to make our almond meal finer by grinding it down in a coffee grinder (food processor should also work) and sifting it to remove lumps. Browning may have been caused by too high baking temperature and/or too long baking time. We hope that having the right temperature setting and reducing the baking time by 1-2 min eliminates the browning.

After implementing the aforementioned changes, the second batch of macaron shells looks much better! The shells were smoother and there were very nice feet that unfortunately deflated a bit, suggesting that we reduced the baking time by too much. However, the second batch did have significantly less browning than the first. The cross-sectional analysis also showed that the macaron had no air pockets and more body (Figure 3). The taste and texture were also greatly improved as neither chewiness, graininess nor almond flavour were noticeable. Overall, the second batch of macarons was much more pleasing!

Figure 3. Cross sectional of a macaron shell from batch 2 showing a much more substantial--and much more delicious--macaron.

With most of the problems of the first batch resolved, we try to determine whether the feet obtained in batch 2 could be maintained by baking for slightly longer (1 more min). While we were able to achieve more prominent feet in batch 3, there was also more browning and thus chewiness. However, the browning was not consistent amongst shells, which suggests that the browning migh

t be due to using a non-insulated bake sheet. We believe that a combination of using an airbake sheet and optimizing the ovn temperature and baking time can rectify the browning problem. Aside from the browning, batch 3 is consistent with batch 2 (Figure 4), demonstrating that the results of our approach are reproducible.

Figure 4. Assembled macaron from batch 3. The quality of the macaron is consistent with that of batch 2, except for the noticeable browning.


With only two rounds, we were able to produce macaron shells of much better taste, texture and appearance. By assessing the various taste, texture, and appearance aspects of each batch, and cross-referencing our observations with literature findings, we were able to troubleshoot errors in our macaron-making technique and produce better quality macarons. Our findings show that a systematic approach of identifying faults in each successive batch of macarons and making the appropriate baking adjustments can evolve a more ideal macaron.



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