Thursday, November 18, 2010

Battle of the Macaron Meringue Methods

Question 1: Which type of meringue produces the best macarons- Italian, French, or Swiss? 




From least to most compact feet: Swiss, French, Italian. Thus I think the Swiss way produces the prettiest feet. 

An overview of the 3 meringue methods:
Italian- The most fiddly. Pour 118 deg c sugar syrup into half-whipped egg whites.
French- The most direct. Simply whip egg whites with sugar to form the meringue
Swiss- The in-between. In a bowl set above a pot of simmering water, hand whisk egg whites till 50 deg c, then continue whisking with electric beaters, while adding the sugar.

I used to favour the Italian method, then the French, and now I've settled on the Swiss method because I find that it allows adding the least amount of sugar into the meringue, so the shells don't end up sickeningly sweet. For me, the problem with store-bought macrons is that they're all too sweet, so I get put off after eating 2. In a sense, I don't want the process of eating macarons to be a guilt trip!

In the Swiss method, heating the whites (till 50 deg c) stabilises the meringue a little which means that the meringue can reach the same level of stability with less sugar, compared to the French method. The concentrated sugar syrup used in the Italian method also limits how low you can go with the sugar. Taste wise, the Swiss way yields eggy rather than almondy shells, which I like as I've never been a fan of almonds.

Question 2: Is it better to use parchment or those reusable silicone sheets?

Baked on parchment

Baked on silicone sheet
Left: Baked on silicone sheet; Right: Baked on parchment
As you can see, parchment gives more generous feet. Also, silicone sheets are much more slippery and rapping the tray on the counter to get rid of large air bubbles caused the shells to shift a little, resulting in baked shell caps that were not in line with the feet. Reminded me of old men with ill-fitting dentures! So if you use silicone sheets, better not to rap the trays on the counter, and handle with care when moving them.

Question 3: what caused this little fella to split?

Answer: The top was still a little wet when it went into the oven. The tops were quite bumpy after piping, so I used a finger dabbed in water to smooth out the tops. After 45 min, this one still wasn't dry- must have used a little too much water! But why did I have to smooth them over in the first place? I hypothesised that the bumpy tops were caused by adding too much Almond Meal, which also were not ground fine enough. The next time, I ground the Almond Meal with the Icing Sugar, and added less of these to the meringue (recipe below). As you can see, this resulted in smoother tops (blue macaron) vs. bumpy yellow macrons. But it's still not as smooth as I'd like because my old food processor has blunt blades. I would love a new one for Chirstmas- preferably one with a feeding tube! *hint hint*

After baking macarons 4 times in 5 days, I'm going on a macaron break. I may just bake them again when I get a new food processor. But for now, time to study for my final exams at SMU, and to enjoy quality time with D, who is returning tomorrow (finally!) :)

Recipe for 18 Macarons (ie. 36 shells)
47g Almond Meal
83g Icing Sugar

50g Aged egg whites
1/2 Tsp cream of tar tar
17g Caster Sugar

Gel colouring: 2 toothpick dips (dip 1 toothpick into colouring, smear onto electric beaters. Repeat with a fresh toothpick)

1. Weigh and sift together almond meal and icing sugar
2. Weigh out egg whites and caster sugar into separate bowls
3. Add cream of tar tar to the bowl of egg whites and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until temperature of whites reaches 50-55 deg c (This took 7 min over low heat, by which time the whites were almost at soft peak stage)
4. Remove from the pot, and continue whisking with electric beaters, sprinkling in the caster sugar. 
5. Add the colouring then stop whisking when it's reached firm peaks. (Total electric whisking time was 1 min on speed 1, followed by 2 min on speed 2 with my Phillips handheld electric beaters)
6. Fold in the almond meal + icing sugar mixture in 5 batches, ensuring they are almost fully absorbed before adding more. After adding the last batch, fold about 4 more times to achieve a supple ribbony batter.
7. Fill the piping bag and pipe circles 1 inch in diameter onto baking tray lined with parchment or silicone sheets
8. Let the trays sit until the tops and sides of the macaron shells are no longer tacky (for me, this took 45 min in my bedroom with the air con on)
9. 20 min before baking, preheat oven to 160 deg c with one rack on the lowest rung, and another rack lined with aluminium foil on the topmost rung.
10. Bake the macarons for 24 min. In my oven, feet appeared after 5 min, and kept developing till the 10 min mark. Then they started to retreat a little and stabilised at the 12 min mark. This grow-then-retreat behaviour is normal for macaron feet.
11. When done, remove from oven and pop into freezer to cool for 2 min, then gently peel parchment/silicone sheet away from macarons and cool upside down on cooling rack.

Note: every oven is different, so you have to experiment to find out how long your macarons should stay in the oven such that the bottoms are baked enough to peel off the parchment, but not too long that the tops or bottoms are burnt. The aluminium shield at the topmost rung will prevent the tops from burning so you can concentrate on getting the bottoms right.

Curious glob of lemon curd!


D TTran said...

I love macarons but it's too sweet for my taste. I tried other recipes with Swiss method without success until I found yours. It's successful at the first try. I bakes at 300F for 15 mins in my oven.
Do you think if it's OK if I reduce icing sugar to 65gram ? I'll give it a try the next batch.
Thanks so much for the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recipe. I too prefer the Swiss method. Tried it successfully 3x now :) Was looking for a recipe with lesser sugar. Will try your recipe this weekend. Cheers

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