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Macarons: What I Learned in Class

A giant stone face at The Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia
While we were in Paris I took a class on a Sunday morning at the Cooking with Class cooking school. The class was awesome. The chef, Constance, was charming and funny and a wonderful teacher.

I was most interested in seeing the technique in macaron making called the “macaronage”. It is the process of combining the almond meal/powdered sugar/ liquid egg whites with the whipped egg whites. This step has been shrouded in mystery for me as some recipes call for an exact number of strokes and often tell you that you know you are done when the mixture is like “magma”. That is very specific and somewhat vague at the same time. I’ve watched a million YouTube videos and looked at tutorials for this step but there is nothing like seeing it in person.

It wasn’t actually that big of deal. No secrets or specific strokes. The main thing I got out of it was that I have been over mixing my batter and knocking too much air out of it. It was just one of those things that I had to see for myself.

I decided that (once I got over my cold) I needed to make a match of shells as soon as possible in order to see if what I learned in class actually made a difference in my home kitchen. I am happy to report that I got an almost 100% shell success rate, which is awesome. I think I need to play around with the cooking time but I am really pleased.

A giant stone face at The Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Three out of a hundred…not bad! These came from the center of the baking sheet and because of the way my oven works, the center doesn’t get as hot as the edges, so the macarons in the middle of the baking sheet tend to stick. During the cooking class, Constance showed us how to make a jam for the macarons. She used frozen blackberries, sugar and dumped in a little powdered pectin. It was the easiest thing the world. We tested for doneness by dropping little blobs on to a plate and checking to see if they were “jammy” and jewel-like. Once it was done, the mixture was dumped out onto a plate, a piece of plastic wrap went on top and into the fridge it went. Easy. Did I mention it was easy?

I wanted to make a seasonal flavor and decided that I would try rhubarb. I found a recipe for a Rhubarb Beer Jam, got the supplies, and macerated the fruit with the beer and sugar overnight per the recipe’s instructions and was planning on using the same technique that we did in class.

The too-long-don’t-read version of my jam is this: it didn’t work. I don’t know what the heck I did or didn’t do…perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough? Too much liquid with the beer added? I don’t know. I only know that it did not jam and the rhubarb was starting to scorch. It turned out more like a fruit puree.

I tried to salvage the mess by mixing a little of the not-jam with some cream cheese. I filled a few shells and let them sit overnight as is required. I sort of knew in my gut that the filling wasn’t going to work, and I now understand why macaron fillings are usually buttercreams or ganaches. The point of letting the macarons sit overnight is so that the shells absorb what little moisture is in the filling, which softens them slightly and allows the flavors to meld. If the filling is too moist, you will end up with soggy macarons. Like these:

A giant stone face at The Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia

So. How do I make this work? I still have half my batch of shells and about a cup and a half of the not-jam. Here are my options:

  • I found a recipe for a rhubarb buttercream, which uses egg yolks. I have a million of these in the freezer so this looks interesting.
  • Using white chocolate and folding in the rhubarb to make a flavored ganache. I think I would also like to try to find some Rhubarb bitters to add to this as well. The only issue with this filling is that it might be too sweet for my taste.
  • Thickening rhubarb by adding gelatin or agar agar.

I’m thinking the buttercream. I’ll let you know how it goes. I almost forgot to mention the fact that I created my own colored sanding sugar by adding the gel coloring to some turbinado sugar. It worked like a charm!

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