Macarons are evil. They’re so temperamental and hard to get right. When your shells come out cracked and lopsided, it almost seems like they’re looking at you with despise in their eyes and then they just snicker away. Yes, elusive and extremely difficult to grasp, but that’s why we love them.
I know there are many blog posts on macaron troubleshooting already, but instead of giving a million reasons as to why something went wrong, I’ll let you know what I’ve learned from my own experience. It’s true that many factors come into play when you produce hollow, cracked shells or lopsided feet, but I’ll help to narrow down the causes for you.
This guide is most helpful to those who have already attempted making macarons.
feet – also known as “pied”. It’s the layer of ruffles at the bottom of the shell. Without the pied, it cannot be called a macaron.
macaronage – the process of folding the almond flour/icing sugar mixture into the meringue
1. hollow shells
a. if you whisk your egg whites at high speed, there’s a bigger chance of hollow shells. This is because bigger air pockets will form during the process, which means too much air, too much space.
b. if the temperature is set too high, then the heat is forcing the shells to rise too quickly, which may result in hollow shells.
2. lopsided feet (pied)
a. piping plays a big role here. Ensure that you pipe the batter out at an exact 90 degree angle. Also try to apply consistent pressure every time.
b. another reason could be because you overwhisked the egg whites while making the meringue. When there are so many air bubbles created, it requires a lot more folding during the macaronage stage to deflate the air.. which leads to undermixing the overall batter. Undermixing = bigger chance of lopsided feet.
c. a third factor would be the way your oven behaves. If the fan is high, the strong “wind” will cause the macarons to be lopsided (forcefully pushing them to one side, so the side closer to the fan tend not to have any feet). Sometimes this can be rectified by rotating the trays half way through the baking.
3. cracked shells
a. too much air may be the cause. This could be the meringue process (overwhisking the egg whites with sugar) or the macaronage stage (under-folding the batter). It’s good to have air pockets in the batter since they’re what raises the shells, but too much will cause the shells to crack on top.
b. after piping out the batter, tap the cookie sheet against the counter a few times to remove some air bubbles. This will lower the chance of cracked shells.
c. always sift your almond flour and icing sugar.
d. too much humidity in the room could also cause cracked shells. At work, we always use a dehumidifier. On rainy days, I add a pinch of egg white powder into the liquid egg white in order to speed up the drying process. If the shells are not dried enough before baking, they will crack.
4. shells too flat
a. by over-folding the batter, you lose too much air and the batter will become very thin. This consistency will also prevent the shape from being round because the batter will spread all over the place (lol).
b. if the piped shells have been drying for too long before baking, the feet will come out smaller as well, which results in flatter shells.
5. lack of feet
a. if you let the batter stand for too long before piping it out, then it will dry out. A dry batter will not create the beautiful pied.
6. lumpy tops (not flat nor shiny)
a. if you under-fold the batter (not giving the batter enough strokes during macaronage), then your shells will not be smooth and shiny. Under-folding will also make your shells too big and lumpy. If you’re going for the rustic look, then it’s fine; or else, give the batter a few more strokes.
7. bottom of shells are burnt
a. it’s best to bake your macarons on the middle rack of your oven. If they still get burnt, then try using two cookie sheets instead of one, or lower the temperature and bake for a bit longer.
8. regular vs convection oven
a. I always turn the fan on whenever I bake macarons. As well, I keep the oven door ajar and rotate the top and bottom trays half way through. Simply using a convection oven does not ensure even heat distribution (for my oven at least).
::: other notes
1. I used to think that if the almond flour isn’t fine enough, then it will cause the macaron shells to crack and create lumps on top. I can now tell you that it’s not true because I can bake perfect macarons even with big pieces of almonds here and there. Though of course, everything else needs to be right in order to cheat this step of not removing the big pieces after sifting the dry ingredients.
2. Many recipes say to use aged egg whites, but I never do, and it works fine for me. When the egg whites lose their elasticity, I actually have a harder time whipping them up.
3. It’s best to use egg whites that are at room temperature as it allows the meringue to whip up more easily and quickly. I never remember to leave them out, so I will place the whole eggs into a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes before using them.
4. silpat vs parchment paper – it really depends on the recipe. I find that silpat produces more consistent shells and they’re definitely more round. But with the recipe that I use, the shells tend to stick to the silpat and the feet are not as noticeable. For this reason, I use parchment in its place.
5. To pipe out even sizes, don’t be afraid to use a template. I do. I print out a template and then place it underneath the parchment. This way I can produce macarons of similar sizes.
6. An important part of getting shiny, smooth tops is to get the right consistency. I’d say that macaronage is the most difficult part of making macarons. Not the quality of ingredients, not the humidity, and not whether your egg whites have been aged or not. This is why I believe technique is above everything else. When you fold the almond/icing sugar mixture into the meringue, ensure the consistency isn’t too thick or runny. When you lift the spatula, the batter should fall slowly and the peaks should disappear in 5 seconds. If they don’t, then continue folding until they do. If you’ve over-fold the batter, then I’m afraid there’s nothing that can be done at this point.
I think these are all the tips I have. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.