Sunday March 23, 2014
Avoiding Brown Macarons
I haven’t posted about macarons in a while, but after few years and a bajillion emails I’ve found myself copy-and-pasting the answer to a couple of questions often enough to warrant a short and sweet PSA.
First: when macarons begin to brown around the edges within ten minutes of baking, don’t turn down the heat, check your dye.
Many brands of gel paste, including Wilton, don’t use a heat safe formula. In fact, you’ll notice a peculiar phrase right on the label: icing color. This indicates a type of dye that works best with fondant, frosting, white chocolate, marshmallows, and other unbaked sweets.
These dyes may work alright in cake, insulated under a layer of crust, but in macaron shells icing colors will fade on the surface in a way that looks remarkably like browning (though some colors degrade more than others). This leads many folks to crank the heat down low, which prevents the meringue inside from cooking through and results in wet or hollow macarons.
Most professional chefs (including my friends Joe the Baker and Dana Cree) use Americolor. I asked Jill Colonna for her favorite brand in Paris, and she recommends DecoRelief. My longtime macaron comrade-at-arms Mardi Michels uses powdered food coloring from Crystal Colours and LorAnn. I haven’t tried Sugarflair Spectral, but its Amazon listing specifically mentions use in baking, and it’s available in the US and UK.
If you struggle with cracks or footless macarons and want to improve your technique: please skip the food coloring! You can’t dump petrochemicals into a batter and expect it to behave exactly as it would in its all-natural state. If you’re trying to master the technique, give yourself a fighting chance and leave the coal tar dye for another day.
A second problem that I’ve seen again and again is the paradox of overmixed yet cracked macarons. This can result from spotty technique, too much vigorous stirring and not enough deflation, but overall the balancing act of macaronage is exponentially easier with a thin and flexible spatula.
Unlike Angel’s Food Cake or Soufflé where you want to handle the meringue as gently as possible, macaronage is all knocking out excess air. I do this by smearing the meringue against the bowl with a flexible spatula. Especially thick plastic spatulas and hard silicon spatulas don’t have much give. Instead of bending to crush the meringue against the bowl, they simply stir it around, leaving most of the air intact.
Plenty of people have adjusted their technique to make use of rigid spatulas, but if you constantly wind up with a runny macaron batter that bakes up with cracks instead of feet, try switching to soft plastic. I have a collection of flimsy, beat up, no-name restaurant grade spatulas. Rather than searching for a specific brand, head to the store (or your own tool cabinet) to find a spatula soft enough to curl gently against the palm of your hand to form a “C” shape.
As always, remember that unlike other baking disasters, “failed” macarons taste amazing. Enjoy the process and give yourself room to learn!
36 comments and counting
Mar 24, 2014 · 6:14 AM
Great post – I so often get this question too and that had been my response, that I couldn’t vouch for food colouring I haven’t worked with. I use Crystal Colors powders or LorAnn powder colour both from goldaskitchen.com (they ship everywhere and no, I am not on commission!) with great success. I’ll be referring folks to your post from now on when they ask me!
· Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) · www.eatlivetravelwrite.com
Mar 24, 2014 · 10:58 AM
Aha! I think you just cracked the code for me Stella. What you are describing with runny batter and no feet describes my macaron issues exactly!
I am off to check my kitchen drawers for a flexible spatula. I will report back to you soon!
· saltandserenity · www.saltandserenity.com
Mar 24, 2014 · 4:37 PM
You must have read my mind. I will have to find a soft spatula! My batter was not runny though but I did not get very high feet? The feet were very small. I also had to bake mine longer, I started out with baking a few at a time to test the doneness and I went as long as 22 minutes because the tops would break off. When I finished all of them I got them all mixed up as far as which were baked at different times and some of them were gummy! I assume those were the ones baked at the least time?
Mar 24, 2014 · 10:00 PM
Ah ha!! I took a class on making macarons, and they never mentioned a thing about the type of food coloring to use. In fact, the brightly colored ones did turn brownish in our class, and the teacher blamed the oven as did I when it happened to me at home. They tasted delicious anyway, but next time I’m going with what the pros use.
Mar 25, 2014 · 2:45 PM
My macaroons have never been pretty, but you’re quite right, they have always been tasty! Now I feel better about attempting them again. Although I’ll always want them to be as pretty as yours… Ah well, some dreams are never realized!
· Elizab · elizabakes.wordpress.com
Mar 26, 2014 · 11:02 AM
Stella, you are a macaron goddess!
· Radhika · sinsationscakes.wordpress.com
Mar 26, 2014 · 11:54 AM
@Mardi, thank you, ma’am! I updated the post with your suggestions. Glad to have a powdered option too!
@saltandserenity, I hope you find the right one! I should add that restaurant sized spatuals are typically larger than the average home spatula, which may be helpful too.
@Shannonlizz, you’ll have to let us know which brand you wind up liking the best!
@Hilda, cheapie spatulas all the way! I have an assortment of heavy grade silicon, which I use exclusively for candy making. Otherwise, I am a big fan of super floppy, flimsy, beat up old spatulas.
@Curly top, don’t sweat the bake time. Different colors, flavors, and factors like your oven and baking sheet can dramatically alter the bake time, so it’s best to simply bake until the macarons peel up from the sheet and never-mind the specifics on time. But you’re right— underbaked macarons will be gummy!
@QueenOfChile, it’s really surprising how many people don’t realize it’s an issue. I give a lot of professionals a pass, because if they’re using a pro-brand, they may not even realize other people aren’t. But if their macarons are discoloring, they should know better!
@Elizab, as long as you enjoy your “lessons,” chasing perfection isn’t a bad thing. I just always feel sad when people beat themselves up over “failure,” throw out the “ugly” macarons, and act as if they should have all the skill of a professional with a decade of experience. It’s an unfair standard! Just keep baking, eating, and having fun!! Eventually you’ll build up enough experience and the pretty macarons will follow.
@Radhika, awwww <3
Mar 26, 2014 · 4:30 PM
I love your blog! Thank you for posting on macarons again! My fiend and I have been trying to make macarons. We’ve tried several different methods/recipes (including yours) and have had varied success. We haven’t had cracked tops or footless macs. However, we’ve had some issues with hollow shells and just today our macs turned out lopsided. Meaning they only have feet on one side of them. I feel like the problem is in the oven because I noticed it runs hot; I do have a thermometer. Is there something else that could be causing this? We made two separate recipes today and both had the same result; the first was an Italian merengue and the second was a French merengue. Thanks!
Mar 26, 2014 · 5:18 PM
Macarons shmacarons, we need to talk about that stuffed bunny! These photos are so awesome!
· Elizabeth @ SugarHero.com · sugarhero.com
Apr 05, 2014 · 5:51 AM
Hi Stella, Can I know why is my macaron batter so bubbly? I tapped the tray on the counter top and more bubbles turned up instead. I tried to make a black coloured shell but the shells cracked because I think I added too much of the food colouring (Wilton). Please help. Thanks a lot.
Apr 06, 2014 · 5:42 PM
I have been using your recipe for my macarons for some time now and LUUUURRVVV it…all with the exception that I am CONSTANTLY having to throw away…aka…feed the crumbs to the hubz…all of the cracked shells that appear in my
Batches. Every batch has this problem and I have tried every trick in my book and your book to resolve it with no success. The mix flows like lava, pipes beautifully, and there appears to be no rogue chunks of almond flour to cause any problems.
The macarons that work, look PERFECT! No hollows and no browning and with nice feet and smooth glossy shells as well!
Help me help me Brave Tart! You’re Macaron’s “DaBomb” and I can’t wait for you to help me out of this crack hole of a mess!
· Baker Bliss Maker · Www.bakerblissmaker.com
Apr 07, 2014 · 5:29 PM
@Laura, it does sound like the oven is to blame, especially if they always form feet on the same side. It could be a hot spot, but it could also be a subtle tilt in the oven itself, or with a warped oven rack. You might try grabbing a carpenter’s level (the kind with the air bubble in the liquid?) and seeing if there’s an incline inside your oven.
@Elizabeth, I know, isn’t he the cutest? It was a birthday present from the mister. Came from an etsy shop called Skunkboy.
@Venez, Is this a typical problem with your macarons, or just the ones with intense color? Wilton gel paste can always cause some issues (especially when you use a lot) because it isn’t designed for baking.
@Baker Bliss, oh no!!! I hate to hear about macarons getting thrown away, that’s tragic. You can crumble them up and store ‘em in the freezer to use as a garnish for creamy desserts. They add great crunch and flavor, and no one has to know they were a mistake. Here is a post where I did just that!
That said, try and keep an eye out to see if the cracks are happening in a consistent location, like the left side of your oven or some such. It may simply be a hot spot, and you can try strategically piping your macarons to avoid it. At the restaurant where I worked, I had to stop piping about 2” before I got to the end of the tray, because the macarons always cracked against the back wall of the oven.
Apr 08, 2014 · 8:22 PM
I just wanted to write and THANK YOU!! I made 3 batches of macarons last Saturday, following you tips and instructions with really good results. Then I made another batch Sunday to build on what I had learned Saturday. I shipped out about 40 macarons yesterday, to 5 different states, took 30 in to work today and saved up another 25 in my freezer to take to family in a couple of weeks. Luckily, I also have about 20 cracked, imperfect, learning macarons to eat here at home!!
Thanks for your very thorough instructions – especially how many strokes of folding the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture.
I also made your marshmallows (sent some to friends with small children). – great as well, I had only made ones using egg whites before and I didn’t want to have to worry about the temperature with shipping.
Apr 11, 2014 · 5:37 AM
Thanks you so much for your tips – I had a lot of browning on my macarons and I managed to get around the problem by dropping the heat a little and extending the baking time. That works fine for me, but I have noticed flatter feet.
And interestingly, I use Americolour, but the broning still occurs…!
Apr 11, 2014 · 4:31 PM
I have eaten more then a few failed batches of macaroons! Thank you for these tips and tricks!
· Lisa · www.unitedcakedom.com
Apr 21, 2014 · 4:59 AM
I looove your insightes about macaroons, I had some luck in making them, some good and some very very bad batches. Today I wanted to make some for a family reunion which is next week and i failed miserably. They are tasty and all, but they look veeeeery bad. Please, help me figure out what happend. I thik my meringue was good, but I had trouble with macaronage, my batter just would’t come to the right consistency…i mixed and mixed and mixed again, and nothing it just would not become runny enough. After my hand was completely sore from mixing and my batter still not runny enough, i’ve put them in the oven, and they cracked, didn’t have feet and were nothing like macaroons…why my batter is so stubborn, I wasn’t gentle with it, though i have a silicone spatula,but i had some good batches a few months ago with the same spatula…so I am completely baffled! Greetings from Norway
Apr 21, 2014 · 2:20 PM
Hi hypersonique. Aww, that’s so frustrating to hear. Let me ask, were you making a half or double batch of macarons? The batter sounds so incredibly thick that something must be wrong for it to require so much mixing. Often, when making a bigger or smaller batch, a simple math error can cause trouble. Or if any unusual ingredients are added (like some freeze dried fruit powder, some sort of flour or GF flour, etc). Any of that ring a bell?
Apr 22, 2014 · 9:30 AM
First of all,thank you sooo much for replying so fast! I am so greatfull! I didn’t use duoble nor half measurments..everything was measured by a scale and was excatly like in your recipe. It might be the flour though…i bought an organic almond flour..only kind i could find here in Norway,maybe that’s the cause? When i think about it,those times that my macaroons were very goodlooking I prepared them with flour I made from almonds (blanching them and grinding)…hmm,if it’s the flour..what can be done? You are right,batter was eeeery thick!
Apr 22, 2014 · 11:50 AM
Hi Hypersonique! Okay, so it sounds like something is up with the almond flour. It may be that in Norway it is milled much more finely than here in America. This would cause it to be more absorbent and thicken the batter (the same thing happens with coconut flour, it makes a crazy thick batter, but ground coconut works great). So you might try a different brand, or ordering it online, it may just be one company. But if you’ve made your own almond flour successfully in the past, that’s probably the best (and most affordable) option.
Apr 23, 2014 · 2:13 AM
Stella you are a genius! The flour is GF and is very finely milled, i found a different flour from the same brand yesterday which looks like homemade almond flour. So i will try it with this one or make my one. You are a savior! Thank you! Greetings from Norway!
Apr 27, 2014 · 12:47 PM
Hurray, I’m glad we got to the bottom of this!! Hope it’s smooth sailing from here.
May 01, 2014 · 9:28 PM
I just tried your recipe – it’s in the oven as we speak. I want to thank you for all the testing you did to debunk the macaroni myths…I don’t know the results yet, but whether these come out well or not, I feel like I will finally crack the code. Great blog – I just discovered it and will visit often! (I will confess, after the whites had been pilled into the beater for a couple of minutes, I stopped beating…and I just may have given that macaronage an extra couple of turns, since I think I normally under beat it….here’s hoping!
May 05, 2014 · 5:19 PM
Hi cookiedibbs! I’ll be curious to hear how your macarons turned out! I’ve found that underbeating the whites can lead to cracking, but I’m glad you feel like you’re finally making some progress. Cheers!
May 30, 2014 · 8:49 AM
When adding Crystal Colors, how much should I add to the mixture?
· Tammy · www.jerusalemcakedesign.com
May 31, 2014 · 3:41 PM
Hi Tammy! I’ve never used Crystal Colors personally, but Mardi from Eat. Live. Travel. Write. recommends 1/2 canister for every full batch of macarons, which is probably something like a teaspoon. She said that depending on the intensity you’re looking for, a full canister may be in order.
Jun 03, 2014 · 9:47 PM
I have used a toaster oven for baking my macarons because I rent the house and I have no idea if the stove oven is safe to use and plus it probably hasn’t been used or cleaned in 4 years or more. But I was wondering what tempature should I set it at for the toaster oven. Because I set it at 350F and 325F and within 10 minutes, they start to brown. How do I know when they are ready also?
this is my toaster oven
Black & Decker TRO490B 1200-Watt 4-Slice Countertop Oven and Broiler with Removable Crumb Tray
Jun 07, 2014 · 12:22 PM
Hi Joey! I’m afraid I have absolutely no experience with toaster ovens, so I can’t really estimate how it might handle with macarons. Macarons need to be baked a 300 F, so what oven format you use won’t change that.
Jul 12, 2014 · 11:37 PM
Your article pointed out the exact problem I am having; colouring!
My macarons come out of the oven perfectly now after so many attemps, but the only problem is the colour browns after baked.
Like you mentioned, I use Wilton’s icing colour and I guess that’s the first thing I should change in my recipe. I certainly will not change my temperature like some other bloggers suggest.
You listed some names of food colouring products, and I was curious what you use? Your macarons’ colour are so pretty!
Jul 14, 2014 · 6:31 AM
I just have one question, I am making macaroons for a wedding, that requires and off whitish colour, so I put no colouring and was really happy with the colour of the batter however they still browned in the oven even on a lower temperature, do you have any suggestions for me to stop them browning!? Cheers
Jul 17, 2014 · 11:06 AM
Hi Sammy! I’ve had a lot of success with Americolor, and there’s another type (I don’t remember the name, ahhh) we used to use at the restaurant. It was a commercial/proprietary brand sold by our food service provider in 8oz squeeze bottles, so not something you’d find in stores or online, unfortunately.
Hi Naii! The macarons are loaded with ingredients that loooove to brown as they bake (such as almonds, sugar, and egg whites) so it’s not possible to eliminate browning completely. If you reduce the temperature, they simply won’t bake as they should. Properly baked, a macaron will be a pale ivory with no additional browning around the edges. If yours are darker than that, it’s probably an oven issue; double panning may help, or putting an empty sheet pan on the top rack of the oven.