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.

stuffed animals and macarons

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.

French macarons with dark ganache

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!

posted byStellaand filed under:  macarons

75 comments and counting

Dec 23, 2015 ·  7:33 AM

Great command you have chef.
Question: Are you against using open hand and not the spatula to mix it, same way some do with the Genoise?

 · Denis · 

Jan 18, 2016 ·  4:43 PM

We are using Americolor, and the green loses its coloring and has brown around the edges. We have a wolf convection oven, we baked at 300 degrees for 15 minutes turning after 15. Tried baking only on the bottom shelf, turned the heat down to 275. But we have feet, they aren’t hollow so we are looking at this as a win. Any thoughts?

 · LISA · 

Feb 07, 2016 ·  6:54 PM

I used Americolor blue soft gel past (103) & it turned green when baked at 300 (could have reached as high as 325). The macarons tasted perfect though — the “slightly overcooking” is a great tip. thanks. h

 · H  · 

Feb 14, 2016 ·  2:23 PM

I think it may be the salt. I forgot the salt in one batch using Americolor gel and the macarons were blue. When I added salt in the next batch they turned green.

 · Cathy · 

Feb 28, 2016 · 10:14 PM

What if I don’t use any food coloring and it still turns brown?

 · John · 

Apr 08, 2016 ·  6:06 AM

we use the sugarflair you mention, and are currently using titanium dioxide. It looks beautiful when piped, and mix rises well and even, but on 115C (fan assisted) for 15/18 mins, they always go a pale brown regardless of quantity used.. especially the ones around the edges of the tray! its baffling me how anyone can achieve the ultra white/pale look.. any suggestions?

 · Lou · 

May 15, 2016 ·  3:16 PM

the folks over at chefsteps, whose macaron recipes I’ve been using for a while now, use powdered food colouring. they suggest that it alters the behaviour of the batter in a more predictable way and yields a richer colour. I must admit, my forays into the world of pastry are limited, so for all I know this could be a big no-no by most people’s standards. If powdered colourings are frowned upon, I wouldn’t be shocked, as the chefsteps boys aren’t exactly known for sticking to tradition.

 · john · 

Jul 03, 2016 ·  2:53 PM

I used powdered vanilla instead of vanilla extract and I don’t use any food colouring as well. Still, it turned brown and cracks. Why?? =(

 · Samantha · 

Aug 10, 2016 ·  6:48 PM

Hi, I had cracks in my first batch of macaroons, but I since discovered I wasn’t whisking the egg whites enough! This makes all the difference… No cracks! Look perfect on top…. Now all I need is the feet!

 · Algarvecakes  · 

Aug 11, 2016 ·  2:01 PM

I have feet!!!! I’m so excited!!!! This recipe rocks!!! Thanks!!

 · Algarvecakes  · 

Nov 21, 2016 ·  6:50 PM

I recently made, or tried to make, a batch of white macarons. I used AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste – Bright White and they turned brown in the oven. Oven temp was fine as I had made some coloured ones previously and after with the same temp. This is Australia and we do not have the benefit of most of the products that are available in the US and the UK for baking. Would you recommend a white that can be used for macarons please. With thanks.

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