When making macarons, most patisseries use the Italian method, due to the reliability of Italian meringue. It is very stable, which is important for a well-shaped macaron. I find the Italian method the most fail-safe, so this is the foundation I have used here, with lots of helpful tips and tricks.
200g almond meal, laid out on tray to dry for 2 days
200g pure icing sugar, sieved
150g egg whites (from 3 to 4 large eggs), sieved and allowed to stand at room temperature overnight
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1g dry egg-white powder (optional)
200g castor sugar
Few drops food colouring
Preheat oven to 150C. Place almond meal and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse to get a finer consistency. Sieve through a drum sieve into a large mixing bowl. Divide egg whites in two batches, each 75 grams. Place one batch of egg whites in an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add cream of tartar and egg white powder and set aside.
Mix the remaining egg whites into almond mix to make a thick paste, then set aside. Put sugar and water in a saucepan on medium heat, stir to make sugar syrup. Insert thermometer. When thermometer reaches 110C, start whisking egg whites on low speed. Gradually increase the speed until the egg whites are thick. If the sugar syrup gets too hot before the egg whites are ready, add three teaspoons of cold water to syrup to reduce the temperature. When sugar syrup reaches 118C and the egg whites are ready, slowly pour syrup down the side of the mixer while whisking the egg whites on medium speed.
Continue to mix for about 10 minutes until the meringue cools (the bowl should still feel slightly warm). Add food colouring. Using a pastry scraper, mix the meringue into the almond meal paste — no need to be gentle. Keep mixing until the paste is supple and shiny. It is important to have the correct consistency. The mixture should be oozy and lava-like. When you fold the mixture over itself, it will spread slowly. Using a pastry bag fitted with a one-centimetre plain nozzle, pipe mixture on to a lined double baking tray. Using two trays ensures even heat distribution. You can use baking paper to line the trays but I have found a silicone baking mat gives the best result. Rap the baking tray on the bench firmly a couple of times to get rid of any large air bubbles, settle the shape of the macaron and help make the pied or "foot". Bake for about 16 minutes-18 minutes.
Check the macarons are dry by testing whether the top and the pied are firm (if the top is soft and the sides are moist, leave them a few more minutes). Remove from oven and cool on baking trays, then remove and place on wire racks. When cool, sandwich with filling (see recipes right). Refrigerate overnight for the correct soft macaron texture. They can be frozen for up to six weeks.
Makes 85-90 (42-45 filled macarons)
Good-quality equipment is essential: digital scales, digital thermometer, good-quality baking trays, clear silicon baking mats, flexible plastic pastry scraper, piping bag and nozzles.
Use a double tray (two equal-size trays, stacked) when baking macarons — this helps with even heat distribution.
Use a silicon baking mat for perfectly shaped round macarons.
For a batch of even-size macarons, use a black pen to trace circles around a four-centimetre round pastry cutter on to baking paper. Leave room for the macarons to spread. Then place the silicon mat over the top and use the circles as a guide when piping.
Spread almond meal on a tray and allow to dry out for two to three days before using to evaporate excess moisture.
Don't use fresh egg whites. Break whites into a sieve suspended over a bowl and leave at room temperature overnight (use leftover yolks to make a curd filling). This helps the whites lose some of their water content.
Adding egg-white powder helps with stability of the meringue.
Use bake-stable food colouring. For more intense colours, use powders, sold at specialty cake-decorating and food stores. Liquid food colouring gives paler colours and is sold at supermarkets.
As you sandwich the macarons together, twist to "screw" down as this helps evenly distribute filling.