Troubleshooting Macarons: How to Tell What Went Wrong

This past week Last month, I’ve been testing out the new oven by baking macarons. As I continued testing out different ingredient measurements and baking methods, one thing I constantly asked myself throughout the whole process was: What went wrong with my macarons?

Like I mentioned in “Preparing to Make Macarons,”

You’ll need to find out at what temperature and for how long your macarons should be baked. Since different ovens work differently, it is necessary for you to test it out yourself. Factors such as humidity, temperature, and heat distribution affect the outcome of your macarons, not to mention your meringue and how/how much you fold the meringue with the almond flour/sugar [macronage].

These factors are not the only factors that come into play, but they are the major ones.

THE “SECRET” TO TROUBLESHOOTING

If your macarons don’t turn out the way you want them to, the problem will be because of one or more of the factors mentioned above and below:

  • placement- Where you place your tray of macarons in the oven.
  • temperature- At what temperature you are baking your macarons.
  • heat distribution- How heat travels in your oven.
  • humidity- Where you live affects how long you rest your macarons and your oven as well.
  • time- baking time.
  • meringue- How well you whip the egg whites.
  • macronage- How well you fold the almonds, sugar and egg whites.

Here are some totally preventable factors that you can ignore if you deal with them beforehand:

  • egg whites- Don’t leave any traces of egg yolk.
  • sifting- Sift your powdered sugar and ground almonds to avoid clumps.
  • baking tray- Get a good quality one.
  • mixing bowl and whisk- Make sure they free of oil residue before whipping egg whites.

HOW TO TELL

OK, so how do I know which factor it is? The best solution is to keep experimenting. If your macarons do not work out or if you want to find the best way to make macarons, there is little way around it. Record the information (see examples) for each batch of macarons you make, so you can refer back to it and make improvements upon your past mistakes. Based on your observations, you will learn to recognize the signs of what happened to the macarons.

What are the typical tell-tale signs as a result of a certain factor? Not So Humble Pie helpfully listed many of the possible situations, so you can get an idea of what could, did or could’ve happened. I include my own troubleshooting in the attempts below.

METHOD

I troubleshoot by looking at the result and thinking about what I did in each step of making macarons.

Macaron Recipe
100g aged egg white
15g castor sugar
200g powdered sugar
125g almond meal
For recipe instructions, see How to Make Macarons.

Here’s what I did differently from the previous attempts:

  • Slightly different weight of ingredients.
  • I aged the egg whites for around three days at room temperature and covered it loosely with plastic wrap. Sticking a post-it note of the date/time when you start aging them helps you keep track of when your aged eggs are ready, which is typically good to go after 2-3 days.
  • All macarons are baked on Silpats.
  • I tried Alice Medrich’s technique from her cookbook, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, by preheating the oven to 400˚F, putting the macarons on the upper part of the oven, then immediately lowering the temperature to 300˚F. Halfway through the baking time, I rotated the tray and placed it on the bottom part of the oven.

—————————————

Attempt #4

I over beat the four-day-old egg whites the first time to see how it would turn out. It wasn’t pretty. The second time, I used a hand mixer and beat the egg whites. Still, they are not very glossy-looking. I’ve come to the conclusion that the french meringue isn’t going to produce meringue as glossy as the meringue made through the sucre-cuit method. Edit: According to Doris, who commented on this post, the “French meringue method makes glossier macarons than Italian meringue method (with the hot syrup).”

Sidenote: The sucre-cuit (Italian meringue) method is different because you you heat the sugar into a syrup and incorporate it into the meringue.

After resting the tray for about one hour, I baked the macarons for 17-18 minutes using Alice Medrich’s method.

Results:

  • Feet are not as high as before. Factor: Baking temperature.
  • No more air pockets/hollows inside the macaron! Factor: Baking temperature and heat distribution
  • I undercooked the macarons. The middle was too soft to be fully baked. Factor: time.
  • Too much moisture from the sugar= tastes sweeter. (Again, not fully baked.) Factor: time.
  • A little little little bit over mixed. Look for signs of warping on the shells of the macaron. Factor: macronage.

Attempt #4.5

Same batter as #4, but baked with my old, thinner tray. Using Medrich’s baking technique did not work well for these macarons, and I suspect that the tray was the culprit. That is because the macarons have cracked shells, is undercooked inside, is brown and burnt on the surface, and has little to no feet. They cracked in about ten minutes in. There is a little “dome” on top of the macaron because the middle rose and partially cracked the shell. The cracked shells can’t be mainly because of the oven, because Attempt #4 came out nicely and was baked using the same method. Factor: tray.

Suggestions:

  • Bake the macarons longer with the same baking method to see how things turn out.
  • Double stack the old tray.
  • Fold a little less.

Attempt#5

I’m writing #5 and 5.5 exactly over one month later (9/9/11), so please excuse my fuzzy memory.

This time, I used egg whites that were left out on the table for two days at room temperature. Same ingredients and measurements, but I did not sift the almond flour very well… needless to say, it came out clumpy. I used the 400˚F to 300˚F method again. Before I even baked them, I had a bad feeling about it. I had left them out to rest and develop a shell for a few hours, but they refused to dry! It is most likely the humidity, or the fact that I left them in front of the air conditioner.

Results:

  • 22-25 minutes or so, it became cracked, or puckered. Factor: macronage
  • The bottom lifted off the Silpat. Factor: probably the tray
  • Half of the macarons cracked while the other half on the other side of the tray was less cracked. Factor: probably placement or the A/C
  • Some macarons had air bubbles in them. Factor: macronage or sifting
  • The bottom is has a glossy sheen.
  • It is overcooked and browned on the outside/on the bottom, but is undercooked inside. Factor: sifting and/or macronage
  • No hollow macarons. Yay! I no longer seem to have this problem with hollow macarons.
  • Bumpy surface. Factor: sifting
  • Small feet. Factor: humidity

Attempt#5.5

This tray of macarons were baked at 300˚F for 18 minutes on the middle-bottom of the oven. I used the crappy tray from Attempt #4.5. Again, the surface of the piped macarons refused to dry.

Suggestions:

  • Sift carefully.
  • Perhaps avoid the air conditioner.
  • Remember to take macarons out of the oven! I left them inside the oven so that they can at least be eaten as meringues, but for some reason, I forgot all about them. Imagine my confusion when one weekend morning two weeks later, my mom asked me why I had macarons in the oven.

CONCLUSION

I hope that this was not too confusing! Basically, the best way to consistently make good macarons is to keep making them, identifying what went wrong and applying that knowledge the next time you make some more.

Disclaimer: Let me note that when I explain how my thought processes, my following results are not definite conclusions, but are inferences based on what I observe and record. Therefore, when I take an educated guess on what caused my macaron error, it is not exact or 100% accurate. (In order to be that accurate, it would require a control group.)

Step-By-Step:

  1. What French Macarons Are All About
  2. Preparing to Make Macarons
  3. How to Make Macarons
  4. Macaron Results: One, Two and Three
  5. Troubleshooting Macarons: How to Tell What Went Wrong
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12 Responses to Troubleshooting Macarons: How to Tell What Went Wrong

  1. Doris says:

    I actually saw a video of a pastry chef making macarons. His advice: French meringue method makes glossier macarons than Italian meringue method (with the hot syrup), not the other way around. He said they’re shinier and more delicate this way. If you take your meringue to high peaks, they won’t crack when in the oven.

    When you add the almond flour to the egg whites, add it little by little, don’t fold too hard, so that you don’t lose air in the meringue. But, after you have all your flour in, adjust the consistency by scraping and scraping the batter against the bowl, until the batter is shiny and it flows in ribbons and you don’t have bubbles. If the batter seems dull, keep on scrapping till you develop the shine in the batter.

    He only baked them for 7-8 minutes. My Laduree recipe says to bake for 12 to 15 min. So I think you might be overbaking them?

    I love your blog. You’re just amazing!

  2. Carolyn says:

    Hi, from the looks of things you are overbeating during the macaronnage… the wrinkly shells, cracks, lifting from silpat and no feet are all due to that one problem (that also saves you from hollow shells, but wrecks everything else). My advice is to focus on good meringue technique and folding veeeery gently until you get to know your batter. Good Luck!

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  4. Ada says:

    I like how detailed you are with each of your attempts! These are great tips, and will help me with my macarons. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Siu Ching says:

    Why do the foot of my macaroons and the base get burn?

    • Vivian says:

      I do not know for sure, but it may be because the bottom part of your oven is too hot, you baked your macarons too long, or your baking tray is not thick enough. If your baking tray is not thick enough, try double stacking two thin ones. Hope this helps!

  6. Katie says:

    Hello, I have a peculiar problem. I’ve made this recipe twice now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ636Y8N6E8 and the David Lebovitz chocolate macaron recipe twice, and Beth’s one does something rather funny. Everything is fine until I try to take the shells off the tray – they get stuck. So I put them back in, but after about double the baking time in the instructions (about 45 mins total), they start getting brown on the outside but still aren’t coming off the paper cleanly. I’m not really sure what the problem is – perhaps it’s my trays, or maybe just the oven? If you have any ideas, please let me know! Thanks :)

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Katie,

      Your macarons are probably undercooked on the inside, which is why it sticks to the tray. 45 minutes is too much for macarons, since the shell brown. You could try piping smaller-sized macarons, or pour a bit of hot water underneath the parchment paper/silpat to loosen it up (I haven’t tried this myself but I’ve read about people who’ve done it). Another idea is to peel the parchment paper/silpat away from the macaron shell rather than the other way around.

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