French macarons are notoriously difficult to make, yet once mastered it's easy to look back and understand the reasons why they didn't work. With this in mind we've put together a list of five common problems when making French macarons and solutions to ensure success the next time round.
We've developed these tips for making French macarons using the Italian meringue method. We find the 'Italian method' more reliable - it is where you heat sugar into a syrup before whisking into the egg whites, forming a more stable meringue. However, the tips are still applicable to most other methods of making macarons.
1) My macarons have nipples when piped
The mixture hasn't spread properly when piped onto the baking tray. Tapping the baking tray a few times on a surface covered with a tea towel will help them to spread and lessen the nipples. The deeper problem, however is that the macaron batter is likely to have been under-mixed. Use a spatula to mix the batter, gently folding the dry ingredients into the wet ones - the consistency is right when the mixture begins to look glossy around the edges. Test the mixture by prodding it with the end of the spatula, the batter should sink back into place after about 20 seconds.
This can also happen when the mixture is too dry. See (5) below for our tips on amount of water to add to the macaron mixture.
2) My macarons have cracked
The piped macarons weren't dried out for long enough before being baked. The drying out process allows a skin to form on the top of the macarons which prevents the expanding air from escaping. If the skin isn't thick enough the expanding air will burst through it, causing the macarons to be cracked. In our tried and tested macaron recipe we dried the macarons out overnight, for approximately 8-9 hours before baking. To speed things up we also found that macarons can be dried out for 20 minutes in a dehydrator on the lowest setting.
3) My macarons don't have feet
This usually happens when the mixture has been overmixed. Many bakers recommend a certain number of folds to achieve the perfect results but this hinges on many variable factors so it's better to learn what the mixture should look like when it's ready - it will start to turn glossy around the edges and will fall back into place when prodded after 20 seconds. Another cause for feetlessness may be underbeating the egg whites for the Italian meringue - they should just have reached the soft peak stage when you pour the hot syrup over them. Start beating the egg whites on full speed once the sugar syrup reaches 117°C, and by the time it reaches 121°C the egg whites should be sufficiently beaten.
If your macarons have very small 'flat' feet, it is because they have not been baked long enough. When you think the macarons are cooked, touch the edge of the feet. If they feel very delicate and sticky then bake for a little longer.
These macarons were taken out of the oven too soon, as they have sunk back down into their 'foot' when cooling.
4) My macarons have a bumpy surface or they look blotchy
Shop bought ground almonds contain fragments which need to be either sieved out of the mixture or ground more finely in a food processor. We recommend mixing together the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and whizzing for a few seconds (10-15 seconds) - any more than this and the oils from the almond will start to be released and cause the macarons shells to look 'blotchy'. Remove from the food processor and pass through a fine sieve, discarding any larger fragments that won't pass through.
You can see that the macarons in the bottom right have a slightly blotchy or 'oily' surface. The oil from the almonds has started to leach out, caused by over grinding the almonds or by over-mixing the macaron mixture.
5) My macarons aren't perfectly round
This is often caused by irregular piping - try holding the piping bag perpendicular to the baking tray and draw evenly spaced circles on the underside of the parchment paper to guide you. Some recipes call for adding liquid food colour or powdered food colour dissolved in water - sometimes the mixture may spread unevenly even when piped correctly if it contains too much water. We recommend using no more than 1 tbsp of liquid per 200g of almond/icing sugar mixture.
You can see the macarons have lifted in the oven and then landed to one side of their "feet". This can happen when the piping bag is not held perpendicular to the baking sheet.