As a person who holds the flavour & texture of food more important than its beauty, I surprise myself by how invested I am in making macarons look good. Macaronage is a technique used to achieve the glossy look, frilly ‘feet’, and fluffy/chewy texture of a macaron shell. It is basically a special way of combining the meringue and dry ingredients so that they mix together evenly and form the right texture. The method is difficult to describe because it relies heavily on your instincts. Many of the patissiers that I read in my research stressed that proper macaronage makes or breaks your macaron shells. But I would say you don’t need to stress as long as you proceed carefully, and using Italian meringue means you don’t have to be too delicate.
Using a flexible spatula, begin by taking a scoop of the glossy Italian meringue and stirring it into the thick almond paste to loosen it up. Then more carefully fold in the rest of the meringue a scoop at a time until it is all incorporated. You need to use gentle continuous motions to scrape around the edges of the bowl and fold into middle without working it too much, or the air trapped in the meringue will escape and you will lose its light fluffy texture. Luckily Italian meringue is durable enough to withstand mixing more than you might expect.
Once all the meringue has been thoroughly mixed in, start scraping over the surface of the mixture to ensure you don’t have any lumps of unmixed paste left. You might need to keep scraping the surface and around the bowl until the mixture reaches the right consistency. Some chefs and recipe methods tell you the precise number of scrapes you will need; instead I would say the macaronage should take a total of 2-4 mins, so stop if you are taking too long. The right consistency I would describe as looking like melted plastic or cheese fondue. Scoop up some mixture with your spatula and drip it back into the bowl; it should flow off the spatula as a thick glob and melt back into the surface of the mixture in about 10 secs.
If your mixture becomes too thin and flows too easily you will end up with flatter macarons. Once you have tested the consistency of your mixture check that it has a smooth, shiny and non-grainy surface. If the surface doesn’t look smooth, it could be because:
- you haven’t scraped and smoothed your mixture enough yet
- your almond meal was too coarse and you should grind the almond finer next time
- your almond paste was too dry – add a little bit more liquid next time
- your meringue was too stiff – check that you got your proportions correct and that you are not overheating your syrup
If your batter is staying thick and not flowing loosely even after 5 mins of mixing, use it as it is. It’s best not to try and thin it out with any liquid since the texture of the biscuit breaks down. There’s nothing you can really do except learn from these experiences!
Keep in mind that you can store the meringue and almond paste separately in the fridge for a few hours without any trouble, but once you begin mixing them together you have committed yourself to piping and baking this batch of macaron shells.