Macarons are one of the most beautiful foods in the world. In fact, they have a long and interesting history. With their vibrant colors and delicate taste, they evoke elegance, decadence, and refinery.
The smooth appearance of these delicious treats is crucial to fully enjoying them, and one of the most difficult challenges that a macaron baker faces.
Here, we discuss why macarons crack from a scientific perspective, and what bakers can do to prevent cracking and produce the perfect macaron.
Causes of Cracking in Macarons
One of the main causes of cracking in macarons involves the drying process, which must take place before baking. After the macarons are prepared for baking by being piped and shaped, they must dry.
The purpose of the drying process is to seal the pastry. When the macarons are baked, the air inside them expands as the particles speed up due to the chemical reactions.
Drying creates a hard exterior shell that prevents the active, expanded air from breaking through the macaron surface and causing cracks.
Drying is one of the most crucial steps in making macarons, and it should not be hurried. Below, we will look at how to dry macarons. First, though, we must consider other causes of cracking.
Macarons may also crack because of improper preparation. It is always important to thoroughly combine your ingredients, but it is a lesser-known fact that mixing too much can cause problems with baked goods.
Once again, invisible gases are to blame; as ingredients are mixed, air seeps into the batter. This excess air becomes too much for even properly dried macarons, and they crack.
Another cause of cracking involves the baking process. If your oven is not heated to the right temperature or if you have pockets of holder or colder air in your oven, the macarons can crack.
Use the Right Ingredients and Equipment
Very often, in both cooking and baking, it is perfectly acceptable to use substitutions for ingredients. For something as delicate and intricate as macarons, though, it is not a good idea.
If your recipe calls for a specific type of flour (most likely almond flour, although there are alternatives), be sure that you use it. Even using egg white substitutes instead of actual egg whites may cause changes in the chemical reactions involved in baking, which can cause cracks.
You must also prepare all the ingredients according to directions. If your recipe calls for sifted flour, not sifting the flour might make the granules too thick and trap air or cause other problems that can lead to cracking.
One exception to this rule that is especially relevant to making macarons is the shade of food coloring that you use to achieve those vibrant colors that are characteristic of macarons.
The same goes for the temperature of the ingredients: make sure that you follow directions. You should soften butter for about an hour at room temperature.
Eggs require about thirty minutes to come to room temperature. Using ingredients that are not properly warmed (or cooled) can change the temperature of the batter and affect the baking process.
Be sure that your kitchen is equipped with the proper equipment before you undertake baking macarons. If your recipe calls for a certain type of pan, tray, or sheet, be sure to use it.
If you do not have the necessary equipment, look for another recipe instead of incurring the expense of purchasing new materials.
One cost-friendly element of making macarons is that it is better to mix the ingredients by hand rather than using a stand mixer, which can cost more than $300.
Finally, if you are new at cooking something as complex as macarons, it is also best to stick to one macaron recipe at a time. Do not try to combine elements of different recipes until you have more experience making macarons.
Use the Proper Techniques
Macarons are complicated not only because of the specificity of their ingredients, but also the importance of using the right cooking techniques while preparing them.
Folding is probably the one that causes bakers the most trouble. If your recipe calls for you to fold in your ingredients (and it probably does), make sure that you do so properly.
You may want to watch a video tutorial or two so you can see how this tricky technique is done. Proper folding will help ensure the right air content in your macarons, which is crucial to preventing cracks.
In general, if there are any steps, terms, ingredients, or any other elements that you do not understand in your recipe, look them up before you start cooking. Proper mastery ensures favorable outcomes.
Get Rid of Excess Air
Drying (discussed below) is probably the most important step in preventing macarons from cracking, but there are other methods and steps to take to reduce the possibility of air bubbles in the raw treats.
First, be sure to stop mixing your batter as soon as the ingredients are combined. As discussed above, over-mixing allows too much air into the batter. It is best to mix macaron ingredients by hand manually rather than using a stand mixer or a hand mixer.
In addition, do not let batter sit for long periods of time. As it sits, more air seeps into the mixture. Be sure that you have time to complete the project when you begin cooking.
One technique that bakers can utilize once the macarons are piped is gently banging the tray of treats onto the countertop. Simply lift the tray and set it down forcefully but with control.
This jostling can loosen and burst air pockets before baking, allowing the baker to smooth out the surface of the macarons. It is best to do this before the actual drying period.
How to Dry Unbaked Macarons
We have established the importance of drying when making macarons. The best method for accomplishing this important step requires patience. The unbaked macarons must simply sit out to dry for a long enough period of time.
As a good rule of thumb, leaving them overnight is almost always sufficient. Four hours may be enough, but this may vary depending on the dryness of the air in your region and your home.
There are ways to speed up the drying process. The most reliable is to use a food dehydrator.
Place the unbaked macarons in the dehydrator for approximately twenty minutes on the lowest setting. Other methods, which involve other ways of drying out the air around the macarons, are less reliable and not recommended.
With time, skilled bakers learn to detect when macarons are properly dried and ready to be baked by using just their sight and a light touch. Amateur and non-professional bakers can also learn this skill, though it takes patience and practice.
Control the Baking Process
You want to make sure that you have as much control as possible over the baking process itself in order to prevent cracks. First, make sure that your oven is working at the best temperature. Many home ovens heat either too hot or too cold.
The best way to see if your oven is heating to the proper temperature is to purchase a simple oven thermometer, which is available at any home goods supply store, hardware store, and many grocery stores.
Place it in the center of your oven and make sure that it registers the temperature to which you’ve heated your oven. If not, you will need to adjust your temperature accordingly.
Once you’ve gotten your oven to the correct temperature, you need to try to avoid those pockets of hotter or colder air that are mentioned above.
Many newer ovens have a fan that can be turned on to circulate the hot air inside the oven, evening out the temperature. On some ovens, there is a specific setting for baking that will automatically turn on a fan.
Be sure to bake your macarons one tray at a time. The more items in an oven at once, the slower the heated air circulates. Baking one tray at a time, with nothing else in the oven, helps promote proper temperature maintenance.
Once the macarons are in the oven, do not open the oven door until it is time to remove them. Every time the oven door is opened, it allows cooler air inside. This cooler air can impact the cooking process in two ways: first, the cooler air hits the pastries and impacts their cooking process.
Second, the presence of cooler air brings the overall temperature inside the oven down, prompting it to pump in more heat. In short, opening the oven causes fluctuations in the temperature of the oven that damage the baking macarons and may cause cracking.
Enjoy Your Beautiful Macarons
Macarons are a complicated treat to prepare. It is the goal of many amateur and professional bakers to make perfect macarons. If you are able to master this tricky yet delectable dessert, enjoy it. You have earned your bragging rights!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.