Macarons are fickle, flighty culinary concoctions. On the one hand, they're wonderfully delicious -- the shells are crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside and melded together with a thick, rich sauce or ganache. Each bite melts on the tongue, leaving a sweet, nutty taste and a craving for more.
On the other hand, they're a pain in the butt to make.
They weren't always so difficult. While in California I had engineered a few different types, and had had an easy enough time that I didn't understand the pain many protested undergoing. Then I moved from moderate California to rain-everyday Washington and discovered just how touchy macarons can be. They don't like cold, they don't like heat, and they don't like humidity. 68 degrees with <20% humidity was perfect. Washington, with 55 degrees and 100% humidity, was a whole 'nuther ballgame.
You're supposed to leave the macarons out after piping and before baking for an hour or two to allow a skin to form. Macarons are essentially a meringue, so to maintain the smooth top of an ideal macaron you must have a hard skin in place when the baking bubbles start. The bubbles then have nowhere to go but out the sides, creating the desired "foot" effect. The purpose of leaving the macarons out for the few hours before baking is to dry them out enough to create the necessary skin.
Did I mention the 100% humidity?
Four hours out and the macarons were still sticky to the touch. I should have just left them overnight (couldn't have hurt) but I like to wrap up my baking projects in one day, preferably. The end result therefore was mixed: some were cracked on top but peeled away from the paper easily, others had perfectly smooth tops but disintegrated when moved, and still more turned out unblemished and photographable.
"Get on with it!" I hear you cry. Ok, well: the recipe is adapted from Tartlette's version, modified to work for more humid areas. I don't believe it'll fail given drier climates, but that's what small batches and lots of practice is for! By the third batch I'd gotten the hang of it, and had photographic evidence to document the step-by-step process, just because I love you guys. By the way, here are a few other sites I referred to for symptomatic fixes.
Some basic notes: I left my egg whites out for ~24 hours before using, but I have no idea if it made a difference. Also, before processing my almond flour, I lightly toasted it on a cookie sheet at 325 degrees for ~3 minutes. The idea was to eliminate as much extra moisture from the almond flour as possible before use.
UPDATE: While writing up this post I was commenting to my boyo about how much the humidity here had affected the general skin-forming time. A few hours later he came back to the topic with "Could you have used a hairdryer?" ..... That's not a bad idea. You'd have to use a low setting, and hold the dryer way above the macarons so the air wouldn't force the batter around, but it might work in a pinch. The other solution that occurred to me after (of course!) was to turn the oven on "warm," and leave the macarons in for a bit with the door propped open. This would have to be watched carefully though, so try it first on just one batch!
The Dulce de Leche is from David Lebovitz's site: it's awesome and I could eat it by itself (and did!)
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1 cup unblanched almonds
Combine the sugar and almonds in a heavy saucepan. Place over medium heat to begin melting the sugar, and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so the sugar melts and caramelizes evenly. Cook to a light amber color.
Scrape the praline from the saucepan and spread it about 1/4-inch thick on an oiled baking sheet or a marble surface. Let cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Break the hard praline into 1-1/2 inch pieces and place them in a bowl of a food processor and quickly pulse until finely ground to crumb consistency (any coarser and they'll break the macaron's skin).
* 3 egg whites
* 50 gr. granulated sugar
* 200 gr. powdered sugar
* 110 gr. ground almonds
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not over-beat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work. Soft peaks were about right for me.
Pulse the almond flour in a food processor a couple times, then gradually add the powdered sugar until thoroughly combined. You don't want to turn the almonds into butter, but by adding the powdered sugar in parts you'll insure the almonds are finely ground and fully incorporated. The picture below shows a before-and-after.
Add the almond mixture to the meringue in two parts, folding the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Make sure there are no lumps or streaks! Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small peak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small round onto parchment paper baking sheets. Sprinkle the praline powder over the shells. Let macarons sit out for a couple hours (or if need be, overnight!) until they are no longer sticky to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 315F. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size (mine were just under 2 inches wide, so I baked for 15-17 minutes). Let cool completely. If bottoms are still sticky after cooling, move the parchment paper to a cooling rack and leave for a couple of hours (or again, overnight. I love humidity!). Sandwich them with the Dulce de Leche, collapse into a chair, and enjoy!