Mad Baker Chronicles

September 29, 2014

Brown and hollow macaron shells - the bane of my macaronage adventures. How and why they happen and how to (try to) make them go away after the jump.

So after a few hours of searching on Google, here's what I've gathered:

1. Hollow macaron shell tops meant undercooked macarons. 
But how can my macarons be undercooked when they were already browning?

2. Brown macaron shells meant overcooked macarons OR using a high temperature for baking.
Again, how can my macarons be overcooked when they had hollow shells, which meant they were undercooked? It is impossible to overcook and undercook anything at the same time, isn't it? Besides, I've been baking macarons at 300 degrees Fahrenheit - not a high temperature at all.

* The recipe I've been using calls for baking macarons at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, and rotating the pan halfway through.

The first macaron on the photo up top, labelled "0", was from the Blueberry Macaron batch HERE. The succeeding macarons are from the following experiments. Note that I used the same recipe and technique in all of the experiments below.

Experiment #1

Not So Humble Pie suggested adding an empty baking pan to the top rack of the oven to "shield" the macarons from the oven-top temperature to prevent browning.

What I did:
- I put an empty pan on the top rack of the oven
- lowered down the middle rack one layer
- and extended the baking time to 16 minutes (from 15 minutes)
- mixed darker, more intense purple food coloring to the cookie batter

Brown-purple macarons that were cracked and horrendous. Only 6 shells survived without cracking. This was the worst batch of macarons I have ever made! Shells weren't hollow though.

Experiment #2

I read from Brave Tart that the gel food coloring could be making the macarons brown, so I skipped food coloring completely on the next batch.

What I did:
- I put an empty pan on the top rack of the oven,
- placed the macarons on the absolute middle rack of the oven
- baking time of 16 minutes
- no food coloring used
- 285F (from 300F)

I got browned macarons that almost didn't have feet, and the macarons at the sides of the pan cracked. These macarons were supposed to be white! Argh! So it wasn't the food coloring that made my macarons brown. Something was wrong with our oven.

Experiment #3

I read from various forums that putting foil on the top rack helps prevent browning macarons. So...

What I did:
- I covered the top rack of the oven with a layer of aluminum foil
- retained the 16-minute baking time

The macarons were lightly browned but they had hollow shells yet again. At this point, I was already frustrated.

My experiments didn't stop there. I tried opening the oven door a few minutes before baking time was through. I tried lowering the temperature even further (275F) and increasing the baking time, I tried covering the pan directly with foil. I tried every suggestion I could find on the internet and yet there was nothing that fixed both hollow and brown shells. It seemed like it was either I got hollow OR brown shells. I couldn't make them both go away.

After dozens of eggs, pounds of powdered sugar and pounds of ground almonds, I gave up. I decided that it was our oven's fault. I can't verify this of course because I don't have another oven to test with. Oh, how I missed Elba! I also decided that I could live with brown-ish macaron shells but never hollow shells. I compromised.

So now that you know the full and unabridged story of my macaron adventures, don't be surprised if I post brownish macarons in the future. You know the scoop. Oh and I'll make sure to let you know if my suspicions about our (evil) oven is correct as soon as I get my hands on a newer oven that I can borrow. Until then, ciao!

P.S. Stay tuned for a revised salted caramel macaron recipe, and some matcha green tea macarons too!

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