I wrote this post because I found that there wasn’t much information about how to use your home oven properly when baking macarons. Unlike spacious and sturdy commercial grade ovens with even heat distribution, home ovens can be temperamental and seem to need a lot of coddling. For any home baker, it’s very important to know their own oven well in order to achieve success with any recipe. You will need to experiment under different baking conditions like rack position, temperature and bake time to find the optimal conditions for successful baking. When you learn to trust your oven, it will love you back ♥
When I started making macarons, I was more concerned about feet development and just making sure that the macarons actually looked like macarons. Needless to say, I was not too picky back then. But as I baked more of them, I realized that all the faults like hollow shells, crispy over baked bodies etc. would actually manifest itself in its outer appearance. In other words, you are essentially showing the world all your macaron’s faults just by its visual presentation. I started to demand more perfection from these little sweet treats.
Even when you follow a macaron recipe religiously, you can still end up with ugly or underdeveloped macarons just because you used your oven incorrectly. Almost all the recipes I’ve ever read would simply teach you to bake the shells in the oven for so and so minutes at so and so temperature. It drove me crazy when I ended up with overly brown or undercooked macarons. It really drove me to experiement with my oven in order to get my macarons just right.
I’m not saying which method will work the best since all ovens are different. Every baker should know their own oven well. This post highlights the different ways to adjust your oven to perfect the baking process. You may need to use a combination of these adjustments to acheive the results you want depending on your own situation.
❤ Oven Adjustment Methods
♥ Bake Time and Temperature
Macarons can be over baked/under baked and feet development can be overdeveloped/underdeveloped if the baking time or temperature is not well aligned. For over baked shells or over developed feet, the temperature is probably too high causing it to bake too quickly. You will also find that feet which develop quickly and outwards are also victims of over folding and overly hot oven temperatures. The high heat forces the feet to develop much too quickly and it has nowhere to go except up and out. On the other hand, under baked shells and under developed feet (not a lack of feet due to wrong folding techniques, just underdeveloped), cannot fully reach their full potential when the oven temperature is not high enough.
Learn to adjust the temperatures in your oven. To compensate for adjusted temperatures, you will also need to readjust the baking time and vice versa. For temperature increases, baking time should be decreased. For temperature decreases, baking time should be increased. However, baking at lower temperatures may sometimes result in an undercooked shell and baking at higher temperatures may cause shells to brown. If that is the case, try adjusting the rack position as outlined in the next section.
The middle rack is often the “default” position in any oven. It’s ideal for most foods since it allows the hot air to circulate evenly around the food, resulting in balanced heat distribution. Most recipes recommend that you bake your macarons on the middle shelf. However, you may need to adjust this depending on where your heat source is coming from and your own individual problems.
♥ Convection vs. True Convection
A regular convection oven features a fan which helps to distributes the air around the oven. A “true convection” (a.k.a European convection or third-element convection) utilizes an additional heating element behind the fan to blow heated air to your dish. This method produces more even heat distribution and better baking results.
Using the convection fan:
I have become a recent convert to the convection fan since I have found that the temperature remains consistent throughout the baking process with only a 5 degree variance. The fan helps to distribute heat more evenly throughout the oven cavity so you may even be able to bake several trays at once. The heat reaching your macarons may be increased and you may need to decrease the temperature or baking time.
On the flip side, some bakers may find that their convection fan is a little too strong and causes the macaron shells to become lopsided. You can consider turning on convection cooking during the latter part of the baking period since your shells will already be stronger at that point than when they were wet. If that doesn’t help, you may need to skip using the fan altogether.
♥ Hot-Preheat Method
If you’re still having trouble using a slow and consistent temperature method, try the hot-preheat method. Increase the oven temperature 50 degrees more than the usual baking temperature during the preheat. Once it has reached that temperature and you’re ready to bake, turn it down to the regular baking temperature once you place your trays inside. You will need to compensate for this increase in temperature by baking it a shorter amount of time.
This method allows your shells to develop feet from the exposure to the initial high heat but lets them finish off at a lower temperature to avoid browning and over baking. You’ll need to be careful of this though as home ovens can cycle hot and cold before it ever reaches your desired temperature so adjusting the temperature mid-way in the baking process may not really change the temperature as you’d hope it would. Read this post on finding a consistent oven temperature.
♥ Reduce Oven Moisture
In Pierre Herme’s Macarons book, he advises to open the oven door near the end of the baking time after the feet have developed to let out the steam. If this is an area of concern for you, you can keep the oven door ajar for the whole or a duration of the baking time by propping a wooden spoon in between the door. You will need to compensate for the loss in heat by increasing the oven temperature.
❤ Good Oven Practices for Baking Macarons
♥ Always Pre-Heat Oven and Use an Oven Thermometer
Always Pre-heat your oven to the correct temperature before placing your trays inside. Place an oven thermometer inside the oven to ensure that the temperature is correct. Many bakers assume that their ovens are at the correct temperature when in fact, it has increased or decreased during the baking process without their knowledge. Did you know that the temperature during the initial period of pre-heating is the most unstable? Read my other post on Maintaining a Consistent Oven Temperature.
♥ Identify Hot Spots in Your Oven:
If you are getting uneven results from the same tray of macarons – some are browner than others or some are under baked – you may be facing an issue of hot spots in your oven. You’ll need to avoid placing macarons in those areas and rotate your tray throughout the baking time to achieve more even heat distribution.
A great way to identify the hot spots in your oven is to bake several slices of white bread on a tray until it turns brown. You can then see if they have all browned at the same pace or if some are browner than the others.
♥ Bake One Batch at a Time:
I do not recommend baking several trays at once until you have already found the optimal conditions in your oven to bake a perfect batch. Until then, it would be difficult for you to determine why your macarons did not bake successfully. When you bake several batches at once in a small home oven, sometimes heat cannot be evenly distributed to all the shells at the same time. Also, if you are baking on different racks, you would be forcing your macarons to be closer to or further away from a heat source than you’d like.Although not advised for new macaron bakers, if baking several batches at once, try to: alternate the trays midway into the baking time or bake 2 trays on the same rack instead of on different racks. If you have a true convection oven, baking several trays may be easier with the convection setting.
❤ Summary of Macaron Troubleshoots Due to Oven Conditions
• Shell top is browning:
– move further away from heat source
– decrease temperature, increase time
– shield macarons with empty tray on rack above
• Shell bottom is browning:
– move further away from heat source
– decrease temperature, increase time
– add double pan on bottom
• Shell is undercooked or feet is under-developed:
– move closer to heat source
– increase baking time
– increase temperature
• Shell is overcooked/dry or feet is over-developed:
– let macaron mature 24 hours or more after filling
– brush same flavoured syrup or milk on bottom of shells
– next time, turn down heat or move away from heat source
– stop whipping egg whites once it reaches stiff peaks
• Shell is lopsided:
– avoid using convection fan if thats the culprit
– avoid using fans the blow directly onto macarons while waiting for skin to develop
-use the range hood fan instead to dry out piped macarons
– consider using a silpat mat instead of parchment paper
– incorrect piping techniques
• Inconsistency in the same batch:
– identify hot spots in your oven
– bake only one tray at a time until you find the optimal baking time/temperature
– for trays baked on different racks, alternate the trays midway into the baking time
– ensure batter is fully incorporated before piping
Let me know how yours went. Happy Baking to You!
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November 14th, 2016