In the course of tasting over a hundred macarons from all over New York, we found all sorts of recurring faults. (Only the top contenders, Ladurée and La Maison du Chocolat, consistently avoided all these problems.) What are the warning signs of a bad macaron? Read on.
1. Air bubbles
I can't help but feel scammed when I bite into a macaron that has a huge air bubble inside the cookie. It's like half the macaron is gone, ruining the experience. Air bubbles are a problem that can be resolved by tapping the underside of the baking sheet before placing the macarons in the oven. One small step makes a big difference.
2. Cookie shells that separate from the cookie itself
This is a visually sad macaron. The outermost shell of the cookie should never separate like this, leaving the cookie inside glued to the filling. You know this will be a bad macaron before even tasting it.
3. Excessive coloring
The photo above shows you pistachio macarons from various shops. Note the incredible (and incredibly scary) variation of colors from almost grey to an alien green. Natural shades are ideal, and it is certainly okay to use a bit of food coloring or powder. But dyeing macaron shells neon green? Not so appetizing; it doesn't even look like food.
4. Substituting ground almonds for pistachios in pistachio macarons
Don't try to trick us. Pistachios are expensive, we understand. But if you can't do a pistachio macaron justice by using real pistachio nuts—either ground or in the paste form—don't make a pistachio macaron. We won't get mad if you don't offer pistachio macarons, but we will if you make a pistachio macaron with mostly almonds. Even if you dye it green we can still taste the difference between almonds and pistachios.
5. The almond extract issue
This is an extension of the ground almond issue. Some places are so cheap that substituting ground almonds for pistachios alone isn't enough. They take it one step further by scrimping on real almonds and use almond extract instead. Be wary of cheap macarons. There is often a good reason behind the pricing.
6. Stale macarons
Throw them out. Stale macarons are an insult the the people who pay good money for them, and they make a bad impression. They're dry and crunchy in the most unpleasant way. Stores that can't sell them fast enough to sell fresh ones, shouldn't sell macarons at all.
7. Macarons that are too big or too small
Slightly larger than a quarter is ideal. Giant macarons throw off proportions, leaving the center cookie gummy and the outermost ring over-baked and crunchy. (It's also just too much of the same thing. We get bored halfway though.) A few places in the city make miniature macarons; cute in theory, but not in taste. Macarons which are too small don't have that contrast of textures signature to a macaron.
8. Almond flour not ground finely enough
This makes for bumpy macaron shells. Unpleasant to look at, and macarons are just as much about appearance and style as they are taste.
9. Too much sugar
We're not eating candy—though it sure tastes like it, with some macarons. A correlation exists between shops that dye their macarons excessively bright and abnormal colors and the ones that use too much sugar in both cookie and filling.
10. Too little filling
A common issue of proportions: look for macarons that have a 2:1 ratio cookie to filling. You can't always find that exact ratio, but the closer you can get to it, the better.
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