Not all macarons are created equal. Just ask the people queuing outside Paris's renowned Ladurée. Equally devoted are the patrons of Paris's other famous purveyor of the delicacy, Pierre Hermé, who specialises in a more outré style of macaron.
A true macaron should have a foundation of almonds – never coconut – and be sandwiched with just the right amount of filling, usually a flavoured cream or ganache. It should have a glossy, domed top, and a thin crisp shell which yields to a soft interior when you bite into it.
Old eggwhites work best and give a more elastic result. If you don't have these to hand, leave your eggwhites out at room temperature overnight for similar effect.
The consistency of the raw mixture is important. Contrary to most recipes involving whisked eggwhites, in this instance you need to be more heavy-handed when mixing. It's a case of stirring in the whisked eggwhites, rather than delicately folding as you do when making, say, a soufflé. Macaron-ophiles describe the ideal consistency as "magma-like". But if, like us, you're unfamiliar with magma's consistency, you want the mixture to slide slowly down the sides of the bowl when you tip it.
Once you've piped the mixture, tap the tray firmly on your benchtop to settle the mixture and knock any air bubbles out.
The trick to obtaining the signature gloss and crust of the macaron is the standing time, which allows a thin skin to form before baking. Exactly how long this takes is dependent on atmospheric conditions – temperature and humidity. Don't be tempted to rush this step; allow between four and five hours. To check the crust, touch the macarons lightly – no mixture should stick to your fingertip.
You'd be right in thinking macarons are a little tricky to make. But even if they're not picture-perfect, they'll still taste sublime. And it's a good excuse to take a research jaunt to Ladurée before you make your next batch.