Tips for perfect macarons vary between vague aloof answers (some blogs don’t want to share secrets, but they want the traffic) to heavy weekend ready material (which will make you stressed and frustrated). Sometimes all you need to do is simplify the situation. Find out what you’re doing or using and be logical about how it could be hindering your macarons. Think about it… rough looking macarons just need the dry mix refining a little, wonky shapes need to be controlled more when piping, rock hard macarons need less bake time. Sometimes, in all the excitement, a step or ingredient may be getting looked over on the recipe meaning flat and unappetising treats. Check out our quick and simple top 5 essential tips for perfect macarons below for a little nudge in the right direction!
5 Essential Tips For Perfect Macarons
01: Read the recipe
This tip might sound crazy and obvious, but it’s the one most people get insanely wrong. We’ve had people think that whipping your egg whites means adding in whipped cream. Seriously. When you’ve found a recipe that you want to try print it out, sit down, READ it, make notes even, make sure you understand it and then plan when you can give it a try. The last thing you want is for a recipe to fail because you’ve gotten really excited and just rushed into making it. It’s pretty easy to do, but it’s also easy to avoid too.
Once you mess up a recipe it starts to feel like a chore so slow it down. If we find a recipe that’s got our taste buds a-tingling we print it out, discuss it between us, maybe tweak it a little (but we’ve worked as recipe developers so we’re used to this bit), sometimes put a twist on the flavour and schedule in some free time to give it a try.
The amount of macarons we’ve spotted that have looked like baked versions of the Hunchback of Notre Dame is ridiculous. One of our tips for perfect macarons is to invest in a good food processor and blitz your ground almonds down to a fine powder. Also, sieve your icing / powdered / confectioner’s sugar. Even though icing sugar contains a little anti-caking agent to stop it from clumping it’s still going to have lumps and bumps in it. You’ll know you’ve got your dry ingredients to a lovely fine feel when you’ve piped out your macarons and they ‘settle’ and show as fabulous glossy discs with minimal bumps!
One handy tip (especially for anyone who hates sifting) is to layer your dry ingredients (half of the icing sugar then ground almonds and then the rest of the icing sugar) in your food processor before blitzing. This grinds down your icing sugar even further taking out the sieve step as well as keeping those ground almonds blitzed yet cool (once they heat too much they produce oil which isn’t good for macarons).
Another one of our top tips for perfect macarons. Accuracy with macarons is beyond essential so cups just are not going to cut it. If you don’t have any scales then we’d strongly recommend buying some. Cups are never going to be accurate and cup amounts can vary depending on what you’re measuring… e.g. solids and liquids. When it comes to weighing, however, grams (for powders and solids) is the same as millilitres (liquids). So 100g of flour weighs the exact same as 100ml of water. Easy.
Your scales will also come in damn handy for weighing out equal balls for cake pops and even equal amounts of buttercream to layer between cakes. Keep it simple if you’re not used to scales, however, buying a set of beautiful Victorian style scales is not going to serve you well in the long run.
All macarons should be fairly uniform. It’s a fairly runny mixture so this is hard to do at times, but by using a template underneath your baking sheet OR by getting hold of a baking mat specifically for macarons you get more consistent results. It also takes away quite a bit of stress that comes with piping them AND gives you a good idea of how many shells you’re going to get out of a sheet.
Macarons are tricky. A few things can hinder their development both in the oven and out. Never think your macarons will turn out perfect every time (until maybe you’ve been testing them frustratingly for 2 years) or you’re destined to tempt fate. If your first or 50th batch comes out of the oven all wrong don’t feel bad. You probably need to try making batches and batches with slight variations of the recipe to find what works for you. Sorry, but it’s pretty true. For almost 2 years we baked macarons at least once or twice a week until we were happy. We’d try some with cream of tartar and some without. Some with a certain brand of food colorant. Some would be made with a stiff meringue whipped for 5 minutes and some whipped a little less. Even baking times and placements in the oven changed. We nerdy catalogued a few from each batch and wrote down pros, cons and what we did/used. Sometimes it just takes time and practice.
Sometimes it’s just a little problem solving work. One of the most essential tips for perfect macarons is to think logically… if your macaron shells are hard and crunchy they are either over baked because they’ve been in the oven too long or they’re on too high a temperature. If they’re browning then check if you left the oven light on or if there are heating bars inside (they glow red when hot) that could be caramelising the tops. Try switching the light off, lowering your tray or block the red bars with a baking try slid underneath but above the macarons and upping the bake time a little.
This petite Ferrero Rocher cake is perfect for September – when days shorten, leaves grow tinges of gold and flavoured coffees seem to be everywhere. Cutting yourself a slice of this chocolate and hazelnut cake will be the perfect way to finish the week. Brace yourself – it’s a soft chocolate cake filled with chocolate and hazelnut whipped cream and finished with individual Ferrero Rochers! Yup. Our recipe creates a small 6 inch cake – ideal for a quick yet indulgent weekend sweet as the weather gets crisper. So why not treat yourself with our Ferrero Rocher cake recipe!
Ferrero Rocher cake recipe!
(Slice generously for 4 people or perfect for a party of 8!)
For the chocolate cake…
283g self-raising flour (this is standard in the UK, but you can opt for plain flour and baking powder)
283g caster sugar
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder (however, this depends on brand and quality)
283g butter or margarine
4-5 medium sized eggs
01: Pre-heat your oven to 170C / 325F / gas mark 3.
02: Boil some water and create a soft toothpaste-like texture cocoa paste. Make sure there are no lumps!
03: In a stand-up mixer cream together the butter and caster sugar until combined.
04: Add in your flour and lightly mix together.
05: Now add in your eggs. Mix until incorporated (medium to high speed).
Try not to over mix your batter as this can produce a denser and chewy-like cake which is not good. You want light and fluffy! There are proteins and gluten in batter which help make cakes rise and achieve the perfect texture so the last thing you want to do beat them up to oblivion.
06: Add in your chocolate paste and mix again on medium speed. When adding the chocolate you need to make sure that you add in as much as you like… some people may want a lighter cocoa cake and some might want a denser dark chocolate cake.
07: Grease up your cake pans and pour the batter evenly between three 6″ pans.
08: Bake for around 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean! Once baked leave to cool!
For the chocolate and hazelnut whipped cream (plus decoration)…
To make the chocolate and hazelnut whipped cream frosting and filling…
In the bowl of a stand-up mixer (like a KitchenAid Artisan) add all the ingredients. Don’t worry about whipping the cream first and folding in the cocoa sprinkle by sprinkle. It’s easy – just add everything into the bowl in no particular order.
Begin your mixer on medium speed for around a minute. This helps whisk up the cream to a slightly thicker consistency instead of switching it on full throttle and having cream sprayed across the kitchen. That… you definitely don’t want. Too much mess! You want more time eating and enjoying your cake not cleaning!
Don’t whip the cream too much or it will suddenly turn stiff, grainy and not very attractive. Don’t stress out if this does happen to you though. To revive over whipped cream simply add in a couple to a few of tablespoons of extra cream (or whole milk) and mix by hand slowly until you have the cream the consistency and smoothness you like.
Once filled and stacked use a good angled palette knife to smoother your chocolate and hazelnut whipped cream around the sides and top of your cake. Don’t apply too much pressure whilst doing this or else you’ll end up pushing the cake too much = in a Leaning Tower of Pisa look! At this stage you don’t need to concentrate on your frosting look perfect so long as it covers your cake. The next few steps will focus more on smoothing and sharpening your whipped cream!
Now with a good icing scraper, turntable and a clean bowl begin to work your way around the cake smoothing and also removing excess chocolate whipped cream from around the sides of the cake.
Gently press chopped hazelnuts around the base of the cake working your way up the sides a little.
To finish use small dollops of any left over whipped cream chocolate to fix your Ferrero Rochers on top. Make sure each is spaced evenly apart.
Enjoy with ice cold milk or a steaming hot cup of coffee for a naughty treat during frosty evenings costing up to your sweetheart. If you want to make this cake perfect for grown-ups you can always add a little splash Kahlua Coffee Liqueur into the cream whilst whipping making it one tasty Ferrero Rocher mocha inspired cake!
We absolutely love love LOVE the marble trend that has been doing the rounds for a short while now. We had been wanting to create a marbled wedding cake and, of course, if we had the free time we could have created some stunning marble designs, but our schedule said no. So when Jessica got in contact and picked a stylish and on-trend marble two tier with bold florals and golden elements we were obviously excited. This cake was definitely a design we were looking forward to and we still love it now!
Stylish marbled wedding cake with gold and navy peonies!
Gold is a definite favourite of ours and for this cake it worked as a gorgeous metallic accent that showed off both the soft marble effect and the striking sugar flowers. Once we iced the marbled tiers we took a few photos to sketch and plan where the 24k gold leaf would feature. It needed to balance out the direction of the blue peonies that cascaded down the side of the design so we added patches of bright gold that both followed the direction of the florals yet spread out a little in the opposite direction.
To compliment this marbled wedding cake we also created lots of gorgeously chic favours. These included navy macarons splattered and streaked with 24k gold edible paint (one flavour was our popular Strawberries & Champagne and the other was Vanilla & White Chocolate Truffle), gold dusted chocolate jewel truffles and golden cake pops finished with deep blue grosgrain bows. The truffles and macarons were all nestled in clouds of food safe tissue paper in clear boxes tied with navy ribbon.
The florals on this cake were three of oursignatureopenpeonies created in a bespoke deep navy blue with 24 gold painted centres surrounded by fluffy white stamens. All our sugar open peonies feature completely wired petals which means that each petal can be gently bent outwards to create a large bloom. For this design each of the peonies had the exact same number of voluminous petals, but we manipulated each flower to create a slightly more defined shape. The peony in the centre had been arranged so that it sat larger with it’s petals stretching outward. The peonies underneath and on top are more cupped and tightly wound around the centres to create a slightly smaller looking bloom.
This fabulous design was the perfect balance of texture, on-trend design and style. We loved creating every element of it. Those bold and striking peonies help give the design an amazing focal point, the gold adds instant luxury and the marble effect just screams modern elegance!
Instagram tips, tricks and how-to guides are all over the internet especially since the app re-jiggered a few things re: how they work. We’re self-confessed Instagram fanatics (is it obvious?). What we do is visual, aspirational and involves lifestyle; plus in this day and age (wow, that makes us sound old) it’s perfect as it’s quick and accessible for everyone. People respond a heck of a lot quicker to an image than they do text, which as two English grads is a somewhat sacrilegious thing to realise). Anyway, we receive a ridiculous amount of emails and comments from people asking how we edit our Instagram photos for our feed. It’s getting harder and harder to reply to each individually so because we’re super nice people, we thought we’d share some of our Instagram tips and tricks!
Instagram tips and tricks!
01: Find your style
Instagram is both a hard thing to grasp and an easy thing. Oh the contradictories. We spot a lot of accounts that don’t have a strong and flowing aesthetic. One of the quickest of Instagram tips to implement is consistency, quality and style – three important things you’ll need for your account. Keep your lighting, props, colour and theme consistent. Make sure that the image quality is always top notch with the help of high resolution images, perfect light and interesting photographic angles. Finally, style is everything. You want to hit people with a visual they remember so find your personality and style quick and develop it well.
If this is something that baffles you still then just look around at accounts and photography you like. Make a private board on Pinterest and just collect images and styling you adore. If you’re focusing your Instagram on your brand or company then remember to keep this in mind. Make sure that everything matches and makes sense. Our logo and our cake designs encapsulate parties, fun and glamorous aspects of nature so our photography reflects this.
02: Quality over quantity
We can’t stress how important it is to invest in a good DSLR camera. One of our first Instagram tips on this topic is to shop around and do your research! You can get away with iPhone pics every so often and we love ours. 12MP in a small smartphone? Yes please! For flexibility, however, we always snap with our Nikon DSLR and a 50mm lens. We can then get in super close, experiment with slight angles, and get an amazing depth of field. We also then have every image in hi-res for any magazine features. Personally, whilst we have a lot of lenses we only really use our 50mm. It’s the perfect all-rounder and it lets in an incredible amount of light when shooting. Another bit of advice we can offer is to force yourself to shoot everything manually. We did this to the point where anything automatic just annoys us. Don’t get lazy and rely on auto functions.
You should also shoot everything in RAW file only – one of those Instagram tips for the serious ‘grammer. This means that you will have the highest quality image as your original file. If you need JPG or PNG then you can edit and convert the file types later. For shooting RAW images you’ll need a heck of a lot of space on your computer. To counteract this make sure to invest in a good external hard drive. This Toshiba 1T external hard drive for Macs is what we use, but you can also get it in PC / non-Mac version.
Editing your Instagram images is pretty essential. You can save a dull or otherwise uninspiring shot with just a few adjustments. If you’re not very computer savvy then VSCO is an amazing image editing app you can download for your iPhone, iPad or even android! It has some fantastic filters free and available for purchase – all evoking gorgeous film quality looks. Perhaps the most popular (and our firm favourite) is HB1. Using an app also takes out the task of getting to know various pro software too which can take its time.
For the more advanced if you aren’t using Lightroom then get it! It’s going to help you age a lot slower. OK maybe not, but it will shave off hours of work and stress which do contribute to aging. We purchase both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom as part of a monthly bundle for under £9 a month called ‘Creative Cloud’. This means there’s no huge one off fee and you get all the updates without paying anything extra. Anyway, Lightroom is perfect. It does so many different tasks from importing RAW images, mass re-naming files and editing bulk photographs, BUT the best part is that you can create (or buy) all your own ‘filters’ or pre-sets to use on images. To non-photography nerds this may not sound impressive, but it takes out having to edit every image from memory. No more … “Hmmmm was my contrast level plus or minus 35 on the last image?” etc etc. Way back in the day before Lightroom saved our lives we had notes full of adjustment levels (exposure, contrast, vibrance, shadow vs highlight) and what type of image they’d work best for that we would manually implement. Phew.
04: Plan, plan, plan
Life gets busy and it’s hard to find a spare hour or more to just sit and edit, tag and hashtag every image right when it’s the best time to post. 95% of our Instagram posts are pre-scheduled. It’s just easier that way and it takes a lot of stress out of the day. We use Planoly to plan every Insta post out as well as make sure our overall feed looks good (we’ll discuss this in the next point).
Another part of planning is to know when you should be posting. For this you’ll need an Instagram analytics app. Recently, Instagram enabled a feature for users to switch their profile to a business account that also gathers basic stats. For more in depth readings we’d recommend Iconosquare. It used to be completely free back in the day, but after a free trial you need to pay up. With that in mind it’s worth the money.
For planning here’s one of THE single best Instagram tips that we use on our Apple devices. It’s called ‘text shortcuts;. Basically, if you use a lot of the same hashtags in your posts then this will be amazing. If you don’t know about it already that is. What does it do / what is it? It replaces a keyword that you assign with an entire phrase, paragraph or in this case a block full of hashtags! Go to settings > general >keyboard > text replacement. Once you’re there tap on the + in the top right corner and in the ‘phrase’ section type in all your hashtags that can relate to a specific post then in ‘shortcut’ type the word or a single hashtag you’d use that relates to the phrase (or group of tags). So on our iPads and iPhone we have a few… one being ‘#cupcakes’ which will bring up and replace it with… ‘#cake #tooprettytoeat #like #love #follow #bakery #popular #dessert #cupcakes #cupcakesofinstagram’ etc. Time saver, eh?
05: Make that feed gorgeous
When people visit an Instagram account they take only a few seconds to decide what you are, if you’re interesting and if they want to follow you. With this in mind it’s pretty understandable that you need to make an impression. Be coherent and obvious in what you do. We are a bakery so our feed is filled to the brim with macarons, cupcakes, cookies and cake. Don’t bog down your account with images of your pets, kids, pyjamas or shopping sprees. Even if your Instagram is personal or for a blog find focus and stick to related subject matter. Every so often it’s OK to reveal something a little different such as your world desk, stylish planners etc, but generally stay close to what you’re account is about.
As well as keeping your Instagram relevant you need to plan each image in relation to where it will appear on your feed. Planoly comes in so handy for this. It shows a faux mock-up of your feed to the left hand side so you can move unscheduled images around to see how they look. Try to space out images that seem a little too similar amidst others. This is one of those Instagram tips that might seem silly, but next time you visit an account look at their initial feed and see what you feel and like (or dislike) about it.
Our Instagram tips and step-by-step guide to how we work…
Now here’s a breakdown of what we do, how we do it and why. You don’t necessarily have to work the exact same way. We’re pretty sure that a lot of people don’t edit images twice the way we do, but this is what works for us!
Set-up and style! We shoot on a mahogany table next to a huge window (northwest facing as we feel like we get the best light there especially at around 11am – this depends on your location though so if you’re down a narrow street where buildings will cast shadows try find the best spot for you), but we like lots of extra light so we iron fresh white cotton tablecloths that we drape over the table. We tend to double the tablecloth over so it’s a thicker white and none of the dark wood of the table can be seen. Over this we then style our plates, florals and props. One of our top Instagram tips is whatever your style keep things clean, elegant and simple. We like sleek pieces by Wedgwood (keep it elegant and white), cutlery from West Elm and sometimes more fun items by Bombay Duck. For our shots we don’t like things over cluttered as the focus needs to be on the cake/macarons/etc. Once we’re ready we open the curtains so a lot of light can flood in.
For the darker months when most days are overcast or when the nights set in faster you’re going to need some good lighting. We use this professional photography lighting kit to shoot. You can use two, but we generally only use one light as it casts some good shadows and helps create a more contrast look.
Now it’s time to snap! We use a Nikon D5000 (for some reason this model doesn’t work with some auto-focus lenses, but we don’t mind at all) with a 50mm 1.8 lens and we use them 100% manually. No auto-focus and no auto-settings. We set our white balance in the settings, do a test shot, adjust our aperture and shutter speed. We repeat the process until we’ve got the exposure and look we want.
While photographing we try to take as many shots as we can with one set-up before tweaking it slightly (we may add or take away florals or even change plates etc). It helps to have lots of images just incase some come out a little blurred (it’s easier to see this on a larger computer screen) or you need some extra content during down time. It’s OK if it looks like lots of images are the same; even a slight change of angle, distance or light can create a different feel.
When we’re done we import all our RAW files into Lightroom and begin the selecting and editing process! We have lots of different pre-sets that we re-use, but as a general rule we up the exposure slightly, tone the saturation down on oranges and blues, up the contrast a little, sharpen the images a tiny amount, and add both whites and highlights.
Once our raw images have been edited, named and converted in JPG files we then upload them to Dropbox.
Once they’ve been uploaded we then download them to our iPhone or iPad and second edit them with the VSCO filter ‘HB1’ before saving them (along with lots of snaps of plants, gardens and historic houses…). They’re then uploaded to Planoly once re-edited.
Once they’re in Planoly it’s time to schedule them according to your best times to post, add hashtags, a description and you’re all set! Voila! Instagram tips a-go go!
There you have it! All the top tips we can think to offer plus a little sneaky peek into how we set-up, shoot, edit and schedule all our Instagram images. How we update our feed may seem long-winded and maybe finicky to a few, but it’s how we like to work. Social media and more specifically Instagram is a big deal these days so it makes sense to take it seriously. Back in the day we’d update and put an image of our work up once a week and even then it’d be grabbed from our blog and tweaked with a Insta filter. The very thought still makes us hang our head in shame to this day! Since then we’ve established our own workflow and it’s pretty flattering when people tell us how much they love our feed. SO… how nice is it of us to share our top Instagram tips?
It’s September and the mornings are getting wonderfully crisp right now. We absolutely love this time of year. Maybe we’re strange, but we love to start work even earlier in the morning. Hello there 6am meetings with giant mugs of hot coffee and freshly baked croissants (yes, we bake croissants for power/work breakfasts when we feel so inclined). Whilst sipping on a morning latte and biting into mini pain au chocolates just out of the oven we thought of putting together a quick how-to for some tiny sugary bites… a meringue kisses recipe. This is a version of our go-to meringue recipe that is perfect for Autumn mornings; studded with bursts of coffee and dipped in creamy Belgian chocolate of course!
Belgian chocolate dipped mocha meringue kisses recipe!
35g egg whites
70g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 teaspoons sieved cocoa powder (optional)
A handful of dark Belgian chocolate chips, buttons or callets
01: Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees C (fan) / 180 degrees C (non-fan) / 325 degrees F / gas mark 4.
02: One of the first things you need to do for this meringue kisses recipe is heat up that sugar. This helps it to dissolve better and quicker into the whipped egg whites which means lovely smooth and non-grainy meringues! Yay! Pour the sugar onto a baking tray and place in your pre-heated oven for 5 minutes.
03: Add your egg whites to the bowl of a stand-up mixer and mix on high with the whisk attachment until they start to look like the lovely frothy eggs above. When ready add in the cream of tartar and mix until combined.
04: Whilst on medium speed spoon in your heated sugar mix. Your meringue should begin to look gorgeously glossy and it should also begin to stiffen up.
05: Grind your coffee granules down roughly and mix in the cocoa powder (the cocoa is optional, however, as it depends on how chocolate-y you’d love your meringues). We left the cocoa powder out of ours to get a stronger hit of coffee for each kiss. Remember not to completely grind down all your coffee.
06: Add the coffee mix to your meringue and whip until incorporated. Ours looked like this, but if you’ve added cocoa powder then you should be left with a light chocolate looking meringue.
06: Spoon the meringue into a disposable piping bag fitted with a medium plain round piping tip and on a lined baking tray pipe rows of meringue drops. Make sure to space these out at around 2cm.
07: Now place them in the oven and leave them to bake for around 25 – 35 minutes. We use a convection oven (which is basically a fan assisted oven) so it took only 25 minutes for our kisses to be done.
08: Remove your tray of meringue kisses from the oven once they’re ready and set them aside to cool. We always recommend investing in a marble pastry slab as leaving your bakes to cool on marble means they’re ready in half the time!
09: Once ready and cooled down you can start melting down your chocolate. Add the chips or buttons to a microwave safe jug/bowl and heat at 30 second intervals gently stirring the chocolate at each check point until ready. Pour or dollop your melted down chocolate onto a plate so that you can dip your meringues.
10: Meringues are delicate so it’s important that you’re gentle when picking them up and dipping them into the melted chocolate. Don’t grab the very tips of them. Instead pick them up lower down close to the middles. Carefully dip them into the melted chocolate and place them on a tray lined with greaseproof paper to set.
11: Setting time can vary depending on the weather, but they should be ready when the chocolate no longer looks wet. If you live in a warm and humid climate you could be waiting for your kisses to dry for around an hour.
If you want to check your local levels of humidity (essential for anything involving sugar) then try out a handy app in the iStore or via android!
Now you can enjoy your homemade chocolate dipped mocha meringue kisses with a hot cup or coffee (or tea… or even hot chocolate loaded with whipped cream and marshmallows). These little gems are hygroscopic (they soak in moisture from the atmosphere around them) so as soon as they’re done store them in an airtight container and keep in a cool dry place. They should last for a good 2 weeks so they’re great to keep for a succession of mid-afternoon pick-me-ups!
One of the best things about this meringue kisses recipe is that you can add or leave out whatever amount of coffee you like. Add in an extra teaspoon of coffee to your mix for more of an espresso hit. Up the chocolate, add a dash of vanilla bean paste and sift cocoa powder on top for more of a chocolate-y mocha taste.
If you’re feeling super adventurous you can try adding a small amount of chilli flakes into your melted chocolate before dipping, add sprinkles of brown sugar on top of each before lightly blow torching for a coffee creme brûlée effect or even adding finely chopped toffee into the meringue before piping for a caramel latte flavour!