Much has been said about how temperamental french meringues can be when it comes to making macarons. Known as macarons au blanc monté, the french meringue method is definitely less of a hassle compared to its italian counterpart, but extremely sensitive to conditions such as humidity and temperature. Not a reliable choice for home bakers who have little control over weather conditions in the kitchen.
Most professional cookbooks recommend the italian meringue method, i.e. macarons au sucre cuit, which requires heating sugar syrup to exactly 118 C, then pouring it it gradually into a bowl of egg white while its been whipped. The rest of the recipe is pretty much similar to the french meringue method.
Last week I decided it was time for me to try the macarons au sucre cuit and find out for myself if its worth the extra trouble. A standing whisk is definitely recommended for this task for a couple of good reasons: (1) One has to start beating the egg whites while the sugar syrup is heating up; (2) The sugar syrup has to be poured into the egg whites while it continues to be whisked; (3) The egg white & sugar mixture has to be beaten for a good 10 to 15 minutes till it cools down and a firm meringue forms. I don't know about other home bakers, but I definitely couldn't have managed all these if I didn't have my standing mixer, which btw I've had for about 15 years now - I'm amazed its still working after all I've put it through!
So what were the key differences? When I got down to folding the dry ingredients & italian meringue together, the mixture was noticeably smoother compared to my previous attempts with the french meringue. It also took me less folds to get the dry ingredients properly mixed in, though I've read on the internet that it should take longer (hmm...?). Other differences were my shells took 5 to 10 minutes shorter in the oven to bake and had tidier & prettier looking feet (the latter made me jump for joy!).
My conclusion? I definitely prefer the italian meringue method. A little extra hassle with sugar syrup is definitely worth it for beautiful looking shells!
For those also interested to try it out, I made reference to Duncan's basic macarons au sucre cuit recipe posted on www.syrupandtang.com (He has also put together great tips and guides for macaron making.). I adapted his basic recipe to create strawberry and mango flavored shells, which I filled with strawberry chocolate ganache - bascially adding strawberry puree to a standard chocolate ganache recipe.