Hello friends! Let’s talk about the sugar role in macarons today!
Sugar is fundamental in making macarons. And I get lots of questions such as: can I use less sugar in the macaron batter? Why do macarons have so much sugar? How to make less sweet macarons? Is powdered sugar the same as confectioner’s sugar? Between others.
So I figured I’d try to clear up some of the confusion around the sugar role in macarons, why we add it, what it does to the macaron batter, why it’s so important, and more!
Sugar Role in Macarons
First things first, let’s talk about the role sugar has in macarons.
We use two types of sugar in macarons: granulated (or caster sugar), and powdered sugar.
Granulated sugar (or caster) is added to the egg whites to help form the meringue.
Powdered sugar is sifted with the almond flour, added to the already stiff meringue, and folded until the batter achieves the perfect consistency to be then piped on baking sheets.
To understand better what each sugar does, let’s take a look at how the meringue is formed. The meringue is the base of the macaron, so it’s very important to have a stable and strong meringue in order to obtain successful shells.
Quick Meringue Lesson
The proteins in egg whites are made up of two basic types of amino acids: hydrophilic (attracted to water) or hydrophobic (repelled by water) amino acids.
In the picture below you can see a representation of an egg white protein before the eggs being whipped. The amino acids with the + are the hydrophilic ones, and the amino acids with the – sign are the hydrophobic ones.
To make meringue, we have to beat the egg whites, which will incorporate air into the water-protein particles present in the egg whites. And adding air bubbles to the egg whites will unfold those proteins. This process is called denaturation.
When the proteins uncurl, the hydrophilic amino acids attach to the water particles, and the hydrophobic amino acids attach to the air particles, which forms a network that holds the air bubbles in place, and the water particles away from them.
Below is the structure of the meringue after whipped.
Why add granulated sugar to meringue?
Adding sugar to the meringue will stabilize the meringue because the sugar will dissolve in those water particles, creating a stronger barrier to protect the air bubbles.
In my case, I use the Swiss method, in which we heat the sugar and egg whites over a double boiler to form a syrup. This process already helps with stabilizing the meringue for two reasons:
1- Introducing heat to the egg whites and sugar will help with the denaturation process, as the heat helps the egg proteins to unfold more effortlessly.
2- By melting the sugar, this will increase the viscosity of the syrup that coats the air bubbles, making for an even stronger structure.
What’ the difference between caster sugar and granulated sugar?
Caster sugar is finer than granulated sugar, so it’s perfect for meringue and macarons, because the sugar dissolves more easily with the water in the egg whites.
Caster sugar is not readily available where I live, so I have to order it online if I want to use it. I have experimented with it in the past, and didn’t find a difference in my final shells, probably because I already heat up the sugar and egg whites together over the double boiler anyway.
If you are trying the French method, in which you whip the raw whites and add sugar as they whip, then it might be beneficial to use caster sugar to help the crystals dissolve more easily.
What is the role of the powdered sugar in macarons?
First, yes powdered sugar and confectioner’s sugar are the same thing!
Powdered sugar in the United States usually has cornstarch added to it. I’ve made macarons with powdered sugar with added cornstarch, and also with organic powdered sugar, which has tapioca starch added as an ingredient. Both work fine.
The powdered sugar will have a vital role in the structure of the macaron as well as the taste.
Powdered sugar is majorly responsible for the beautiful feet in macarons. Recipes with a lower ratio of powdered sugar will generally produce smaller feet.
Powdered sugar helps soak up moisture from the batter, so it makes sense it would contribute to the feet formation. Try baking your macarons right after piping them and they won’t develop any feet (with a few exceptions of no rest recipes and methods).
Generally speaking, with the exception of no rest methods and recipes, drying the batter before baking is super important to form feet, and to prevent the macarons from cracking.
My no-rest French macaron recipe for example requires a higher amount of powdered sugar and almond flour, which makes it possible to bake without resting first, because the high ratio of dry ingredients will quickly soak up the moisture.
And even then, some bakers can never get no rest recipes to work for them, because other things come into play such as meringue consistency, macaronage technique, baking temperature and baking surface. If the meringue isn’t stiff enough for example, the macarons will still crack. If you use a dark baking surface, and high oven temperature, the macarons might also still crack and not develop any feet.
So now that we’ve gotten those things out of the way, let’s get to some of the most common questions I get about the sugar role in macarons!
Can I add less sugar to the macarons?
Short answer is no, you can’t add less sugar to the macaron batter.
Sugar is fundamental to the structure of macarons as I’ve explained above. It’s not there just for sweetness.
Granulated sugar provides stability to the meringue by offering a stronger layer of protection to the air bubbles, and it prevents the protein bonds from being too tight, and from drying out.
And powdered sugar offers sweetness, as well as stability to the macaron structure, by soaking up the moisture in the shells.
My recipe already has a lower ratio of sugar compared to many recipes out there, but only by a few grams, since I am using a total of 205 grams of sugar (powdered and granulated) for 100 grams of egg whites, and most recipes out there are using a total of 220 grams or so.
I even found a “reduced sugar macaron recipe” online and my recipe still has 35 grams less sugar than that one. And when it comes down to it, the amount of sugar per cookie (without filling) using my recipe is between 4 and 7 grams, depending on how large you pipe the cookies.
How to make my macarons less sweet?
Choose a filling that is not overly sweet.The best options for less sweet macarons would be:
- Dark chocolate ganache – Use my chocolate ganache recipe from my Chocolate Macarons and make it with dark chocolate, you could also use my Chocolate Mint Macaron recipe.
- French Buttercream– very mild in taste, not overly sweet at all! Probably the best option for those who don’t like a rich and sweet taste since the French Buttercream is super light and not sweet. I have a couple of recipes for you to try: Vanilla Bean Macarons (filled with French Buttercream and Vanilla Bean Custard, which is also very light). And French Vanilla Macarons, filled with just the French Buttercream.
- Tart fruit jam plus dark chocolate ganache– Choose to make your own jam, such as a raspberry or orange jam, and add less sugar than the recipe calls for, and use a dark chocolate ganache to pipe around the shells to hold the jam in the center. Here are two fantastic options: Orange Macarons and Raspberry Macarons.
Also please remember that macarons are a dessert item. Desserts are supposed to be sweet. Just eat only one macaron, and you should be all set, appreciate it in moderation.
Can I make macaron shells with sugar substitutes?
I personally have never heard of anyone who successfully made macarons with sugar substitutes. There might be a couple of recipes online claiming to work with erythritol but anyone who has tried to replicate the recipes is not able to achieve the results.
This question is discussed a lot in a large macaron facebook group I’m a part of, and until this day, I haven’t seen anyone being successful at making macarons with sugar alternatives.
Once again, the sugar is needed in order for the chemical reactions to take place to achieve the beautiful feet, the smooth round tops, and the flat bottoms.
You may be able to make a cookie with similar ingredients: egg whites, almond flour, and sugar substitutes, but it won’t necessarily look like a regular macaron.
I hope this post was helpful to you! And to help explain the role of sugar in macarons, why sugar it’s so important to the structure of the shells.
For more posts like this filled with important information on how to make macarons, visit Macaron School, a place where I gather all the knowledge I share about macaron science, troubleshooting guides, best tools for macarons, and more!
Thank you for reading!