I think where I went wrong was being over-confident. "Pfffft, I made five batches of them and they came out great. This next batch won't be any different". "HAH!", said the macaron. "I'll show her..." And it did.
My first five batches were great! First batch, French method - great. Second batch, French method - I undermixed it a tad bit and a few of them ended up with tiny nubbies. That's okay. Third batch, French method - great. Fourth batch, French method - my best yet. I ran out of almond flour. Fifth batch, Italian method - quite a few had cracks, but the remaining were beautiful. Okay. Sixth batch, French method, and seventh batch, Italian method - okay, something is definitely wrong...
I wish I had taken photos of the sixth batch (French method). Many of them were cracked, but there were a few nice looking ones... on the outside, that is. I tried to remove them from the parchment, and the skin completely separated from the bottom. The inside was sticky and the skin itself wasn't hard and crunchy like it was supposed to be. It was moist and immediately broke when I applied any pressure at all. I scrapped these after stuffing a few in my face. Delicious, by the way, but completely unusable.
So what else do the two issues have in common? Too much moisture, apparently, says the internet. An "ah-ha" moment came over me.
I had ran out of my almond flour, and for the last three batches, I had been using some new stuff that I got in the bulk section at the grocery store. It had felt a little moist, but I didn't think anything of it. And an even newer discovery that I made? My brand new sieve that I had been using, with it's big thick plastic brim, I discovered... holds water. I discovered this after washing it and rinsing it not too long after. I gave it a shake, and I could hear water splashing around inside the brim. Could it be that some of this water had gotten into my macarons when I sieved the almond meal? Bingo...
So now that I have ran out of this bulk almond flour, feeling like a failure at life, and thrown out this new (but awfully useless) sieve, I am in the midst of mentally preparing myself for another batch. I've ordered a new sieve (and am leaving a review for my old water logged sieve) and I've ordered more almond flour from one of my favourite companies. It isn't the almond flour that I originally used for all those successful batches, but the company I ordered it from this time around has never failed me with it's quality. So we'll see.
The almond flour I originally used for those first four batches? Mandelin brand. The stuff is amazing. It's delicious. It made amazing macarons, and it's easy to see why - it is world renowned for having amazing quality... but it was also getting expensive, which is why the distributor I got it from in the first place had to discontinue it. I can't find it anywhere else.
The great macaron adventure continues, guys, and you know that I'll keep you posted, of course - whether I succeed or not!
Wanna follow along with me? Indulge With Mimi and Entertaining With Beth are great places to start for a French method macaron.