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Food Blog: Mastering the Macaron

For those of you who don’t know me, I am quite a keen baker. I’m sure you realise by now that I am a bit of a foody, but I am particularly obsessed with baking. Whether it is cake, bread or pies I ruddy love it. I have a particular, and somewhat unhealthy, obsession with macarons. For those baking amateurs a macaron is a delightfully light, almond meringue cookie sandwiched together with an assortment of delicious fillings. They usually come in a bright and beautiful array of colours and flavours. They can be confused with coconut macaroons, so let me just stress that here I am referring to the French classic and not the sticky, coconutty squares.

I planned to make some macarons as a gift for a friend’s family, and I thought that this would be a cracking topic for my blog as they are notoriously difficult to make. I don’t want to scare you off though. When I first started making macarons I knew nothing about them, so I just threw myself in the deep end and went for it. But if I say that they were perfect from the beginning then I would be lying out my teeth. I have only ever made one 100% successful batch, but that is part of the fun. I like to learn from these tiny little treats and, although they trip me up on the occasion, when they work it is the best feeling- and the best taste!

Some of my friends here at Leeds who know about my slight obsession with macaronsbought me a lovely recipe book by Annie Rigg which I can recommend for any other keen macaron lovers out there. This recipe, which I’ve selected from the book, is a simple one to get you started and I shall take you through each step. I must admit that this recent attempt was not my most successful, so I will take you through each step carefully and highlight some of thethings which can go wrong.

Toasted Almond Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

Macaron Shells

200g of icing sugar100g ground almonds120-125g of egg whites (approx 3 eggs)40g caster sugarPinch of saltPiping bag with 1cm nozzle2 baking trays lined with baking parchment50g of toasted, sliced almonds

Chocolate Ganache

150g dark/bittersweet chocolate finely chopped150ml double cream1 tablespoon of light brown sugarPinch of salt

 

  1. To begin with it is best to have all your ingredients weighed out carefully. Precision is key with the macaron recipe, so ensure that your scales are working correctly. Prepare your baking trays with baking parchment. If you are not skilled in the piping area then drawmacaron-sized rounds onto the parchment as guidelines so that you make sure the shells are equal in size. Also prepare your ground almond mixture by placing the almonds in a food processor with the icing sugar. This will make sure that the almonds are properly ground up and will mix the two ingredients fully.
  1. Now place your weighed egg whites and the pinch of salt into a spotless clean and dry bowl. Using an electric hand whisk, beat for 2 minutes on a low speed until the egg whites begin to form, then add a little of the caster sugar as you whisk. Continue whisking for another 2 minutes on a medium speed. The egg whites will become glossy and thick, and you must continue for another 2 minutes on a very high speed, ensuring you keep adding a little sugar as you go. The egg whites should look like shaving foam, they should create firm peaks when you lift the whisk out- you can even check the eggs by tipping the bowl over your head. If the eggs fall then you are screwed. But they won’t! 
  2. After the eggs are whisked, add the almond and icing sugar mixture. Using a large metal spoon to fold this dry mixture into the eggs. Make sure it is properly combined, it may take up to a minute to do this. Some of the air will be knocked out of the eggs, but it is important you don’t over mix. Once it is incorporated it should look smooth and roll off the spoon like a molten mass.
  1. Now it is time to fill the piping bag. The best way to do this is to twist the end so that the mixture doesn’t pour out as you fill it. I also find it is helpful to sit it in a mug so you can use both hands to scrape the mixture out of the bowl.
  1. Once the piping bag is full you are ready to pipe your rounds. The best way to do this is to twist the top of the bag so that the mixture is forced down towards the nozzle. Take your time with this, pay attention to the nozzle and how much mixture is being pushed out. The best trick is to keep the nozzle close to the parchment, this way the mixture doesn’t just drop out of the nozzle and you are then able to control the mixture properly. 
  2. Once the rounds are piped it is key that you knock some of the bubbles from the mixture. If you do not do this the air in the shells with rise during oven time and will make your shells crack. We do not want this, we want them smooth and shiny and beautiful. To knock the air out you need to tap the baking tray on the kitchen surface three or four times, the bubbles in the mixture will then pop. Now that the air has been knocked out you can delicately scatter some toasted almonds on top of the shells.
  3. Once you have done this the macarons need to rest. Place the baking trays out of the way, preferably in a cool room where they can dry out. Annie Rigg’s recipe book says they must rest for at least 15 to 60 minutes, but I think it is best to leave them for at least an hour. By resting the shells properly you will ensure that the macarons come out with a shiny surface and have their characteristic ‘foot’, which is basically the little bubbly bit at the bottom. To make sure the mixture is dried you can test the macarons with your finger. If the mixture is still sticky to touch then they are not ready. Preheat the oven at 170 (Gas 3) while they rest.
  1. Once the mixture is dry then the macarons can go in the oven, but only one tray at a time, on the middle shelf. This might seem petty, but it is rather important so that the heat of the oven is distributed correctly. The macarons will take at least 10 minutes to cook. Once this time has lapsed, check them and feel how sturdy they are in your fingers. If they move slightly then they need a bit longer.
  1. Once the macarons are out of the oven you MUST leave them to cool on the tray before putting them on a cooling rack. I made a huge error of rushing this process and by doing so I crushed a lot of the shells. They are rather delicate so make sure you show them lots of tender loving care.
  2. While the shells are cooling you can make the filling. You can simply use jam, or fresh whipped cream, but I think with the basic almond shell it is best to fill them with chocolate ganache. For this filling you need to simply heat the cream, salt and sugar in a pan, and pour this mixture over the chopped chocolate and leave for 1 minute. Because the cream will be piping hot the chocolate must be in a glass, heatproof bowl. Once the chocolate is softened slightly you can combine the cream fully until the chocolate is glossy and thick. Leave this to cool so that it thickens. Once the ganache is ready you simply spoon the mixture onto a shell and place another shell on top to make a delightful little sandwich. TA DA!

Now although this final picture suggests success I actually only managed to form half a dozen macarons properly- just enough to give as a gift to my friend’s family, and so few that I disappointed my eager house mates. So here are a couple of notes to jot down to help ensure that you get the very best macarons out of your baking.

  • Beating the egg whites correctly is key: make sure you only add a little sugar at a time, and that it is fully mixed into the eggs as you go along. Under beaten eggs will mean the mixture won’t rise properly nor will you get the characteristic ‘foot’ of the classic French macaron. 
  • Ensure that the macarons have dried properly before you put them in the oven. If they are not dried properly they will crack- and although they will still taste delicious, they will not have the beautiful shiny surface which they deserve to have. 
  • If you know that your oven is hotter than normal then perhaps adjust the temperature. I know you aren’t meant to blame your tools, but I feel that this is my issue. I always succeed with my macarons at home, but tend to stumble at uni. If you do lower the temperate then you will need to keep the macarons in for longer. But keep your eye on them. Just make sure that they are cooked fully. I’ve learnt that is better to over-cook them slightly than to under do them. 
  • As I previously stressed, keep the macarons on the tray to cool down. They will smell delightful when you get them out and you will want to eat them straight away but stay calm. I am often far too excited by their arrival and take them off the parchment straight away, and to my own error I ruin them completely. Step back and let them chill. They won’t go anywhere!

So there are a couple of tips to help you on your way. But don’t fret if they don’t work out first time. Keep at it: try new flavours, new toppings and fillings. Practice does indeed make perfect! Here is a cheeky shot of my most successful bake- double chocolate macarons! They were divine…

 

All original images

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