Friday, 7 September 2012

Maca-loony

I have been very ambivalent about making macarons. I have heard from various sources that they are very tricky and temperamental, and only turn out well in the hands of expert pastry chefs. However, I absolutely love eating them, and I have been intrigued by making them ever since my sis's significant other made some which were absolutely delicious.
Macarons are amazing, I fell in love with them when I was in Paris a year ago, and all the bakeries had their window displays full of macarons in every colour and flavour you could ever imagine. Last winter, I went skiing with some friends to Chamonix, and was mesmerised by the beautiful display of colourful macaroons.


So of course I had to try making macaroons, sooner or later. To make a long story short, the first batch was a total disaster. However, I was unwilling to give up, and found a few really useful websites with hints and troubleshooting tips. So, after finding another recipe which worked much better in my hands, and after adjusting my technique a bit I was actually able to produce macaroons which distantly resembled macaroons. They are by no means perfect, but compared to the first disastrous batch, they were a big step in the right direction. So my hint for anyone trying to make macaroons? Make sure you have enough ingredients to try a second and possibly a third time. The other big problem is to pipe the macaroons equal size. I made a template drawing with perfectly sized circles, which I placed underneath the baking parchment and tried to keep the piping within the templates, and they turned out a bit better. There are macaroon moulds you can buy in kitchen supply stores, but I have heard that they actually don't produce very nice macaroons as piping by hand onto the parchment paper. One of the key secrets seems to be to handle the batter as little as possible. When you mix the egg white meringue with the dry ingredients, you should do it quickly, but surprisingly enough, as long as you keep the number of strokes low, you can actually mix rather forcefully. The batter should not be too soft as that will make the macaroons lose their shape after piping, but it should be soft enough that the tips that form when piping will even out. So, try to mix the batter as quickly as possible, and handle the piping bag as little as possible when piping. The easiest way to fill the piping bag is to make it stand in a glass, and spoon the batter in the bag. Then try to pipe as quickly as possible, and squeeze the top of the bag instead of the part of the bag holding the batter.

The biggest change, in addition to changing the proportion of meringue and flour, between batches one and two was leaving the macaroons to dry for almost an hour instead of just half an hour before baking. This keeps the macaroons from cracking when they rise on their "feet" during baking. I really recommend looking at MisoHungry's blog for troubleshooting if you have any problems. Also, one more point I noticed a bit too late was that the colour of the batter will get very much lighter in the oven. So just make the batter quite brightly coloured, to make sure the macaroons will have some colour still after baking. To keep the batter from getting too moist, colouring should be done using colouring paste, not liquid food colouring.

Macaroons (makes about 30):
3 egg whites
50g caster sugar
200g icing sugar
110g ground almonds

The howto:
Using an electric whisk, whip the egg whites. When peaks start to form, slowly add the caster sugar while beating to make a glossy meringue. Combine the icing sugar and ground almonds, and pulse in a food processor until smooth. The more you process the dry ingredients, the better. Add the dry ingredients to the meringue by mixing rapidly, but using as few strokes as possible until the batter is smooth. Pipe small circles onto parchment paper, making sure not to pipe the macarons too close to each other as they will spread. Leave to dry for an hour. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Apparently, in humid weather, the baking temperature should be 10-15 degrees lower, and baking time 2-3 minutes longer. 


The meringues are the perfect consistency
 when you can turn the bowl upside down 
and the meringue stays in the bowl.
All ready to make some macaroons. Nice, shiny meringue, 
processed ground almonds with icing sugar, ready for
 sieving into the meringue.
Rapidly mix the meringue and dry
 ingredients to make a smooth batter.
Let the macarons cool for a few minutes on the parchment paper. Then remove the macarons and let cool on a rack. When macarons are completely cool, add filling and sandwich two macarons together. For this batch I used store bought fudge sauce for the disastrous chocolate macarons, clotted cream and raspberry jam for the pink ones and lemon curd and mascarpone for the yellow ones. Only your imagination is the limit for fillings, and there are great ideas out there on the interwebs. 


Piping skill still need honing, but the batter is a good
 consistency as the macarons keep their shape, 
and the tips from piping flatten out  nicely.
After failure, research and improved technique, 
the pretty little feet appear!!

The verdict:
As I said, the first try I made was a total disaster. The first recipe I tried had a slightly different ratio of meringue to dry ingredients, and the one I have listed above worked much better in my hands. Also, the first batch contained cocoa, which I read somewhere can be a bit tricky. The second and third batch turned out better, the meringues had a nice crispy crust but were soft and chewy inside. The problem was that I had to keep them in the fridge for a while as I had mascarpone and cream in them and the day was hot and I didn't want my guests to get food poisoning. The macarons got a bit soggy in the fridge. So on a hot day, make sure to use fillings that don't need to be in the fridge, and fill the macarons as close to eating time as possible. In addition to that, I think it's worth accepting that the first batch(es) won't be perfect, and just use the internet for some research and subsequent batches will improve. And the joy of seeing a few macarons come out of the oven perfectly smooth and with a beautiful foot around the edge... it's definitely worth the trouble!
Raspberry jam and clotted cream macarons.
Lemon curd and mascarpone macarons.

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