One of my resolutions for 2011 is to successfully attempt macarons. I absolutely love macarons, but I’ve just never quite got around to trying my hand at them. So I set aside almost a whole day in which to embark on this adventure. Apparently though, I somehow decided that just attempting them wasn’t enough, no, I was going to be successful and make a batch as a friend’s belated Christmas present. This is despite knowing that they have a reputation for being horrendously difficult and super finnicky with loads of things that can go wrong. No pressure.
There are loads of online resources with advice on making macarons and about 56 million different recipes to choose from. The advice made the challenge seem slightly less daunting, the sheer number of recipes made it rather more so – how do you pick which recipe to use? I decided to use the recipe from Jill Colonna’s Mad About Macarons! that I recently acquired, mostly because it has pictures for each step of the basic method and also because it uses the French meringue method, which to me sounded a lot more straightforward for a beginner and less of a logistic nightmare than the Italian method considering my kitchen equipment. And I’m French, so co-co-rico and all that.
After reading quite a lot of tips and tricks and so on, I suddenly realised that there seemed to be a few common ones that I should probably pay attention to (and then more or less subsequently ignored):
Don’t make macarons if it is raining due to the humidity levels – I live in Scotland, enough said. Though when I tried these, it wasn’t actually raining… It was snowing.
Weigh everything PRECISELY – I definitely did this. Partly because I’m a scientist and so if I’m told that measurements must be precise I start imagining that there might be explosions if there is 1g of cocoa powder too much, and partly because I love my electronic kitchen scales (I am so easily amused).
Blend the icing sugar with the ground almonds – Jill Colonna said nothing about blending them so I decided that it wouldn’t be necessary. I only have a mini blender and would have had to do it in batches and I guess I was feeling a bit lazy. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.
Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds – Since I didn’t bother blending them, I made sure that I did this step.
Use egg whites that have been aged – Sounds simple enough, except every single resource I looked at suggested ageing them for a different length of time, some in the fridge, some not, some covered, some uncovered. Not helpful. I followed Jill Colonna’s advice and stored the egg whites for four days in a sealed jar in the fridge.
Use a silicon baking mat on top of the baking tray – Apparently this means that the shells bake better, that the bottoms are smoother and that they come off better. I only had one silicon mat, so for the first batch, I did half on the silicone mat and half on normal baking paper. Intriguingly, I found that the baking paper ones actually came out better.
Make sure you know your oven’s temperatures – I haven’t a clue how accurate our oven is, and some of the markings around the temperature dial have been rubbed off. I don’t own an oven thermometer anyway, so whatever.
So, having read (and disregarded most of) the general expert advice, it was time to embark on a macaron-making adventure…
This is how they came out:
They were kind of grainy (probably because I didn’t blend them) and the mixture wasn’t quite liquid enough so the shells weren’t smooth (I think this was at least partly due to the lack of blending). BUT they had feet! And they didn’t crack.
Far from perfect, but not too bad for a first attempt. Since they weren’t particularly presentable, I didn’t bother making a filling for these – they tasted good, so just got eaten as snacks on their own.
I still didn’t blend the icing sugar and ground almonds so the texture was still a little bit grainy, but it was a bit more liquid than my first attempt so the shells were slightly smoother. Not quite sure why though, so I will just pretend that it was the power of my mind. This was the end result:
Still not perfect, but rather better. They all had feet and none of them cracked which is rather excellent. My motivation was flagging slightly by this point, so I decided to make the coffee cream filling and turn the shells into macarons. 24h later, I was able to taste them and they were rather good, even if I do say so myself. I decided that I would give this batch as a gift, though I later found out that my friend has actually tasted Ladurée’s macarons before, so I reminded him that I’m not a real pastry chef and this was only my second try so please don’t compare them too harshly. He seems to have enjoyed them though (or is too polite to say otherwise).
Makes about 30 small macarons (so 60 shells of about 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Recipe from Mad About Macarons!
These didn’t turn out perfect, but I think it was more a question of technique than the recipe itself – I guess practice makes perfect! I will warn you in advance, there is a lot of waiting around when making macarons, and consequently they are quite time-consuming to make. After you’ve garnished the shells to make the macarons, make sure you leave them 24h before eating them to allow the filling to soak into the shells. Store them in the fridge, but make sure you take them out at least 30mins before eating them. Unfortunately, the recipe makes way too much coffee buttercream filling for the number of shells, but it’s difficult to split an egg.
For the shells:
50g aged egg whites
33g caster sugar
60g ground almonds
90g icing sugar
3g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
For the filling:
100g unsalted butter
160ml full-fat milk
2 tbsp coffee granules
20g caster sugar
20g custard powder
Few drops coffee extract
To make the shells:
1. Line two or three flat baking sheets with greaseproof baking paper and set aside. Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle to make it easier later on.
2. Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together (Don’t skip this step like I did – I really think this is why they look a little grainy). Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.
3. Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.
4. Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well. Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture. Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes. The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula (mine was a bit of a gloopy ribbon – I think this is why the pastry didn’t spread properly to make smooth shells).
5. Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm). Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round. Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.
6. Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet). Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C. When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.
7. Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-12mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer. The mini macarons took about 8-9mins). Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.
To make the filling:
8. Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the coffee cream filling. Cream the softened butter and set aside. In a saucepan, boil the milk with the coffee granules. Remove from the heat.
9. In a bowl, whisk the egg with the sugar and custard powder. Add this to the milk and coffee, and return to the heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Place some cling-film directly onto the cream to avoid a skin forming.
10. Once cool, mix in the creamed butter and the coffee extract. Transfer to a piping bag and pipe some of the filling onto one shell of each pair. Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.
11. Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!).