Tomorrow (January 25th) is Burns Night, a celebration of the life and works of the Scottish poet Robert Burns on the day of his birth. I’m not actually sure what there is to celebrate about his life (apparently he was basically a drunken misogynist and racist) or his works (not having been to school in Scotland I never studied any of his poetry, but I have been assured by various friends that it was a lucky escape), but as far as I’m concerned, it’s an excuse for a dinner party, or Burns Supper, so I’m all for it.
If you’re going to do a Burns Supper properly, there are a whole set of traditions associated with it, including a piper and a heck of a lot of speeches. Including the Address To a Haggis. Yes, that’s right, an 8-verse poem in Scots dialect recited to a stuffed sheep’s stomach. So anyway, I don’t happen to have a piper on hand and (despite being Scottish) I sound ridiculous attempting to pronounce any Scots words, so I think we’ll be skipping most of those traditions (shock horror, I know), though perhaps I’ll attempt to convince one of my friends with an actual Scottish accent to do the Address. We shall see…
Now that I’ve rambled a bit, I’ll get to the point: food. Well, more specifically: dessert. One of the traditional Burns Supper desserts is cranachan, a concoction of oats, whipped cream, honey, whisky (depending on who is making it) and raspberries. I’m not sure why there are raspberries in a dish that is usually served in January – they’re not exactly in season – but we’ll gloss over that. I’m not a huge fan of oats though (I find them rather boring), so I was looking for an alternative and suddenly it hit me – use a macaron base to get a bit of crunch just like the oats! Genius! Using a macaron base would be a perfect way to introduce some extra colour, too…
I also discovered that this month’s Mac Attack (#15 – MacInspirational) was all about incorporating macarons into your favourite dessert. So ok, cranachan isn’t my favourite dessert, but here was the perfect excuse to try out my idea. I’ve done a trial run, which I’m quite happy with and am only planning a few minor adjustments – making the bases bigger and slightly “puffier” and also crumbling macarons over the top to create a bit more crunch. So I give you the “Auld Alliance” cranachan – a perfect Scottish-French partnership (I know, I know, I am just so witty):
“Auld Alliance” cranachan
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
The topping was made from my imagination
The shells can be prepared the day before, but to get maximum crunch, it’s best to add the topping just before serving, otherwise the cream soaks into the shell and softens it.
For the macarons shells:
150g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
100g caster sugar
180g ground almonds
270g icing sugar
Pink & purple food colouring paste (optional)
For the topping (these are all very approximate measures – definitely refine them to your tastes):
550ml double cream
20 tbsp icing sugar
20 tbsp whisky
15 tbsp heather honey (or just normal set honey if you can’t get heather honey)
To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside. Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle (a wide nozzle is best to make the large shells).
2. Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!) Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl. Sift them again if necessary.
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. Add a good dollop of pink food colouring paste and a few drops (splodges?) of purple just before the end and mix well (this is totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the dessert, and it’s also kind of fun).
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.
5. Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 10cm but I’m going to try 15cm next time. Make sure you make at least 8 – any extra shells can be crumbled and used for decoration at the end). 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 – because these are big shells, a bit longer might be required). 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 10-15mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer). Leave them to cool on the baking trays.
To make the topping:
8. Add the cream, icing sugar and whisky to a bowl and whip into stiff peaks. Once this is done, add the honey and mix into the cream (heather honey is set, so use the electric whisk).
9. Spoon a thick layer of the whisky-honey-cream onto the macaron shells (you could also pipe it into a pretty pattern if you are feeling enthusiastic/have the time). Decorate with raspberries and crushed left-over macaron shells before serving.