I was a little bit naughty last month and didn’t take part in the Mac Attack challenge. But please, hear me out: the theme was centred around Valentine’s Day, and well, let’s just say I’m not such a fan of the whole Valentine’s Day thing. So I hope I’ve made up for it this month! The challenge for March is “Sugar and spice and everything… fruity” – so a seasonal fruit combined with a spice. I got quite excited by this, because I thought hurrah! Spring (which officially started yesterday) – that’s practically summer! So I enthusiastically started looking up which fruits are coming into season here in the UK in March. My enthusiasm was pretty short-lived. Waitrose informed me that seasonal British specialities for March are: rosemary, smoked haddock and cucumbers. Not particularly helpful in the fruit department (although cucumber is technically a fruit, but I immediately thought of cucumber sandwiches, and I feel that would only ever be appropriate for a theme related to cricket or afternoon tea).
Then I came across Eat the Seasons, a website that tells you which produce is in season each week of the year. Ya, that’s right, it does it by week. Now that is dedication! I made these macarons last week, which was week 11, and I had a choice of: bananas, blood oranges, kiwi fruit, lemons, oranges, passion fruit, pineapple and pomegranate, all of which, I should add, are imported to the UK. It’s funny because despite usually being winter fruits, citrus fruits always make me think of spring and summer – probably because they have such a refreshing taste. So even though they are technically going out of season rather than coming in, the blood oranges at the greengrocer’s looked so good, and I just had to get some. I also love the colour of Moro blood oranges – and red is a warm colour, so that totally fits with the change of season (because everybody knows that it’s warm in Scotland in spring, ha ha… I wish). So even though they might technically be nearing the end of their season, and the greengrocer’s didn’t have any Moros so mine weren’t blood-coloured, I still think they fit the theme.
The next step was to choose a spice to go with the blood orange. My immediate thought was cinnamon, but I couldn’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the combination of cinnamon and orange, but it stinks of Christmas. Cloves were also off the cards, for exactly the same reason. Then I happened across a mouth-watering recipe for honey-glazed blood orange and five-spice tartelettes. I was rather intrigued by the combination, so once I had finished drooling over the photos, I decided to be adventurous and attempt blood orange and five-spice macarons. (And I also had to make something special to make up for missing last month’s Mac Attack, remember?)
The only thing left now was to work out how I wanted to make them. The five-spice would obviously be added to the shells – for a start, it’s a dry ingredient, so that makes it easy, and also it would add a subtle speckled appearance to the shells. How to incorporate the blood orange though? I felt that a chocolate ganache of some sort might over-power the five-spice, and I wasn’t really feeling buttercream. And then I had a minor epiphany: blood orange curd. It would be fruity, not too heavy, and it wouldn’t (shouldn’t) overpower the five-spice. So now you know why I made the curd last week! Anyway, luckily my experiment worked, and everybody who tasted them said they liked them. I actually made several people play “guess the flavour” and it was fun – I’m now a big fan of this game. I was also very impressed when people guessed correctly since the flavours were subtle and I’ll be perfectly honest, if I hadn’t made them, I don’t think I would have ever managed to guess!
Blood orange & five-spice macarons
Makes about 70 small macarons (so about 140 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
The food colouring is totally optional, but I decide to make the macarons look like blood oranges so I made the shells orange and added dye to the curd when I was making it so that the inside of the macarons would look like the inside of a blood orange. Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit. They can be stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30 mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!
For the macaron shells:
120g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
79g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
144g icing sugar
2 tsp five-spice
Orange or yellow & red food colouring paste (optional)
For the filling:
About 200 ml blood orange curd (follow the link for the recipe)
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.
2. Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and five-spice powder 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 orange food colouring paste, or equal amounts of yellow and red (to make orange) just before the end and mix well (this is totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the macarons, 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 1.5-2cm in diameter). 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 8-10mins (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, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.
For the filling:
8. Once the shells have fully cooled, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of blood orange curd onto one shell of each pair. Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to push the shell down onto the filling evenly.
9. Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!)
PS – So that was a bit of an epic post. Oops! I seriously need to work on being more concise… Sorry!