The Mac Attack challenge for this month is “Ballpark snacks” and I have to admit, this theme had me rather stumped for a while. I feel part of the problem is probably that “ballparks” are not especially on my radar – I’m not terribly sporty for a start, but any sports that involve a modicum of skill are really not my strong point. Having said that, I do love watching rugby and tennis, and I can watch golf to a certain extent (usually whilst doing other things). It’s not exactly rugby season at the moment, so that leaves golf and tennis. I don’t really associate any particular food with golf, and the same goes for tennis. Well, of course there is the oh-so-British combination of strawberries and cream that is so strongly associated with Wimbledon, which is still more than three weeks away so I didn’t really feel that was quite appropriate, but I have no particular food associations with Roland-Garros which is in full swing (groan) at the moment. So as I said, stumped (insert awful cricket joke here).
Then the other day we were in Luvian’s (for a change) and I saw the most intriguing bottle. Initially attracted by the refreshing, translucent, Caribbean sea green colour, my initial plan not to augment the already-overflowing Alcohol Cabinet (I’m moving out in about a month, so I need to finish bottles off, not add more) by buying any more liqueurs rapidly got thrown out the window when I saw what it was. My thought process went something along the lines of: cucumber liqueur? Hello. I wonder what that tastes like? Oh my gosh, I could make cucumber sandwich macarons for the Mac Attack challenge! Like at the cricket. Genius! Hmmm… but I don’t really understand cricket fully and I never watch it. Oh but I totally understand cucumber sandwiches. And I really wonder what this tastes like. And it’s so pretty. Never mind, one extra bottle won’t make much difference. So I walked out with a bottle of cucumber liqueur and some other liqueur as well. Woops. But there was the added bonus of an idea for macarons.
When I got home I realised had no idea how I was going to make cucumber sandwich macarons. Never mind, the first step was clearly to taste the cucumber liqueur. It’s the most bizarre thing. I associate cucumbers with being cool and refreshing, and tasting neutral to salty. This cucumber liqueur tastes most distinctly of cucumber, but it’s sweet and with that slight alcoholic warmth. I quite like it, but I still can’t get my head around the unexpectedness of it. So how was I going to make these macarons? I didn’t think a ganache would work particularly well, so I decided I’d have to make some sort of jelly. I happened across a cucumber jelly recipe, so I adapted that by adding a bit of the liqueur to it. I’m not sure it really did anything. Never mind.
So how did they turn out? Well, I feel they’re quite like the liqueur in that they’re a bit unexpected. The shells are sweet, so although the jelly is more savoury than sweet, they’re a bit like sweet sandwiches, which makes them rather different. Unfortunately, the jelly was clearly wasn’t completely solidly set and it soaked a little bit into the shells and made them slightly soggy. I think they were better just after they’d been made, when the shells were quite crunchy. But they were still good – I think the best description would be “interesting.” Make of that what you will!
Cucumber sandwich macarons
Unlike most other macarons, these are much better eaten sooner rather than later, and are also better straight out of the fridge (so they’re cooler and more refreshing). The jelly should be made first as it can take a while to set, and it can even be made the day before. The macarons obviously don’t have to be triangular (it is quite a faff) but it makes them more reminiscent of actual cucumber sandwiches.
For the cucumber jelly:
4 sheets of gelatine
3-4 tbsp cucumber liqueur
Pinch of salt
For the macaron shells:
100g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
To make the jelly filling:
1. Line a couple of brownie or tart tins with cling film or tin foil (this will make it easier to lift the jelly out later).
2. Wash the cucumbers and dry thoroughly. Roughly chop them up and liquidise them in a food processor (the closer to liquidised, the better).
3. Submerge the leaves of gelatine in a small bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes. Add the liquidised cucumber and softened gelatine leaves to a large saucepan and bring to the boil briefly, mixing well to dissolved the gelatine. Remove from the heat, add the cucumber liqueur and salt and mix well. Pour a thin layer (no more than about 0.75cm thick) of the jelly mixture into the prepared tins, and refrigerate for a few hours until set.
To make the macaron shells:
4. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper. Make a small triangular template out of card (with edges of about 2cm) and trace spaced-out triangles out onto the baking sheets. Set aside. Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out triangles using the drawn-out templates to guide you.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Cut out triangles of cucumber jelly and place one triangle between each pair of macaron shells. Store in the fridge in an airtight box, but not for too long so that the shells don’t go soggy.