Macarons

There is a wonderful air of mystery around making macarons (not macaroons, but that’s an explanation for another time) I guess we have all been told that they are really tricky and that they are fragile and we should rather avoid making them and leave them to the pros. Well….

Those are just the reasons that I wanted to give them a go.  I did, of course,do a course at Silwood, because at that time, I was also under the impression that only demigods were blessed with the ability to make them.

We began the class watching the chef making a batch, before we would give it a go. I was stunned, after I had watched the demonstration. I wanted to yell, “Is that all? Is that it? Where is the secret handshake? When do we add the tears of unicorns? ” Of course, I held my tongue, but vowed that if I could reproduce these little angels at home, I would spread the word, that demigod status was not needed.

So, along with taking a really short time to make, you don’t have to treat them like a sleeping baby while baking them. In fact, you can open the oven at any time while they are baking and, gasp, nothing will happen.  You actually need to bang them after you have piped them, to remove the large air bubbles. They are not to be treated like spoilt children either.

Next thing that blew my mind, was that once they are piped, you need to leave them to form a skin. No secret involved with this, the skin prevents the air rising through the top of the macaron in the oven, so the only way it can escape is through the bottom and so that is how your ‘feet’ are created…….wait, wait, there is more: forming that skin can take about 15 minutes, but you can leave your macarons to sit around for up to 4 or 5 hours before baking them off. Yes. I kid you not. Make a batch, fetch the kids from school, then put them in the oven when you have a moment.  They seem to be created for busy moms like me.

Just when you thought that I was finished, I will let you in on yet another wonderful delight of macarons.  They need to mature overnight in the freezer. Yes, make them, fill them, freeze them. And take them out 10 minutes before they are needed. They are  stored in the freezer and you can make them up to 3 or 4 months before using them. I kid you not, they will not go stale on you , they are the most perfect little delights ever.

They are gluten-free too. I know, sigh, I know.

I use the Italian meringue method in winter when it’s wet, it’s really stable and is easier for beginners. You will need a sugar themometer, but it’s a great kitchen tool and when you get one, you’ll find tonnes of ways to use it. Money well spent. So is a silicone mat, youdon’t want them to stick, they won’t get a foot and that is the mark of a macaron.

Macarons:

80g icing sugar

80g ground almonds

60g egg whites (about 2 large eggs)

60ml water

80g castor sugar

colouring

Filling:

100g butter

200g icing sugar

colouring

30ml milk

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Place the ground almonds and the icing sugar in a food processor and whizz on high for 1 minute. (the icing sugar prevents the almonds becoming almond butter, so don’t leave it out)

Sieve the mixture and discard any almonds that won’t pass through the sieve. If you have more than one or two teaspoons, you’ll have to put it back in the food processor and repeat.

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Mix 30g of the egg white with the almonds and mix to a paste, add the colour at this point and mix well. I added white to give me a white macaron.

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Put the remaining egg white into a clean glass bowl.

Set your hand-held beater up to be ready to whisk the egg whites.

Place the castor sugar and the water into a medium saucepan. With a metal spoon, stir the sugar over a medium heat until the liquid is clear and you can’t see any more sugar crystals. You may need to remove the saucepan from the heat every once in a while to prevent it boiling before the sugar is dissolved.

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Use a pastry brush in a glass of cold water to brush any stray sugar crystals down from the sides of the saucepan. Place your themometre in the sugar syrup.

When the temperature reaches 110ºC, begin whisking the egg whites. Keep an eye on the themometer. By the time it reaches 118ºC, the egg whites should be stiff. If the sugar is not hot enough, just stop beating until the sugar is up to temperature.

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Remove the syrup from the heat at 118ºC.  Start whisking the egg whites and pour the hot syrup slowly into the egg whites, while you catch it with the beaters, beating it all in.

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Continue to beat until the bottom of the bowl is cold, about 4 minutes.  This is the meringue for your macarons. It is very stable and shouldn’t fall flat.

Now use a heaped tablespoon of the meringue to loosen the almond mixture, just stir it in.

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Then using a heaped table-spoon at a time, fold the meringue into the almond mixture until you get a flowing consistency. If you lift a big spoonful up and let it flow into the bowl, it should flow unbroken for ten seconds. You will not use all the meringue, so don’t get carried away.

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Fill a piping bag with a large nozzle and pipe rounds onto  a silicon mat, or silicone paper.  I pipe while I’m counting to 5, once I get to five, I slop pushing and I lift up. This helps to get all of the macarons an even size. You can pipe smaller ones, just count to 3 or something.

Drop the baking tray from about 2cm above the counter top to get the large bubbles to go to the surface. Use a toothpick to prick and air bubbles you can see on the surface of the macaron.

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Now let the macarons sit in a dry place. They can rest for up to 4 hours. Once they go dull and you can touch them without getting batter stuck on your finger, you know that they are ready. Don’t rush this part.

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Preheat your oven to 120ºC. Bake for 8 minutes and then turn the temp down to 110ºC for another 10 to 12 minutes. You can open the oven at any point. If you can lift a shell off the silicone mat and it pulls away easily, they are done.

Take the macarons out of the oven and remove from the hot baking tray immediately. Allow to cool.

Filling:

Soften the butter by beating it well.

Add the icing sugar and beat well.

Add a little milk until you get  a soft buttercream that holds its shape.

Beat in colouring of your choice.

To assemble:

Match up the macaron shells to match each other.

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Pipe a little filling onto one shell and press the matching shell onto the filling. Allow a ring of filling the same width as the foot to show. Repeat with remaining shells.

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Freeze in an airtight container overnight and defrost about 10 minutes before serving. Store in the freezer.

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