Ah, macarons. The dish that makes Matt Preston say that Adriano Zumbo is the “dark horse” of patissiers every single season of Masterchef. But in all seriousness, he’s kind of right. They’re actually kind of difficult to make! I’ve made a couple of batches now – the first turned out supremo; the second sorted of ended up looking like cracked whoopie pies (though that was due to my brash confidence after my first attempt and my apparent ability to skip steps) and then finally the third worked out well again. Eh – two outta three ain’t bad!
But they’re sort of beautiful, really. It’s a beautiful texture to have this slightly crispy shell that morphs into this slightly softer, chewy interior and perhaps a little zing of a tangy filling. Incredible.
I read many, many (oh so very many) sites on macarons after my dismal second attempt and the main reasons people seem to point to are factors like overmixing, a humid environment, differing temperatures in the oven, dryness/wetness and just, plain, taking your time with things. I’m gonna make it my tip (because everyone has to have a tip on this) to get yourself a set of scales. Everyone has a different definition of “a cup” and I think it’s kind of important to get the specifics right.
So there’s basically two ways to make a macaron – the Italian way and the French way – and the main difference occurs in the egg white-whisking process. The Italian method basically involves making this sugar syrup get to a certain temperature (100 degrees?) and pouring it into your egg whites whilst whisking – they say this makes the macaron more “stable”, but also risks making it too crunchy and hollow in baking. The French method, which I have been using, is just pouring the little granules of sugar into your egg whites as you whisk – less stable, but easier to get to that “slightly crispy shell morphing into chewy interior” effect.
The recipe that follows is actually super basic. A basic almond macaron, there for the flavouring and the colouring and the filling. When I say basic, the process is not difficult. It’s not the sort of…dish (?)…that takes technical excellence. You just want to be following the steps and not taking shortcuts. Have a read around the net – EVERYONE has a different method, a different idea of what is right and wrong, a unique tip that they “swear by”. It’s kind of like stock tips: everyone claims to know what they’re talking about. Make up your own mind. If your first one screws up – hey, you wouldn’t be the first. Find a recipe you like, like I did with this, and stick to it. Hone it, flavour it, develop it.
Here we go…
You will need:
– 120gm almond meal
– 200gm powdered sugar (as in, icing sugar, not icing mixture)
– 100gm egg whites
– 30gm caster sugar
– colouring. Most people seem to recommend powdered or gel colours because (a) you need less of it to get the desired effect; and (b) it won’t upset the wet-dry ingredients balance
…and then whatever you want to fill it with. Chocolate ganache? Raspberry Jam? Passionfruit creme? It’s all gonna be good!
Step 1 – get prepared: Line a few baking trays with two layers of baking paper – maybe even draw little circles to help with sizing / placement when it comes to piping (the size of an upturned champagne glass, perhaps). Also get yourself a piping bag prepared – I actually just used one of those disposable sandwich bags and cut a little hole in one of the corners.
Step 2 – let the sieving begin: you want to be blending your almond meal and powdered sugar. In case your almond meal has a little moisture, “toast” it in the oven on about 150 degrees for up to 10 minutes then let cool (cool. not warm). I found that a good way of (a) blending; and (b) making the grains even more fine is to whack your almond meal and powdered sugar into a blender and whizz it up for a few pulses. Now it’s sieving time. Sieve your almond / powdered sugar mixture a couple of times into a bowl and don’t force the little grainy bits (you want nice, smooth biscuits here). Set aside.
Step 3 – just beat it: tip your egg whites into a metal bowl – hand whisk, electric mix – however you like. Beat the whites for a while until they’re really frothy and only then start adding the sugar bit by bit. (And gel / liquid colour, if you’re using it). When the egg whites are stiff, stop. Do the old test – if you can hold the bowl upside down over your head without becoming egg white sally, then you’re good to go. Once you get to this stage, just stop. You don’t want to keep whisking and get these gross dry egg whites.
Egg whites (pinks)!
Step 4 – I’ll have the combination, thanks – quarter by quarter tip your almond mixture into the egg whites. Fold in and then add the next quarter. Your concern here is not so much about trying to keep heaps of volume in the egg whites – we’re not making a souffle. But you don’t want to overmix the thing so that it comes really runny and goopy (otherwise your macarons will spread and become really thin instead of plump and inviting). They say that your mixture should ultimately look like lava. Not having hung out in many active volcanos, I have no idea what this looks like but for me, what worked was to think of it as if you were to pick some of the mixture up in a spoon, it should slowly ooze back into the bowl, and then after maybe 20 seconds, settled back into the mixture and not stay as this obvious lump that you’ve just dropped back in. In my excitement, I actually forgot to take a picture, but it should look something like this:
Step 5 – the pied piper: Scoop your batter into that piping / sandwich bag you had lying around. Pipe the mixture into those rounds you conveniently drew on your baking paper (or freehand if that’s your style). Once your little rounds are piped, bang the tray a few times – this evens out the surface and also brings air bubbles to the top. You need to leave this alone for, say, an hour, until the top starts to almost dry out a little – i.e. if you lightly touched the top with your finger, you wouldn’t get a big goop of macaron batter coming off. Preheat your oven to 140 degrees (fan forced) and I mean preheat. Leave it for a good 10 minutes – you don’t want to be wasting precious oven time with a mediocre heat oven.
Once again…too excited with the process – your resting macarons should look like this:
Step 6 – get baked: times vary, but for my oven, 15 minutes seemed to work pretty well, turning the tray 180 degrees half way through cooking. None of this “take it out when it’s golden” – actually do time it. A minute is the difference between a soggy and a crunchy / hollow macaron. Also only do one batch at a time – pain in the ass, yes, but ovens are often terrible in their heat distribution. Once they’re done, take the macarons out of the oven, let them cool for a little while and then peel them off the paper. If you’re having a bit of a difficult time, I find it a good idea to slide the baking sheet onto a damp cloth – only for a little while – so that a little moisture / steam loosens the biscuit. Woohoo – this time I actually DID manage to remember to take a picture.
The filling can essentially be whatever you want. I went with a raspberry jam. I did this by mixing a cup of frozen raspberries along with, say, half a cup of water and a few tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan, bringing to the boil (and mashing up the raspberries as I went) and then mixing in the teensiest bit of cornflour/water to thicken it a little. It was a nice, tart touch (especially because I had topped my chocolate frosted cupcakes with these).
Anyway, the point is, take your time and be patient. This site here is epic on the topic of unbelievably in-depth experiments with macarons – check it out!
Oh, and what to do with all of those spare egg yolks? How about my deathly chocolate ice cream recipe? or maybe this freakin’ delicious lemon and lime curd?