Last weekend, encouraged by the delectable cover of the latest issue of delicious. magazine, I finally decided to tackle macarons. When I later discovered that 20th March was also le Jour du Macaron (as declared by Pierre Hermé…surely not a marketing ploy?), it seemed fated.
These little confections have been hyped to the hilt, and there’s no doubt that they are both pretty and pretty impressive – but are they worth making at home? Time to find out.
I mustered my baking mojo, gathered my resources – namely the aforementioned magazine and several books – and formed a plan of action. I decided to follow the recipe and technique (French meringue version) in Hisako Ogita’s book i ♥ macarons – very highly recommended for its clear layout and great step-by-step pictures – although I also relied on various tips and tricks gleaned from elsewhere. I felt inspired by Spring and by the most beautiful little daffodils that someone lovely had given me, so I coloured my macarons yellow and made an orange blossom water buttercream to fill them.
85g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
65g caster sugar
Grind the almonds and icing sugar to a fine powder in a food processor. Sift the mixture through a sieve twice, and set aside.
Beat the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until they are foamy. Gradually add the caster sugar and continue to beat for about a minute until the mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. At this point I also added a couple of tiny blobs of yellow food colouring gel until the meringue reached my desired shade (note that it will fade slightly on cooking).
Add the ground almonds and icing sugar mixture in two batches and stir in with a spatula after each addition, ensuring that you scoop from the bottom of the bowl to incorporate it fully.
Now the important bit – the macaronnage. Using a spatula, press and spread the batter against the sides of your bowl, scooping from the bottom of the bowl each time – do this about 15 times (apparently, doing it less than 10 times could result in baked macarons that lack lustre; more than 20 times and they may end up with oil stains on the surface. Wow this appeals to my OCD tendencies…). When the batter is nicely firm and drips slowly from the spatula, it is ready.
Attach a piping nozzle (I used a 0.8cm tip) to a pastry bag. Place the bag, tip down, inside a deep glass or jug and pour in the batter. Gently squeeze rounds of batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper – I had made myself some guidelines by tracing round the large end of my piping nozzle (around 2.5cm in diameter), but if you’re a super-confident piping wizard you could skip this. Remember that the batter will probably spread a bit when it’s left to settle.
Rap the baking tray firmly on the counter or a table – this should help the macarons hold their shape and encourage the little pied (that frilly foot part) to form around the bottom as they bake. Leave the uncooked macarons to dry out until a very slight crust forms on them and the batter no longer sticks to your finger when touched. According to the recipe I followed, this should take approximately 30 minutes on a dry and sunny day; for the record, I left them for about 4 hours (and even then some still had ‘nipples’), but it could probably have been termed a rather damp and cold day, despite my wishful thinking to the contrary…
Once you deem them ready to bake, cook the macarons on the middle shelf of a preheated oven at 190ºC for around 15-18 minutes, until slightly crisp on top. If they start to brown, cover the tray with some foil.
Wipe a cloth soaked in cold water over one of your kitchen counters (stay with me here). As soon as you take the macarons out of the oven, carefully lift the parchment paper, along with its fragile pastel-hued cargo, off the baking tray and lay it on the damp surface. This is my TOP TIP. It will stop the cooking process and make it infinitely easier to remove the macarons from the paper, which you can do after a couple of minutes. If you have beautifully baked macarons but can’t prize them from the parchment paper without breaking them, the frustration is akin to missing out on winning the lottery jackpot because you forgot to play your usual numbers. Well close to that magnitude anyway. You get the idea.
Once they are cool, match up evenly sized pairs of macaron shells and sandwich them together with the filling of your choice. I made a simple buttercream using 2 parts butter to 1 part sifted icing sugar, and added some orange blossom water to taste. I also augmented it with a little orange food colouring to really push the springtime theme.
The verdict? Delicious indeed. Worth the effort? Sure, if you really want to impress or have bags of time on your hands. They probably won’t be featuring too regularly in my baking repertoire though.