All these people who cook, bake, photograph and blog so well have been inspirational. There's no doubt that Pinterest has been a superb vehicle for showing the talents of people worldwide and now I feel like joining that community in a small way.
I have been making macarons – those little french delicacies – for some time now and have had some success in sharing my technique with others.
Taking the mystery out of macarons
There are countless books and blogs out there with conflicting advice on these delicious little treats. I haven't tried them all, we'll not quite, in the search for ones that work every time. I haven't been able to improve Lorraine Pascale's recipe and method, so all my variations are based on her recipe.
You will need
125g ground almonds/ 4.5 oz almond meal
125g icing sugar/ 4.5oz powdered sugar
90g/3.5oz egg whites (split 40g/50g) good stores sell cartons of egg whites- extremely handy if you don’t want to make industrial quantities of custard or mayonnaise. Make sure they are are room temperature.
110g caster sugar/4 oz bakers'sugar
Food colouring/flavouring (if using)- only use gel
Filling of your choice- whipped cream, mascapone,jam, lemon curd….
Preheat oven to 160°C/325°For put cold shelf in the baking oven of your aga.
You’ll need baking sheets lined with parchment paper, piping bag/s, 1cm nozzle, digital scales and a digital thermometer, electric whisk
Put the ground almonds and the icing sugar in a food processor and grind until fine (you’ll hear the difference in the machine) if you want to be really fussy you can put this through a sieve, but there is probably more to life!
Empty ground almonds and sugar into a bowl and carefully add 40g/1.5 oz of egg white.
You will now have a stiff paste to which you can add any food colouring. I prefer paste or edible powder as is doesn’t make my paste any wetter. At this point I also add grated lemon rind or orange rind or pistachio paste.
This paste can just sit on work top while you make the italian meringue. If you are planning to make several different batches you can have all your 250g mixtures with relevant colours all lined up.
NOTHING TRICKY SO FAR
Ok so now for the less traditional (from domestic kitchen point of view) way to make meringue. This is known as an italian meringue, while the way most of us make pavlova is known as french method.
Put the caster sugar in a small nonstick saucepan and add water. Don’t put it on the heat until you can give it your full attention- you have been warned!
Whisk the remaining 50g /2oz of egg whites (at room temperature) until soft peaks form. This is a small amount of egg white but ensure you are using a big enough bowl to comfortably add the sugar syrup while you beat like hell.
Heat the sugar in you pan until temperature reaches 115°C/240°F before you add the syrup to the whisked egg whites. If your egg whites have been sitting for a while make sure you give them another whisk before adding the syrup (as we all know a pool can tend to form in bottom of bowl if left for many minutes.)
As you beat this the egg white mixture is going to turn very glossy and thick – please don’t get bored! It has to be beaten until the hot syrup cools and the bowl can be turned upside down over your head!
Now we want to add the meringue to the paste to mix thoroughly but not beat out all the lightness. Do it in batches and you’ll lose your fear. Macaronage is the posh word for the technique.
This is also the time to adjust the colouring if you need to.
Now you are going to tip the mixture into a large piping bag. The standard ones from lakeland and the like drive me mad because I have to refill which is messy. There are plenty of big bags around if you are not using disposable but I like to save on washing up.
Stand your bag in a tall jug to make life simpler- I don’t know any cooks with three hands.
Stick the parchment paper to the baking tray with a little meringue- it saves you chasing the blobs over the worktop!
Now time to pipe – yeah! Again the perfectionists amongst you may have drawn similar size circles on the reverse side of your parchment – we mere mortals will just use our eye.
Leave a little space as they will spread a little (if the consistency is too runny it won’t acquire the ‘feet’ so loved of macaron chefs)
The next stage is essential – rest the macarons for around 30 min. I say around because I’d rather say at least 30 min but I want you to touch the blob which should by now have a skin. If it is still tacky, leave a bit longer.
When rested pop in oven for around 12-15 min. Ovens vary and I suggest if you think your oven is some way from being ‘true’ you buy/borrow an oven thermometer. These are delicate little things not casseroles or fruit cakes so it does matter. Personally I put in one tray at a time.
Opinion varies on whether to leave on tray for a couple of minutes or remove immediately to a cooling tray (with the paper attached). I prefer them to finish the last couple of minutes of the cooking on the tray.it makes the bottom lovely and firm!
When cool sandwich similar sized ones together. Then hide them!! They are actually better after a night in the fridge. A confectioner friend of mine says they freeze well ( without the filling) but mine have never made it as far as the freezer.