On my trip to London last week I was lucky enough to be given a beautiful box of bright coloured macarons, which were very quickly devoured in the office. Loving their sweet, crunchy shell, chewy inner and moist, rich filling, I set out to find more about making them for myself.
For meringue-style macarons such as these (not to be confused with coconut macaroons (spelt with 2 ‘o’s which are more of a drop-biscuit made with whole eggs) – there are 2 methods, Italian and French. The difference is in the making of the meringue – the Italian method uses a heated sugar syrup, whereas the French uses a standard meringue base, whipping the egg whites and sugar cold.
I chose to go for the French macaron method, largely out of simplicity (and a little laziness!) As these biscuits (is that what they are?) are such a delicacy and can be tricky to make, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible on my first attempt.
Ingredients (makes approx. 15 macarons)
2 medium egg whites
*Approx. 70g ground almonds
*Approx. 105g icing sugar
*Approx. 40g caster sugar
Handful of blueberries
100g icing sugar
*The exact science behind meringues lies in having your ingredients in proportion to the weight of your egg whites. My 2 medium egg whites weighed 65g and I used the following proportions to calculate the rest of the ingredients. There are many different ideas online about what proportions should be used, but I found these worked perfectly so will be sticking with them again:
egg whites: 1.00 part
ground almonds: 1.10 part
icing sugar: 1.65 part
caster sugar: 0.60 part
– put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz for 1-2 minutes. This starts to aerate the mixture and helps grind down any coarser bits of almond
– whisk the egg whites until they are thick and foamy (shaving foam like texture), then add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, whisking on high speed until the mixture is at soft peak stage – i.e. holds its shape when you make peaks in it. If you want to add a colour then now is the time – being my first batch I kept it simple and left them uncoloured.
(at this stage I was very glad for my electric mixer and food processor. With a history going back hundreds of years, I’m glad the labourious task of making macaroons is that bit easier with all our gadgets and gizmos!)
– sieve in the icing sugar and ground almond blend. The almonds are still quite dense so you may need to push on the mixture with a spoon to get it through the sieve. Don’t try to get through the coarse bits of almond left at the end – they will not be kind to your smooth macaron mixture!
– carefully fold the dry ingredients into the meringue mixture. You want it to be combined but not over-mixed, and it will have quite a thick, sticky, bubbly texture. Mix too much and your meringue mixture will start to break down and go watery.
– fill your piping bag with the mixture, using a wide, round nozzle on the end
– ready your tray with non-stick paper (these bad boys do have a tendency to stick after cooking!). I found some brilliant re-usable, no-need-to-grease sheets in Aldi, they worked a treat. Be careful if you’re using any kind of fat to grease your sheets that it doesn’t have a chance to get into your mixture.
– pipe your mixture into even circles, with a couple of centimetres between to give them room to spread. Make the circles by keeping the nozzle close to the sheet and pressing on the piping bag. Once you have enough mixture twist the bag away so it leaves a clean circle on the sheet.
– if you end up with a little peak on the top of the macaron then fear not – simply wet your finger and gently smooth the bump down (the same works for little bumps at the side)
– once all your macarons are piped, give the tray a couple of good hard bangs on the work top. This will remove any air pockets and flatten out the shells slightly.
– leave the trays to sit, uncovered, for a minimum of 30 minutes. What you are aiming for is a skin to form on top of the shells; you can’t see it, but if you gently touch with your finger, the mixture will not stick to it, your finger will stay clean. When this happens, your macarons are ready to be baked.
– pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C. Put the macrons in and then immediately turn down to 140 degrees C. The time will depend on how thickly you’ve piped your circles, but it should take them around 10 – 14 minutes to bake. Take them out when they are crispy but before they go brown.
– leave the shells to cool for a minute before very gently lifting off and placing onto a cooling rack. They’re very delicate so be careful, if they don’t immediately come off then carefully slide a palette knife or spatula underneath.
– some of my shells came out the oven with air bubbles having risen to the top. I’m not sure if this is because I didn’t bang the tray hard enough, but it certainly didn’t affect the taste. They did however have a perfectly risen ‘foot’ – the unsexy name for the straight side bubble part that rises up under the domed top while cooking
– once completely cool, pair up the shells into equal shapes and sizes (if you’re a piping pro then they should all be identical!)
– beat together the ingredients for the buttercream and sandwich the shells. I placed a big dollop in the centre of one shell, before carefully and evenly pressing down slightly with the second one on top.
– Et voila! Perfect bite size macaroons, with a crispy shell, chewy inner, and buttercream centre. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before eating so the buttercream can set slightly. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.
Dare I say it – don’t hate me! – but they weren’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought! Yes you have to be quite precise with the recipe and rather delicate when handling the mixture and piping, but, follow a simple set of instructions… and who knows what you can achieve!