I was going out for dinner recently at some friends, they were insistent that I should not cook a plat, fair enough. But I could not resist cooking something. Hmm what do? Then I remembered this was a perfect opportunity to bake some macarons to go with coffee. I had even assembled some bits of kit in preparation so now was an ideal opportunity.
We are talking about Parisian Macarons baked little disks of egg whites, ground almonds and icing sugar, not the English version which is just a fondant of egg whites and desiccated coconut, nice enough but not the subject of this post.
Macarons are the height of fashion in France and are available in a wide variety of flavours both sweet and savoury and in many colours, but they don’t come cheap by weight a kilo can easily cost 60+ Euros, so this recipe is especially frugal.
The local bakers in Montresor is a national prize winner for his macarons, but he only bakes the classic almond paste and butter cream variety. Being a local rural baker this pre-eminence is perhaps a little surprising but more power to him. Baking ordinary macarons is therefore not a productive use of time or effort when his are so delicious and affordable.
The macaron is of course associated with France and is allegedly local to where I live, the Larousse Gastronomique cites the macaron as being created in 791 in a convent near Cormery a small town about 25k from my home, though to be fair the origins are much debated. Cormery still has a tradition of making macarons, in a style which is just a single ring without a filling.
So making my macarons; I decided on framboise (raspberry) flavour, I had some framboise coulis in the freezer and I had recently bought a range of coloured food dyes suitable for macaron baking of eBay, a very reasonable 10 euro for about 12 different colours. Making macarons is supposed to be difficult but I am not sure that is correct, you need to be organised, follow some simple rules and tips and not aspire to the practiced hand of professional bakers/confectioners who produce consistent picture perfect products. In any event I cannot think of a better confection with which to practice until I have got baking perfect J
To bake macarons it is useful to follow some basic tips.
Know your oven – all ovens are different, the temperature calibration on most ovens can be surprisingly crude, you need a slow oven that will gently bake your efforts.
Get organised – set out what a professional chef would call a “mise en place”, assemble weigh and prepare each of your ingredients.
Use old egg whites – Use the best quality eggs that you can ideally local, free range, organic eggs. However for macarons (and much other baking), egg whites are the best when they’re old. Don’t just crack a fresh egg and start making macarons, instead separate your eggs several days before hand, the ideal approach is to use egg whites separated from the yolk for the sake of a different recipe such as a crème brulee, freeze the egg whites in batches of 3 and defrost as need, the action of freezing and defrosting ages the whites perfectly. Alternatively stick them in a little bowl in the fridge and just leave them there for a couple of days or in a cool dry place for a day. The egg whites will age and become runnier than a fresh egg white, and when you then use them they will whisk up to a greater volume.
Ensure everything is at room temperature – Many recipes tell you to use room temperature ingredients. Most people just skim over the “room temperature” instruction and add things straight from the fridge. If you want to make marvellous macarons, use room temperature ingredients. If your egg whites have been in the fridge, leave them out for an hour or two before using them. Making sure that they and everything else are completely at room temperature it really will make your macarons turn out better.
Take your time – This is fun cookery, don’t cook against the clock as rushing will undermine your efforts. Take time to scribe out circles on your silicone paper (small is best). Pipe the mix into circles slowly and carefully. Leave the circles of macaron mix to harden off for at least half an hour or even longer, the dry surface ensures a smooth macaron with a crispy ruffled little foot or “croute” that is “correct” for the dish.
So following the above advice following the recipe below should be easy;
- 3 old egg whites
- 210 g icing sugar
- 125 g of ground almonds
- 30 g caster sugar
- Dry red food colouring (optional)
Framboise (Raspberry) filling
- 200 g of fresh or frozen raspberries or 150 g of raspberry coulis
- 25 g of sugar
- Juice of half a lemon
Method – Macarons
Mix the icing sugar and ground almonds in a food processer until you have a fine even mix.
Prepare the silicon paper by drawing your desired sized circles on the sheet.
Beat the egg whites and food colouring (if used) vigorously in a clean dry bowl until you have still peaks when the whisk is withdrawn. The French name for this effect is “bec d’oiseau” or bird’s beak which I think is a nice and accurate description. Whisk in the caster sugar and keep whisking until the mixture is firm, shiny and glossy.
Fold into the mix the icing sugar and ground almond mixture using a metal spoon or spatula, be careful and not to rough it is important to keep the resulting paste as light as possible.
Pop the paste in to a piping bag or if you don’t have a piping bag a clean freezer bag will do, just snip the corner off with a pair of scissors. Pipe the mixture through a medium nozzle on to your marked circles. I think it is best if you keep the piping bag at a quite vertical position, don’t rush and remember that the mixture will spread a bit as it settles. To help create a smooth surface to your buttons of uncooked macarons you can drop the baking tray from small height onto a smooth surface.
Leave the discs to harden of in the air for at least 30 minutes, 1 or 2 hours is even better.
Turn on your oven to 150 C or gas mark 2 or a slow oven. Bake the macarons for 13 minutes, longer if they are large. Remove and cool.
Method – Raspberry filling
Gently cook the raspberries, sugar and lemon juice for 15 minutes, the mix will thicken. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and leave to cool.
Sandwich the raspberry filling between two macaron buttons.
Enjoy, I think the sharp raspberry filling and the sweet crisp and chewy almond macaron are extremely yummy and the look good as well.
I’ve got a big family do coming up at the end of April, I think I might make some to take over as petit fours and ideas on flavours?