Saturday, December 18, 2010

Making French macaroons, sort of

Strictly speaking they're macarons, but they're called macaroons in the latest Dish, which has a ridiculously perfect plate of them on the cover. So I bought it, thinking that now was the time to get together with my friend Amy and have a go at making them. She can't eat gluten, and when we went to France together four years ago, we used to buy them and take them back to our hotel for an afternoon snack (though they weren't as good as the ones I had in Melbourne). And I knew they were supposed to be difficult, so I figured two heads and pairs of hands would be better than one. We had a lot of fun.

Raspberry Parisian Macaroons - adapted slightly from Dish 33, December 2010-January 2011

100g free range egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
2 tbsps caster sugar
1-2 tsps raspberry essence
red food colouring
140g ground almonds
220g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 150C (though as the macaroons have to stand so long before cooking, you can do this later).
Whisk egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks in a large bowl, using an electric beater.
Add caster sugar, raspberry essence and a few tiny drops of red food colouring.
(They say the colour will fade during cooking, so you want a deepish pink, but we slightly overdid it with our first batch. Still, the French ones were quite deep pink too.)

In another large bowl, sift the ground almonds and icing sugar together, and add any almonds that haven't gone through the sieve. (Not sure about this - I think it could be best to sieve the almonds first separately, then weigh the sifted ones to get 140g - that way it might be easier to get smoother macaroons. Or better, do as Mrs Cake suggests (see below) and grind the almonds again in the processor with the icing sugar.)

Using a large metal spoon, fold the almonds and icing sugar mix into the egg whites until well combined.
(They say not to worry about losing volume as the mixture should not be too light and airy. But ours didn't rise as much as we thought they would, so we might have overdone this slightly.)

The next step is the tricky one. The recipe says:
Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm wide plain piping nozzle. Pipe small rounds, about 3 cm apart,
onto baking trays lined with baking paper.

This might work fine with a proper piping bag, but we didn't have one. We tried using a plastic bag with the corner cut off, but it didn't work very well, and we thought far too much mixture got wasted - it really sticks to the bag. (And how small? About 2 cm across - we made them too big at first.)

So then we just used two teaspoons to make small rounds instead, which was much easier. We certainly didn't get the perfect smoothness of the ones in the picture - but could any home cook get this, I wonder? If anyone's done it, please let me know.

The bottom far left one is really round and pretty smooth...

Drop the trays a couple of times on the bench to get rid of any air bubbles and flatten the macaroons slightly.
(It was fun doing this but we still didn't get rid of all the bubbles.)

Leave for 45-50 minutes until a good skin has formed on top of the macaroons.
(They say "This is an integral part of the recipe. Without this step they will not have the distinctive smooth tops." We did it, but they still weren't smooth. If you haven't put the oven on yet, do it now.)

Bake the trays, one at a time, for 12-14 minutes (in my underpowered oven, 16 was better). Leave for 5 minutes before gently transferring to a cooling rack. (We just transferred the whole sheet of paper to the rack with macaroons still on it, and took them off later - this worked very well.)

What we were most proud of was that they all had the mark of a true macaroon - that distinctive little "foot" around the bottom (though it didn't actually stick out all round the way it did on the Melbourne ones, but never mind, there it was).

What you sandwich them together with depends on how authentic you want to be. Dish suggests butter icing, and gives the recipe (I think there should be an incentive to buy it, since we've made so much use of it, so I'm not going to copy the filling recipe here - you get a free calendar and drinks booklet with this issue too). I've seen a fiendishly long French recipe for a proper creme filling. Or you could have a look at Mrs Cake's blog - her macaron recipe (avert your eyes from her foray into, er, distinctive colouring) is similar but includes some useful extra information, and her filling recipe has an egg and an egg yolk in it - handy, since you'll have some to use up. But it requires a candy thermometer and I haven't got one of those either...

Anyway, our first ever "Parisian macaroons" have gone down really well with me and the people I've offered them to so far. They have a distinctive texture, crunchy, chewy and melting all at once. Next time I think I'll try making vanilla and coffee ones, maybe with some Nutella in the filling.


Libby said...

Your macarons look lovely! I've not had a go at making macarons myself but enjoy eating ones that others have made. The macarons on the cover of Dish are from J'aime Les Macarons in Christchurch - though the placement of the recipe implies otherwise... sneaky!

Alexia said...

They look beautiful Anne - and their making sounds very complex!
Have you seen Dean Brettschneider's recipe in the latest Listener (Dec 25th)? He calls it Raspberry Macaroon Tart - it looks amazing.

AnneE said...

Aha! Thank you, Libby - I was pretty sure those ones in Dish came from a commercial kitchen, not a home one! And thank you too, Alexia, I'll look out for that recipe.