I posting this challenge a day or 2 late!! I feel like a fifth grader who hasn’t submitted her assignment on time. Let me tell you this is one assignment I wanted to do well, its been on my “to-bake list” for a long, long time but I have been truly intimidated by Macarons and never bothered taking the plunge.
Blog-checking lines: For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze
Yes, the above 4 lines describe my state of mind, once I realised it was a Macaron Challenge. I was not too happy (I have had some disgustingly sweet, cavity sprouting macarons), I was alarmed at the number of things that could go wrong and mainly it just isn’t my favourite sweet/ dessert. But yet the sight of those shiny, coloured buttons made from nuts, sugar and egg whites always get a yearning look and I keep telling myself “Someday I am gonna get them”. The day arrived sooner than I anticipated.
This is a “challenge” in the true sense, it has tested my patience, accuracy, judgement and skill, innovation and obviously my self control once they were ready. You need to be in it mentally, as one wrong move or a drop of yolk in the egg white and you are done. No stirring the chicken pot or multi tasking when you have these beauties to deal with, give them your 100% attention. Mr, 40 and Mr.13 were packed off to a movie and warned not to return before the macarons were ready.
Shells: These are made from egg whites, powdered sugar and ground almonds. You can use other nuts like cashews or pistachios but if this is your first attempt, please stick to the tried and tested.
All ingredients are by weight including the egg whites and I can’t stress enough the importance of weighing them accurately. Don’t be the Ms. Smaarty –pants and round off the measures. When whipping egg whites make sure, that the bowl and beaters are squeaky clean. Any oil residue will give you a “flop” show. A good tip given by the challenge host is to clean the beaters and bowls with a kitchen tissue dipped in white vinegar. The acidity will give the egg whites a rise and do the cleaning job perfectly.
I have made chocolate shells and a little more adventurous saffron flavoured shells inspired by the Indian sweetmeats. In the chocolate shells cocoa powder replaces some sugar. The filling is chocolate ganache and you definitely can’t go wrong with this one. Well the saffron shells are again not the classic French thing but it tasted rich and the saffron cut through the heavy sweetness of the shells. I paired the saffron shells with cream cheese frosting, with a hint of lemon. But do note that cream cheese frosting may make the shells soggy and won’t keep long. They are best eaten the same day
Adding colour and Flavour: use gel based or powder based colours. Liquid colours can affect the texture of the shells. Add the colour and flavour to the almond powder and sugar.
Almond powder can be store bought or home made. I made mine at home by blanching the almonds, removing the skins and toasting them in a slow oven and grinding them to a powder ( you are not likely to get talcum powder consistency but a gritty, coarse pwder).
Keep an eye on the oven. The baking time may vary slightly depending on the oven. Though the hosts mentioned 12-16 minutes, mine took a 20 minutes. The chocolate ones take a wee bit longer than the others. After the first 10 mins in the oven give the baking sheet a turn and continue baking, keeping a hawk’s eye on the shells.
Macarons, as I have learnt, is a whole different ball game. Maybe you’ll get perfect shells in the first go and maybe you won’t. Mine weren’t exactly perfect. They were crisp, tasty but not chewy from the inside. A bit hollow! This I discovered could be because of over beating the egg whites or not knocking out enough air when mixing in the nuts. There is a fine line between under mixing and just about enough mixing.
This is one baking experience every baker should give go to and keep trying. Maybe next month I will try them again and then again till I perfect them. Its not the taste that makes me come back for more but the sheer fulfilment of having mastered a classic and as I always say, the story is not about the perfect cake, or icing, or crispiness of the cookie, but it’s about the journey. Enjoy!!
(using the French Meringue Method)
Servings: 20-25 x 3.5cm / 1 1/3” filled macarons
112grms. ground almonds 204grms. powdered (confectioner’s) sugar 102grms. egg whites at room temperature (from approx. 3 eggs) 51grms. granulated (white) sugar
Seeds of one Vanilla Bean
For chocolate shells: Replace 20g of the powdered sugar with unsweetened cocoa powder
For saffron Shells: Add 1/2 tspn. Saffron strands to the almonds before grinding. You can also break them up with your fingers.
- Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper on top of the piping guide, and set aside. (To make your own piping guide, instructions at the end of recipe)
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar, and pulse until completely combined and homogeneous. If you are using powdered food colouring combine it with the almond mixture.
- Sift the mixture onto a bowl, then return any large bits left in the sifter to the food processor and pulse again until very fine. If you are using saffron combine with almond mixture at this stage. Set aside.
- Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean (free of any oil or egg yolks) large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk on medium speed until frothy, then very gradually add in the granulated sugar. Once all the sugar is added, increase the sped to medium-high and continue beating the egg whites until they form a stiff-peaked meringue (the peaks should not flop over). Don’t over mix or allow the meringue to become dry or chunky. It should look glossy and shiny. Before the meringue reaches stiff peaks, you can mix in some vanilla bean seeds.
- Add half the almond mixture to the meringue and fold vigorously with a spatula, using about 15 strokes to combine and break down the meringue so it is not puffy. Make sure you scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as you fold so that the dry ingredients are all incorporated.
- Add half the remaining almond mixture and fold again with about 10-15 strokes, until just combined. Add the remaining almond mixture and fold again, 10-15 strokes, until just combined. The mixture should fall from the spatula in long, thick ribbons, like slow-flowing lava, and the surface of the mixture should smooth out within 30 seconds.
- Scoop the mixture into a large piping bag (only use half the mixture at a time) fitted with a large round tip or plain coupler, and pipe into the prepared baking sheets, using the piping template as a guide. Pipe straight down so that mixture comes out in a round blob – it will smooth and spread out on its own.
- Lift the baking sheet up about 5cm / 2 inches and keeping it perfectly level, firmly bang it down on your work surface to dislodge any large air bubbles. Set the piped shells aside to dry for 30-60 minutes, until a skin has formed on the surface and they are no longer sticky to the touch. In humid climate conditions keep them under a fan.
- Preheat the oven to 275˚F / 135°C / Gas Mark 1. Bake the shells, one baking sheet at a time, in the top third of the oven for 12-16 minutes, during which time they should sprout feet (if you used cocoa in the shells, they may need an additional 2-5 minutes of extra baking time). Bake for 10 mins, then rotate the baking sheet and bake for further 6 mins keeping an eye on the shells and testing them every 2 mins. To test the shells, gently tug on the top – if they jiggle at all, bake for another 1-2 minutes. Once baked, they should peel cleanly off the parchment paper.
- Allow the shells to cool completely on the parchment paper, then peel off and store in an airtight container, layered between wax paper, at room temperature or in the freezer (NOT the fridge) until you are ready to fill them. Once filled, they should still be kept in an airtight container and can be refrigerated or kept somewhere cool.
Sufficient for 25 filled macarons.
Chocolate Ganache 113g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 1/2 cup / 120ml heavy (whipping) cream small pinch salt 2 Tbsp / 28g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1-2 tblspns Liqueur/ coffee granules 1 tspn./ Vanilla extract 1 tspn.
- Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.
- In a small saucepan, heat the cream and salt until just simmering, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Cover the bowl and let sit for 2-3 minutes to melt the chocolate.
- Stir with a whisk until smooth, then stir in the butter and any additional flavourings like liqueur or coffee granules until completely incorporated and smooth.
- Let the ganache cool in the fridge, until thick enough to pipe (about 30 minutes). Whisk it with a hand mixie until it forms soft peaks. Pipe or spoon the ganache onto the flat side of half the chocolate macaron shells, then sandwich with a second shell of similar size.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup cream cheese or Ricotta crumbled
1 cup whipped cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar (if using unsweetened cream)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
- In a medium bowl beat the cream cheese to a smooth paste. Add the whipped cream and sugar and mix it well stirring vigorously. Add the zest and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the lemon juice as per your preference. Fill into a piping bag and pipe onto flat side of the saffron shell and sandwich with the other.
Prepare the parchment paper by using a bottle cap or a round object of about 3.5 cms as template. Using the round cap draw circles in a dark pencil on the paper. Turn over the sheet and place it on the baking sheet with the circles facing down.