Macarons: Basic Recipe (French Meringue)

Right. Macarons. I make these a lot. I make them for my own birthdays, for my friends birthdays, for my friends weddings and by request from my mum to take back to Hong Kong. I have experimented with these an awful lot.

In my constant search for attaining that Macaron Nirvana I have: tried various French meringue recipes; Italian meringue recipes; used fresh eggs; used rested eggs; added egg stabilisers; bought an oven thermometer; broken my oven thermometer; bought a newer more accurate oven thermometer; warped my oven trays; bought new oven trays; single & double stacked my oven trays; used parchment paper; used steam to remove my macaroons stuck to parchment paper; bought silicon baking mats; blitzed my ground almonds; double sifted my ingredients; triple sifted my ingredients; mixed fast; mixed carefully; mixed methodically; piped sloppily; piped pedantically; laminated my own piping template; used a toothpick to pop air bubbles; rested my mixture for 30 minutes; rested my mixture for 60 minutes; baked them quickly in a hot oven; baked them slowly in a cooler over; curdled my buttercream; burnt the cream for my ganache; used way too much rosewater in mascarpone…and created a few delectable morsels amongst a sea of calamitous attempts.

And still, I would only consider myself a novice at macarons, as I can still be found crumpled in a quivering mess on my kitchen floor because the Macaron Gods have conspired against me. I have tweaked and amended many recipes until I reached one that was almost 80% consistent depending on the weather and ridiculously long rest time of an hour. And after some particularly stressful days at work I decided that even I should go to a macaron class at On Patisserie and see what I was doing wrong. Because cooking makes me happy. Don’t judge. I’m a de-stressing stress cooker.

I was 20 minutes late. But as I was the only one in the class who had actually made successful macaroons at home, I still managed to bombard the wonderfully charming Loretta Liu with a torrent of really specific questions (“when you’re ageing your eggs in the fridge, do you have a preference for fresh or pasteurised egg whites? How many extra grams are you factoring in for weight loss?”). After her class, and scrutinising my really hilarious note taking. I’ve tried her recipe again and it does work pretty consistently! Also, it’s actually a lot simpler than the one I’ve been faffing around with so before you start, it’s probably best that you know that you need to age your eggs whites in the fridge for 3 days (I was doing 5! Already, 2 days off my timeline), so get those egg whites in a bowl, cover with cling film and make sure you have the following kit:

Equipment you need to make French macarons:
A handmixer or stand mixer
A large plastic bowl - No to: glass, metal & ceramic
A fine mesh sieve
A spatular
Gel food colouring - not liquid colouring
2 good quality, heavy, baking trays (to double stack)
Silpat or silicon baking mat equivalent
A good quality piping bag with a 10 mm nozzle
A template for your piping - circles at approx. 4.5 cm

Aged those egg whites? Got all of your equipment? Now here are the ingredients for basic macaron shells:

French macaron ingredients:
140 g Egg whites - Rested in the fridge for 3 days
95 g Caster sugar
170 g Ground almonds
260 g Icing sugar
Gel food colouring - approx. 1/4 tsp

Egg whites out of the fridge and get them to room temperature. Sieve your almond flour into a large plastic bowl (double sift them if you want). Now sieve your icing sugar on top. Do not touch this mixture. You want to avoid the icing sugar getting too touchy feely with the almond flour (it’s an oily nut so might cause lumps pre mixing). Set aside.

Whisk those egg whites with a hand or stand mixer to glossy firm peaks. Add caster sugar gradually.

Gently fold the meringue into the dry ingredients using quick circular motions. This mixture is known as ‘macaronage’. If you want to add the food colouring, I’d do it now. I like to add half the meringue first, mixing relatively briskly, then gently folding the rest in. The trick (and man, is this a bugger of a trick) is getting the macaronage smooth, even and *just* the right consistency so you don’t knock all the air out and it holds a nice shape after you pipe it out. You hear the term ‘ribbony’ banded about a lot for this stage. I don’t know what on earth that really means. But you want it looking a bit like this:

See how you can still see some definition to those peaks? It is always better to err on the side of under mixing than over mixing. You cannot salvage over mixed macaronage. The mixture should hold in the piping bag while you pipe, and not dribble all over the place. (Been there, done that…boring and supremely annoying).

Prep your tray, place your template underneath your baking mat. Now for the piping. Forget all those swirly creative cupcake icing techniques you may have perfected. Macarons need a steady calm hand for uniformity. Get your 10 mm nozzle in your piping bag. Twist the bottom (or use a laundry peg) so when you fill the bag, mixture doesn’t come out the other end. Thumb and forefinger at the top, gently squeeze so your mixture is just about to come out of the nozzle. Holding your bag perpendicular to the tray, hold it at 5mm (the height of your macaron shell) and slowly add pressure and fill until you make a perfect circle. Stop adding pressure. Lift straight up! Move on to the next one. Pipe. Pipe. Pipe. Pipe. Done!

You have a couple of choices in term of removing those nippily peaks a top of your piped batter . Bang the tray on the counter to gently flatten them out (easy, but temperamental) or learn to pipe them flat (a bit more advanced and takes a bit of time. It involves piping as above them adding a semi circle flourish to cut the peak off with the nozzle)…check this dude’s mad pipping skills. Envious much? You should have enough mixture to pipe at least two sheets. Pipe it all and rest them for 20-40 mins until they form a skin and bake one tray at a time. If you can, I would advise double staking those baking trays. This simulates insulated trays, and means the base of your macarons don’t cook too quickly and help you form those much needed ‘feet’ on the base of your shells.

While resting your batter. Set your oven to 160°C. Remove that template. Bake for 10 minutes.

This is pretty important. Not all ovens are the same, and the above temperature and timing is not a golden rule, you have to learn to be at one with your oven for this stage. Mastering one’s oven is the hardest or at least most frustrating part in this whole process. The final hurdle to conquer after all that time. Once done leave them to cool before carefully removing ’em from the baking mat. You’re now ready to fill them with a plethora of delicious fillings once they are fully cooled down. Pair up your shells according to shape similarity. Line one side facing up the other facing down. Pipe your fillings onto the ones facing up. Sandwich them and keep ’em in the fridge for 12-24 hours before you serve them up! Left over shells can be stored in the freezer.

For those of you crazy enough to embark on this macaron madness expect troubled waters. This is a pretty good guide in terms of trouble shooting. Good luck and godspeed.

 

Gingerdead Men

Happy Hallows Eve! This is officially my first post on my food blog. Exciting. But bear with me, I’m sure I’ll get better at this as I go along. For the past year or so I’ve been asked by numerous friends that I should probably start a food blog as I’m rather meanly posting pictures of what I cook in a Facebook album, but never really follow it up with techniques or methods. So here we go. Let’s start with this picture…

Last Christmas, back in my wonderful hometown of Hong Kong, Santa bought me this: a Gingerdead Man cookie cutter. It’s cuts the shape of the regular ginger bread person, but also has a skeletal extrusion for you to emboss the skeleton into the dough and thus bake and fill with royal icing. For those of you who know me well, this is a fantastic gift! It’s a little bit bakey and a little bit gothy…*fist pump!*

This Halloween I dressed as a Japanese School Girl Mauled by Zombies. It went down a treat. As did my trays of Ginger Dead Men. I based this on the Humming Bird Bakery recipe for these, I’ve only added more spice. This is a book that I absolutely recommend for any baker, I’ve followed and modified a lot of recipes in my kitchen experiments and this book always produces light balanced bakes. There are a lot of different ginger bread recipes out there, this particular one is of the more airy and slightly chewy German variety compared to the crumbly cookie commercial versions you can buy. It’s also lovely and spiced. Go forth and bake! Makes approx. 24 cookies, depending on your cookie cutter.

Gingerbread Dough
400 g plain flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (I went with 1/2 tsp grated)
1/2 tsp salt
180 g room temp butter, cubed
125 g soft dark sugar - muscovado good
1 egg
125 g black treacle

Whack your butter and sugar in a mixer or bowl. Mix until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, mix all your dry ingredients ingredients (spices, salt, flour, raising agent). Increase mixing speed of butter and sugar then beat in the egg and treacle – use your spatular and scrape the sides and mix thoroughly. On a low mixing speed now, add in your flour mixture one tablespoon at a time until and scrape the side with that spatular. Mix – scrape – mix – scrape. Finished dough! Divide into 3, wrap in cling film and bung it in the fridge. The book says it’ll taste better if you store overnight. I didn’t do this, but I let it rest for 4 hours…that’ll do…

When ready to roll, heat the oven to 170°C get a dough out and rest ’em for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare baking trays. Flour rolling pin and roll on a floured sheet of parchment paper, I find this easier to transfer my cut cookie shapes onto the prepared baking trays. Roll the dough out to 4mm. I placed a chopstick either side of my rolling pin so I was rolling the dough all nice and uniformed…clever hey? Stamp those shapes out! Bake for 10-15 mins. Cool slightly on the trays before transfering onto cooling rack.

Ready to do the icing? This was the only part of the recipe I didn’t follow as I was running a bit late and didn’t want to make it too stiff from the egg white as I wanted the icing to flow into the skeleton crevice. I simply eyeballed the icing sugar, lemon and water to the right dribbly consistency. But here are the actual quantities should you want them.

Royal Icing
1 egg white
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
310 g icing sugar, sifted
food colouring, optional

Beat that egg white with the lemon juice, gradually add the icing sugar. Mix well and you should get stiff peaks. If it’s too runny add more sugar. Add colouring if you want. Get it in your piping bag. Decorate and make pretty.

There you go. First post under the belt. Happy Halloween!

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