Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Recipe You've Been Waiting For: Macarons for Dummies

Hello, fellow lovers of all things sweet and calorific! Those of you who are following me on Instagram (@wastingmytalent) won't have missed the fact that I've been a tad VERY obsessed with baking macarons lately. I won't deny it: I'm pretty pleased that I've finally discovered the secret code to baking decent looking and tasting macs and I'll now let you into the secret: there is no code and no secret. Hah! First of all, take a peek at what I mean when I say "decent looking":
If the above picture makes you think "Wow, I want to make them myself!" then read on and take delight in the fact that you need few ingredients, little time and no advanced baking skills. Yep, really! All you need is a steady hand for piping.
I've read many macaron recipes, tried a few and trust me, my first attempts - while not bad in taste - did not look quite as sophisticated. Ahem. When I produced nice macarons for my recent tea-party, I was still dubious that I would be able to replicate the success and did not want to post about an allegedly foolproof recipe here until I had tried it again. After 3 attempts, one with liquid food colour, one with matcha and one with instant coffee for colour/taste, I am confident to share it with you. Unlike many recipes that tell you to weigh your egg whites or only use a certain size/class of egg, or even how "aged" they should be, I have tried the recipe both with medium and large sized eggs, with no difference in quality. I firmly believe that the secret is in a) achieving the right texture and b) properly preparing the ingredients and kitchen utensils and I will attempt to describe it all as well as I can.
Ingredients-wise, this recipe is largely based on a Marks & Spencer publication called "Biscuits and Macarons" that I bought in London a couple of years ago. This is a long post with many photos, but if you want good results, I urge you to read the instructions to the end before you get baking. Here goes:

Ingredients for basic macaron recipe (makes about 25, i.e. 50 shells)
3 egg whites (at room temperature, so take out of the fridge in time!)
55g caster sugar
240g icing sugar
120g almonds, blanched(!)
Optional: food colouring of your choice, powdered or liquid
First step, combine powdered icing sugar and almonds in a food processor or stand mixer and grind until very fine. If you don't have icing sugar at home, you may just use caster sugar for this as well as it will be finely ground anyway. Sieve. Re-grind any lumps or big pieces of almonds, then set aside in a bowl. If you use any powdered food colour or powder for flavour (i.e. matcha), mix with the almonds and sugar. It should look like in the picture below where I also added a heaped teaspoon of matcha powder:
Now prepare your piping bag so you won't get stressed later when you should pipe the combined foamy mixture straight away. I actually quite dislike working with piping bags, but have found that two things immensely help handling the gooey mess and minimise cleaning up afterwards. A) Use disposable piping bags and b) use a tall and narrow glass or measuring cup to make filling the bag easier. There are professional gadgets for this and in fact I've ordered one, but in the meantime, this works just fine for me:
What I also found to be of no small importance is to use quite a small tube. Many recipes recommend a 2 cm plain tube, but I used a much smaller one:
While you're at it, line two (ideally 3, if you have that many) baking trays with baking parchment. In case you are over-zealous and a lover of kitchen gadgets like me, take note there that those so-called "macaron baking mats" that are quite popular (by their manufacturers at least...) are a waste of money and a clever marketing ploy only. Well, at least the brand I purchased, which didn't work for two reasons: it is sold rolled up and hard to get to even out, making the macaron mix slide to one side of the baking tray and also the macaron shapes are much too close to each other, resulting in ugly misfits both times I tried. Normal baking parchment works just fine.
Now that you have prepared the almond meal and sugar mix and set aside your piping bag and trays, you can devote your full attention to the egg whites. Beat your egg whites until they form soft peaks. I use my kitchen aid and am happy when the stiff egg whites look like so:

Add the caster sugar and if you use liquid food colouring, add a few drops together with it. Continue beating for a few more minutes until the mixture looks shinier, firmer and "stretchier". [edit for Kitchen Aid users: I typically beat the egg whites on a medium setting, i.e. 5 or 6 for about 9 minutes, before the right consistency is reached. Then I add the sugar and continue beating on the same setting for about 3 more minutes]. When your egg whites-and-sugar mix has reached this consistency, fold in the sifted icing sugar and ground almonds mix in two batches. Gently does it and if this is of any help (to Austrians reading this), the finished mix will have shrunk in volume and look a bit like the filling of a good old Schwedenbombe in consistency. Like so:
Now for piping action! Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with your tube and pipe rounds onto your trays, leaving enough space between them as tehy will spread. Try to make them no larger than a 2€ coin as they will spread immediately and you will have macarons the size of Starbucks cookies if you get carried away and pipe larger rounds. Do you even need piping bags? I have tried it with two teaspoons and it works o.k., but the advantage of the piping bag is that not only will it allow you to produce more or less identical-sized shapes, but it also lets you work quicker, before your mix might have become runny or flat. The finished piped shapes should look something like this:
Important! Your little macs need a little rest now to form their pretty even surfaces. After initial spreading, they will set and not become flatter of wider any more, phew! Leave them to sit for 30 minutes, preferably at a place that doesn't smell of your garlicky lunch or a ripe camembert...
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 150° (I use the fan setting).
When they have had their siesta, pop them into the oven. I always put in all 3 trays at the same time. If you have a temperamental oven or one that is not a convection type, you might want to be a little more careful and do it 1 at a time. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The macarons should not turn brown at all and still be soft to the touch when you take them out. Leave to cool on the tray and do NOT attempt to lift from the paper before they are cool, as they will tear apart in your hands.
If you got the consistency right, the macarans should not spread any further at all in the baking process, but only "grow upwards", almost as if you had added some baking powder. Ideally, they should resemble something like that:
These "matcharons" were filled with salted caramel, something I am addicted to and was really proud I managed the first time. I followed this easy recipe and even bought a digital cooking thermometer, which I didn't get to use in the heat of the moment. Unlike macarons, making caramel is definitely more for the advanced cook and certainly not for those with frail nerves. Very importantly, make sure that you lock your kids out of the kitchen and never EVER think of touching or tasting the caramel in the make as it is twice as hot as boiling water. In any case, I was really thrilled that mine turned out so well. A note on the recipe. I used about 180 grams of butter and the ingredients yield A LOT of caramel. Here's a gratuitous picture to boast a bit...
Those among you old enough to remember when 91/2 Weeks hit the cinemas and caused quite a stir: my phantasies would definitely involve salted caramel. But I digress...
This is what the finished matcha macarons with salted caramel filling look like:
I found the combination pretty irresistable. The good thing about macarons is that you can freeze both the unfilled shells (I recomend using a container, rather than just a freezer bag so you don't crush them, see picture below) or the filled macarons. This has the advantage that you have more varieties for your guests and can impress them with macs in all colours of the rainbow rather than just one flavour:
Before this post turns into a novel, I better stop here and save some variations for a later time. Do let me know if you found this recipe useful and how yours turn out if you decided to follow it!

PS: Don't know what to do with those leftover egg yolks? I tried this recipe for "Almond Butter Snickerdoodles", substituting almond butter for peanut butter. Very yummy!
PPS: If you end up with mishapen or crushed macarons - freeze them and use them for Eaton Mess or other dessert that involves meringue. I recently served this Mango and Passion Fruit Australian Mess to my book club ladies and incorporated crushed macarons. They didn't complain...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darling, I need your help: Say you wanted to make the most irresistable, chocolaty macarons ever. How would you colour them? And what about the filling? Advice more than welcome. A.

3/03/2013 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger onemorehandbag said...

Dear A.,
Funny you're mentioning "chocolatey" as this is what I'm going to try tonight :-) I've added 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder to the almonds and icing sugar and blended them together. I'm now waiting for the eggs to warm up from the fridge, then get going. As a filling, I've planned mint-chocolate for which I'm intending to "recycle" After Eights. I'll make the filling tomorrow and post about it here if successful.

3/03/2013 07:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent. Can't wait to hear about both the verdict on the chocolate shells and the filling. I was thinking of trying out an ordinary dark chocolate ganache. Will see. Thx anyway, A.

3/03/2013 08:55:00 PM  

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