Would you believe that I'd never tried a macaron until I made one myself? I think the main reasoning behind this was that I've never really been presented with one, though I never searched one out, either, because I don't like almonds and the main ingredient in a macaron is ground almonds.
Though I shied away from the macaron, I have long been reading the tales of Adam's exploration of the Macaron and other French delights over at Paris Patisseries - I find it hilarious (and genius) that he diets while in America so he can go to Paris for six months at a time and binge on pastries and chocolates! Through my reading of his reviews of the top macaron makers in Paris I realised that perhaps macarons wouldn't taste of almonds if they were flavoured adequately. The range of flavour and colour combinations seems exponential, so this led me to thinking that perhaps I would like the macaron after all.
Not only have the finest Pâtissiers in Paris made them, but many of my favourite bloggers have been knee deep in macaronage too. The trend appears to have swept the food blogging world, my favourite contributions being the Lemon-Blueberry Macaron Delight Cake by Sweetapolita and the Kir Macarons (with an amazing swirl of colour) by Sharky Oven Gloves.
It was after seeing the Kir Macarons that I finally decided that it was time to take the plunge and make some macs myself. I've heard all sorts of tales about the trials and tribulations of making good macarons, so I thought it would be a good idea to read as many tips and recipes as possible before embarking on my own Macaron Mission. In the end, after reading her Ten Commandments of Macarons, I decided to use Bravetart's basic macaron recipe because she's a pastry chef at a top restaurant and makes macarons three times a day, six times a week! If she can't get them right, nobody can.
On the day I was planning to make macarons, my parents bought blueberries so I knew I had to use them in my recipe! I already had a batch of Swiss meringue buttercream in the freezer because I made so much custard to eat with my Apple & Wensleydale Loaf Cake that I had more than enough egg white for it and decided to use them up before they went off. Swiss meringue buttercream is one of the many fillings one can use for macarons, and since I already had some I wasn't going to let it go to waste!
I had to alter Bravetart's recipe slightly because I've never seen kosher salt in the UK, let alone in out house, but I do know that is has different properties to standard sea salt. I did originally try to use normal salt but the meringue wouldn't move past the soft peaks stage, even after excessive whisking, so I had to discard that batch and try again without the salt. The result was much better and I got a very stiff meringue, as prescribed. I also found that I had to cook the macarons for much longer than stated in the recipe.
For the macarons:
- 4 Egg Whites
- 75g Caster Sugar
- 230g Icing Sugar
- 115g Ground Almonds
- 2 Tsp Vanilla Essence
For the Swiss meringue buttercream:
- 3 Egg Whites
- 80g Caster Sugar
- 200g Good Quality Butter
- 80g Blueberries
- 2 Tsp Vanilla Essence
- Blue Food Colouring (if desired)
- Preheat the oven to 145C and line three baking trays with parchment paper. Use a 1.5in cookie cutter to trace circles about 1in apart on the sheets of baking parchment and turn over - you'll use these as a guide for piping the macarons.
- To make the macarons, put the egg whites and caster sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk on medium (on an electric whisk) for 3 minutes. Increase the speed setting to medium-high for another 3 minutes, then finally whisk on high for 3 minutes.
- Add the vanilla essence, then whisk for another minute. The meringue should be so stiff that it gets trapped inside the whisk. Rap it sharply on the edge of the bowl to make the trapped meringue fall out.
- Sift the ground almonds and icing sugar into the mixing bowl and fold in with a rubber spatula. After each fold, push down on the mixture as if you are trying to push the air out it (which, indeed, you are). Repeat until all of the ingredients are incorporated and, if you drop a bit of the mixture onto the top of the rest of it, the drop merges back into the mixture within 20 seconds. Make sure you also scrape around the bowl a lot to ensure that all of the meringue gets incorporated.
- Using a standard round nozzle, pipe the macaron mixture inside the guides you drew earlier. Don't go right to the edges as the macarons do expand a little in the oven.
- Rap each baking tray (complete with macarons) sharply on the work surface, then turn it 90 degrees and rap it again. This ensures that any air bubbles rise to the top.
- If you have a fan oven like me, it's a good idea to make sure your oven trays are either slightly above or slightly below the fan as this can cause the macarons to crack.
- Put the macarons in the oven for 18 mins, turning the baking tray around half way through. After this time, try peeling a macaron from the baking parchment by holding them perpendicular to the tray and holding the top of it. If the macaron does not come away cleanly, they are not done so put them back in the oven for another 3-6 minutes, or until they do come away from the parchment paper without leaving anything behind.
- Leave the macarons to cool on a rack.
- Meanwhile, make the Swiss meringue buttercream: put the egg whites and 30g of the caster sugar into a small bowl that fits over a saucepan. Put a small amount of boiling water in the pan, making sure that the base of the bowl won't touch the water, and put over a medium heat, whisking the whites constantly, until the sugar has dissolved - you can check for this by dipping your fingers in and rubbing them together. If you can feel grains, the sugar hasn't dissolved.
- Transfer the egg whites to a mixing bowl and whisk until the meringue forms a stiff peak consistency and has cooled to room temperature.
- Chop the butter into manageable chunks and make sure it is at room temperature. Whisk it in, a chunk at a time, until you get a smooth buttercream.
- Make a blueberry syrup by putting the blueberries and remaining caster sugar into a saucepan and covering with cold water. Leave on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has evaporated. Strain the syrup (if desired) and leave to cool.
- Whisk the blueberry syrup, vanilla essence and food colouring (if using) into the Swiss meringue buttercream. At first it will form a bit of an emulsion but keep on whisking until you get back to the same smooth consistency as before.
- Sandwich the macarons together with about a teaspoon of buttercream each.
- Store in the fridge in an air tight container for 24 hours before serving in order to let the flavour develop.
The verdict? I really like macarons. I can't taste even a hint of almond, just chewy vanilla and blueberry. I think I might add a little more vanilla next time as it doesn't come through as well as it could, but still, I am very pleased with these. Only three of 50 cracked and the macarons were satisfyingly macaron-like: they have 'feet' (the bubbly bit at the bottom) and have a smooth top. They even have a gooey texture, which I've been led to believe is a good thing!
For tips on how to whisk egg whites, amongst many other things, head over to The Basics.
I'm co-hosting afternoon tea with a friend on Saturday so will no doubt write a post about that afterwards. Amongst other things, I'll be serving these lovely macarons to everyone! See you then, and may there be many more posts about macarons!
Update: I'm entering these into the May 2013 Classic French Challenge. The challenge is usually run by Jen at Blue Kitchen Bakes, but this month it is being guest hosted by Victoria at A Kick At The Pantry Door.