Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Mission Macaroon: Phase 1.

After visiting the legendary La Duree tea rooms in Paris and munching as many of their delicious but pricey little macarons as I could afford, I made an attempt to recreate the experience in the slightly less salubrious surroundings of my living room. Needless to say, it wasn't quite the same. My confections lacked the finesse of the Parisian counterparts, and drinking my tea from a chipped mug took the shine off the experience somewhat. I also realised that there's a reason the tiny biscuits are £2 each, it's because they're bloody fiddly to make.

I made a batch of macaroons for a friend's birthday a while back; they were too big and sweet and looked a bit mangled and hulking. I also managed to cover my entire kitchen with ground almonds and icing sugar and the whole thing was just a messy disastrous effort. I was fairly discouraged from ever attempting anything requiring such a level of delicacy again.

Never say never. Having read another blog about macaroon making, I was inspired anew, and decided to give it another bash (though obviously there was absolutely no bashing whatsoever, just light folding and fervent hoping.)

I followed the directions to the letter. I watched the informative videos recommended online. I even read not one but two supplementary recipes for extra tips. I left my batter to stand for 40 minutes before baking. I reduced the cooking temperature after 10 minutes and baked for a further 5. I left the biscuits to cool completely (overnight!) before easing them from the tray.

I'd like to tell you that this labour resulted in perfect macarons, second only to the La Duree rounds of pastel perfection. I was half-way there. The biscuits themselves were much better than my previous attempt which had been too spongey and gooey, these were crisp on the outside, shattering at the bite and giving way to a chewy centre which I was very pleased with indeed. I don't think mine rose enough, perhaps my eggs weren't whipped stiffly enough, or maybe my ham-fistedness knocked most of the tiny bubbles out, but no matter, it just meant that they were a bit flatter than I'd hoped they might be. I made a white chocolate ganache, which was too soft and dribbled down the sides of the biscuits, making them look quite slap-dash. Or rustic, depending on how charitable I'm feeling towards myself (but macaroons are not supposed to be rustic.)

I used around 70g of ground almonds and 80g of icing sugar as my batter was a bit loose and I couldn't easily pipe it. Also make sure you use a medium egg, and I sloshed a touch more rose water in, as mine weren't very rosy, I suggest around 1 tbspn. Mine omitted pistachios from the ganache, simply because the tiny Tescos near my office had none, though I think they would be a splendid addition.
40g sieved ground almonds
65g sieved icing sugar
1 egg white
15 caster sugar
tsp rose extract
crystalised rose petals to decorate

Ganache ingredients
50ml double cream
60g white chocolate
20g crushed pistachios

1. Place some non stick greaseproof paper on a baking tray and set aside. Sieve ground almonds straight onto the scale until you get 40g (70g). You only want the finest pieces, no lumps! Then gently mix the icing sugar and ground almonds together. Again, no lumps please.

2. Whisk the egg white with the ELECTRIC WHISK until it is nice and frothy then add the caster sugar and continue whisking on a high setting until it is a stiff glossy meringue like mixture. At this stage add the rose water and any colourings you fancy, I used a teeny drop of pink to make them look suitably rosy.

3. Slowly add some almond and sugar mix to the meringue and fold in, in one direction. You should repeat this about 4 or 5 times but no more. If you move the meringue around to much you will remove the air that's beaten into it.

4. Scrape the mix into a piping bag, and pipe small discs of similar sizes onto the greaseproof paper. Leave about 2cm between each one. Bang the tray on the counter to flatten them out a bit. (This didn't really do anything for mine but give it a go and see. Don't do it so hard that they fly across the room) Leave them to sit for 40 mins.

5. Preheat the oven to 160c and bake for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to 140 and bake for a further 4-5 mins.

6. Cool completely on a wire rack and get on with the ganache. Heat the cream for about a minute then add the chocolate off the heat and stir until melted, whisk with the electric mixer until its a paste then stir in the pistachios and place in the fridge to cool and set.

When all is cooled and set, put a blob of ganache in the centre of the bottom of one macaron and stick another on, so they're mirroring each other. Use a tiny bit of ganache to stick a petal on top of each macaron.

I'll keep trying until I attain macaroon perfection. It will be along road, but I'll get there in the end.

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