I like food. But then again who doesn’t? My life would be far less fun, creative, messy, explorative, exciting and of course tasty without it. I always struggle with the question: What’s your favourite food? But if you reeeaaaaaally pushed me for an answer I’d have to go with ice-cream. Mmmmmm… even thinking about it sets me off. If I could I would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Sadly my mum cares too much about my teeth, heart and insulin production to ever let this dream become a reality. Sad times.
As much as I love its coolness, melty-ness, smoothness and ability to be eaten by the tub, the thing I love the most about ice-cream is the flavours it carries in its creamy base. Ice-cream has the ability to take on literally any sweet flavour – and there aren’t many other foods you can do that with so successfully; It’s special. Ice-cream makes eating raw cookie dough and cake-mix socially acceptable. That’s cool with me. What saddens me a little is that some of the flavour combinations used in ice-cream never seems to get the wider exposure they deserve. Like where else is rum and raisin really used? Or mint choc chip? Such a beautiful colour and fresh cooling sensation, with a depth of flavour brought from the dark chocolate. Super yum. So why restrict that to ice-cream alone? Let’s make macarons!
I know this may scare you a little, and that’s OK, they are a little scary, but it’s nothing that you can’t overcome. I believe you can do it. It’s quite easy to make bad macarons and it’s the little details in the process that make them good. It’s totally worth taking the time. A good macaron’s like nothing else you’ll eat. Pure delight in a mouthful.
You should separate your eggs at least 24 hours before you plan to use them and bring them up to room temperature just before. They will last in the fridge for up to a week.
To get a good meringue you need to have a very clean, grease-free bowl and beaters, and absolutely no egg yolk in your whites.
When you fold the almond/icing sugar mixture into the meringue you need to do it gently and with cutting motions so as not to knock all the air out. When you’re done you’ll have a macaronage – go on, wow your friends with that fancy word, they’ll think you know what you’re talking about.
I’ll let you into a secret: even the posh Parisian macarons don’t come out of the oven as beautifully soft on the inside and crisp on the outside as when you eat them. They go through ‘maturation’ which blends the flavour of the filling with the shell, adjusting the texture and balancing the sweetness. The shells are baked almost crisp the whole way through and then left to take in moisture from the filling. For the science geeks, a sort of osmosis takes place between the filling and the shell which absorbs the humidity from the filling, making the inside soft but leaving the outside crisp. Your macarons will be at their best 24 hours after they’re made.
Go on, take a leap of faith, separate those eggs, whisk that meringue, fold that sugar, pipe those circles and sandwich those bad boys. You’ll do great. Your mum will be so proud.
Mint choc chip macarons
100g (about 2 ½ eggs worth) “aged” egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, lemon juice or white vinegar
35g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
180g icing/powdered sugar
3 tsp. peppermint flavouring
Green and blue food colouring paste
Chocolate buttercream filling
115g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
3tsp. peppermint flavouring
2 tbsp. double cream/milk
Take 3 pieces of baking paper large enough to fit your baking trays and using a pencil, draw 11/2 inch circles 2 inches apart across the sheets. This will give you a guide to help you keep the macaron shells the same size.
Using an electric whisk (or a conventional whisk if you really fancy a workout, I guess!) whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/white vinegar and continue to whisk until they hold really stiff peaks but don’t ‘break’. Then whisk in the caster sugar to make a stiff peaked meringue. Then in three additions fold in the icing sugar and ground almonds gently, using careful cutting motions to ensure most of the air’s kept in. Follow this by folding in the peppermint flavouring and food colouring. I advise mixing up a turquoise green food colour in a glass first and adding it in a few additions to ensure you end up with ‘mint green’ macarons and not fluorescent blue ones.
Take a piping bag with a 1/2 inch nozzle and fill it with the mixture. Using your circles as a guide, pipe 1 1/2 inch circles onto the baking paper. Gently tap each tray on your work surface to release any air bubbles that can ruin the final appearance. Leave your macarons on a flat surface for 30-60 minutes until their surfaces have formed a tacky skin. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4/ 180°C. Place each tray into the oven to bake for about 14-16 minutes or until you can just about separate the macarons from the baking paper. If they leave behind their middles they’re not yet ready. Leave them to cool on the trays and then remove to a cooling rack using a spatula.
To make the buttercream, whisk the butter until paler in colour and airier. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and slowly mix (yes s-l-o-w-l-y; learn from my mistake, don’t cover yourself in a cloud of sugar) until there’s no visible sugar. Add the peppermint flavouring and milk/cream, and beat until the buttercream’s airy and stiffer in consistency. If it’s too thick to pipe add a little more milk/cream; if it’s too thin, add more icing sugar.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a ½ inch nozzle with the buttercream and pipe a circle slightly smaller than the shells on the underside of ½ of the macaron batch. Fill in the circles you’ve piped with more buttercream and sandwich with the other ½ of the shells. Eat, eat more, share and feel a warming sense of achievement. YOU just made macarons.