Recently, during a trip to a well known UK supermarket – M&S – I was browsing the aisles, taking in the various assortment of consumables you wouldn’t find in any other supermarket – everything sounded so decadent, so special. Within the plethora of cheesecakes, millionaire shortbread puddings and melting in the middle chocolate fondants sat a small box, shiney and tied with a bow. An assortment of macarons from raspberry to pistachio and everything in between.
It reminded me of my trip to France. Here I was, in the most English of supermarkets and I wanted to have an A-Ha moment and jump into the fridge to go somewhere different, than place being Paris. A few years ago I visited the capital for a few days. I had a list of things I wanted to see. The Eiffel Tower, of course. The Sacré-Cœur, which we were staying just a stones throw away. Then Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Notre Dame. But at the top of the list were two simple words. ‘FRENCH PATISSERIE”
I stood in awe, staring with amazement at the incredible sights in front of me. No, not in front of the Panthéon nor the Palais du Luxembourg but in front of the array of cakes, pastries and, of course, macarons within the shop. My hands flat on the glass, looking in wordlessly.
I was pulled back to reality by a shop assistant asking if I was okay. My day dream was over and so off home I went with the following ingredients in my 5p bag to recreate just a snippet of what makes Paris such a wonderful city.
200g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
150g egg white
200g granulated sugar
Pink food colouring
85g white chocolate
30ml double cream
There are various methods for making French macarons but I have found the Italian meringue method words perfectly every time.
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C or 160°C fan.
Sieve the almonds and icing sugar in a bowl several times – a minimum of three ensures any large clumps are brown down and the mixture to as fine as possible. You could always use a food processor for this – I have had great success with this method and it’s much less time consuming so I do recommend. Just dump all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz for a few minutes.
Pour half of the egg white mixture into the almond and icing sugar mixture and mix together with a spoon. It should all come together to create a paste, almost – thick and sticky. Pour the rest of the egg whites into a stand mixer or clean bowl.
Pour the sugar and water into a high-sided but small saucepan. Combine carefully so all the sugar is coated in the water and then turn onto a medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to the boil. Using a sugar thermometer, bring the syrup up to 110°C. At this point, start mixing the egg whites. Once the temperature reached 118°C and the eggs are frothy, carefully and very slowly pour it into the egg whites. You water the almost dribble the mixture in – pouring it in too quickly is danger and may cook the egg. Try and avoid the whisk when pouring it, too.
Whisky for about 5-6 minutes of high speed. Halfway, add the vanilla bean paste and food colouring. If you want to add more, do so. The colour always fades a little in the oven so if you want it a bright pink, adjust accordingly.
After 6 minutes, the meringue mixture should be approaching stuff peak stage. So long as it holds up on the whisk, it’s done. Take about a quarter and add to the almond and sugar mixture – beat this together to loosen the mixture. Add another quarter and carefully fold together – you don’t want to remove the air you’ve just put into the meringue so slowly and carefully does it. Once combined, add another quarter and repeat the process. You may not use all of the meringue so test every now and then – take a bit of the mixture on the spatula and if it falls away in a ribbon-like consistency and disappears into the rest of the batter in about 10 seconds you’re there.
Decant the mixture into a piping bag, fit with a plain round nozzle of about 1/2″. Blob a little of the mixture onto a baking sheet and place the baking paper on top, using the mixture as a glue to stick it down. Baking paper is needed – baking parchment will not suffice!
Pipe even circles onto the paper, evenly and generously spaced – about two fingers width apart should do it. You want to pipe 24 shells or more if the mixture allows.
Carefully but confidently slam the baking tray on your counter top a few times to allow any air bubbles to be released and then leave, uncovered for 15 or so minutes. Once that time is over, place in the oven and bake on a low shelf for 12 minutes, rotating the tray half way through. Once cooked, leave to cool completely before even attempting to remove from the baking paper.
While they are cooling, make the ganache. Break up the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and pour over the cream. Geta in the microwave for 20 seconds and stir. If it needs more time, which is probably will do depending on the size of your chocolate, heat in 10 second increments. When all the chocolate is melted, place in the fridge for half an hour.
When the chocolate is cool and set, remove from the fridge and using an electric hand whisk, beat it so the chocolate goes creamy once again and turns a nice white colour. Decant into a piping bag fitting with a small star nozzle and you’re ready t go.
Pipe the ganache round the edge of one side of a shell, place a piece of raspberry in the centre and cover with a similar-sized shell. Press together gently to secure in place and voila. You have macarons. Repeat the process until all are paired and ready to eat. Either serve straight away or leave in a air-tight container in the fridge for a couple of days, taking them out a few hours before serving.
This is the first in my Macaron series which will see new flavours posted every Monday, kicking off something I like to call #macaronmondays