LondonEats has featured a lot of simple things recently, so it is time to go to the other extreme: macarons. I realise this trend has been around for quite some time, but N16 is a long way from the chic bits of New York and London.
So why macarons? I’ve made them before, but I recently had one from Paul which was underwhelming. First, it looked bad – the two sides were put together squint, and the shell was damaged. Second, the filling was unpleasantly “gritty” rather than smooth. “I could do better myself” I thought. Never one to shy away from a challenge, LondonEats presents my own version of salted caramel macarons.
If you haven’t tried salted caramel before, this taste combo might sound strange, but it really works. It’s just another example of the amazing flavour enhancing properties of salt – but think of it as an accent to support the main ingredients. “Plain” caramel is very sweet, so the salt cuts through that and makes it taste richer and gives more depth.
In terms of adding salt, you can either add it so that it dissolves into the mixture, or grind it very finely so that you get fleeting moments of saltiness in the middle of the caramel. I used the caramel to sandwich together the macaron shells, but make sure you serve them at room temperature – the taste is better and you get all the fun of the caramel squirting out one side as you try to eat them.
For the macarons:
• 70g egg whites (2 eggs), aged if you wish (*)
• 10g caster sugar
• 10g muscovado sugar
• 137g icing sugar
• 85g ground almonds
Put a macaron template on a large baking sheet, and cover with greaseproof paper. I find it works best if you lightly cover with non-stick spray. To make things easier for later, also set up a piping bag with a round nozzle. I stand this in a glass so you can fill the bag easily one the mixture is ready.
Mix the icing sugar with the almonds, and sieve two times until well combined. Put in a large bowl and place to one side.
Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until you have soft peaks. Add the caster sugar, whisk well, then add the muscovado sugar and keep whisking until you have a meringue mixture with very stiff peaks. You should be able to hold the bowl upside-down without the mixture falling out.
Add the meringue to the icing sugar and almonds, and mix quickly with a plastic spatula. The idea is that the batter should be thick, but flow slightly (so when you pipe it, the macaron shells will be smooth on top). I find about 30 seconds of very vigorous mixing gets you there.
Add the batter to the piping bag, and start to pipe on the sheet following the macaron template. Try to stop squeezing before you lift the piping bag, as this seems to help avoid an obvious “tail” on the top as you pull the piping bag away. Once you have finished, and if you are feeling theatrical, lift the tray two feet in the air, and let it drop with a satisfying bang. This is supposed to get rid of air pockets, and it adds to the ritual. Casual observers in the next room also tend to wonder what the heck you are up to.
At this stage, if there are bumps on the top of the macarons, smooth them with a wet finger. Purists would shudder at this idea, but it works for me.
Leave the macarons to dry for around 30 minutes, or longer if you have the time. If you want to add a topping (which is part of the fun!), then sprinkle it over while the macarons are still wet. I used muscovado sugar for a bit of contrast.
Once the macarons have dried slightly(**), place in a pre-heated oven at 150°C for 10-12 minutes. Watch them carefully as you don’t want them to brown. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow them to cool completely.
When the macarons are cool, remove from the sheet, turn them upside-down, and pipe the filling one half of them. Sandwich them together and refrigerate until you want to eat them. I find the consistency is best if chilled for 24 hours, and then allowed to come to room temperature before eating.
(*) To age the egg whites, put them in a bowl and cover in cling film. Peirce the film several times and leave to sit for two days. In this recipe, you want 70g of egg whites, post-ageing.
(**) Be careful that you don’t allow the macarons to dry so long that they glue their tops to the baking sheet. If you think this has happened, take some paper and wet it. Transfer the greaseproof paper with the dry macarons onto this wet paper, and leave for a few moments so that the greaseproof paper becomes damp. Place the greaseproof sheet back on the baking sheet and cook as normal. Again, not something the purists would like, but it can save your macarons.
For the filling: you can use anything you want, but here I used caramel:
• 150g caster sugar
• 120g double cream
• 45g salted butter
• Large pinch of fleur de sel (sea salt flakes), very finely ground
Warm the cream in a saucepan. Next, put the sugar in a separate pan to make a “dry” caramel. You want to heat the sugar gently until it melts, and then becomes a light caramel colour (if it too dark, there will be a bitter taste, even if has not yet burned).
Once the sugar has caramelised, add the warm cream and the butter, and stir. If all goes well, the mixture will be smooth, but if you get some lumps of solid sugar, cook the mixture gently for a few minutes until the lumps dissolve (or cheat by simply straining it).
Let the caramel cool slightly, and stir through the powdered salt. Use to sandwich the macarons. If you find that the caramel is too runny, make a simple buttercream (whip butter and icing sugar) and combine.
WOULD I MAKE THEM AGAIN?
Macarons are difficult and time-consuming, and will often fail. However, they are great fun to make and always go down a treat, and I like the scope to play with flavours and colours.
I really recommend giving them a try – I made them for the first time last June, and the initial batch was a DISASTER (but crushed up, mixed with cream and raspberries, they were a tasty disaster). The trick is to evaluate what went wrong, and try again. It took me six months to go from the tasty mess to serving a platter of pistachio and orange-blossom macarons to 12 people at a New Year dinner. So take it from me, it’s possible!