Tag Archives: Macarons

Snow and Salt

Last week I got to enjoy a rare luxury. Not the actual maracons themselves, but the luxury of free time. My year at work has been rather fraught (in the understated British sense, which means absolutely manic) and thus no easy dates on which to take leave. Sure, I had a mega-trip in the US in November, but I’ve still ended up with way too much leave to carry over to next year. As a result, I’ve been enjoying the bonus of a few long weekends. As I’m the only one around on these random Mondays and Fridays, I’ve foregone the idea of foreign jaunts, and instead I’m able to enjoy a slower pace of life in my own big city. I can go to some of my favourite cafés and just walk in and get a table. No waiting, no sharing. I can go to galleries and enjoy them peacefully, standing in front of the same picture for ages without being jostled or moved along. I can also engage in small talk with some interesting people who are equally unhurried. Bliss.

However, last week was another story altogether. Those first hints of spring from a couple of weeks ago had gone, like some sort of Phoney Spring, and were  replaced with snow. Lots and lots of snow. On Monday, the new cats and I just did not fancy leaving the house, so I was left with a little time to fill. After spending an hour getting the cats to chase a piece of string (their joint favourite thing, along with clawing the sofa), I decided to hit the kitchen and have a go at my kitchen nemesis – French macarons.

I know there are some people out there that have “the gift”, who can just knock up a batch at a moment’s notice without a second thought. I, however, am not one of those people. I’ve grappled with them on numerous occasions with varying levels of success. True, I’ve made them successfully on occasions, but I think my hit rate is about one in four at best. So for every batch of picture-perfect delicacies with their smooth domes, frilly feet and perfect symmetry, I’ve ended up with three batches of cracked almond meringue biscuits.

Well finally, finally, I think I’ve nailed it. I think my mistakes can be put down not to faulty technique as such, but the fact that many of my attempts were small batches. The smaller the batch, the more precise the measurements need to be, and I fear that trying to make macarons with just one egg white was pushing things too far. You need to be bold and think big. Large batches are the way to go! And as you can see below, the results look pretty darned good! There is still some irregularity there, but I find it hard to put into words just how utterly thrilled I was to remove the tray from the oven and find perfect macaron shells with no cracks. Yay!

salted_caramel_macarons

I opted for the salted caramel flavour as it’s actually delicious when made well, and the filling is a doddle to make. However, the one thing that I didn’t go to town on was the colour the shells. I know some people like shocking colours, and that salted caramel is often some sort of day-glow orange. However, I wanted something more subtle.There are two reasons. First, I am not that happy about using colouring that is highly artificial – if it only takes a few drops to turn something bright yellow, vivid red or electric blue, then you have to wonder just what it is doing to your insides. Second, on a purely aesthetic level, I find the intense colours of some commercially-available macarons rather lurid! Instead, I just used a few drops of some natural vegetable dyes in the sugar syrup to provide a light caramel colour to boost the colour of muscovado sugar, which I think looks rather pretty.

When it comes to the filling itself, it can only be described as filthy. The base is a simple caramel made from white sugar. Throw in some salted butter, cream and a few drops of vanilla, then whip once cooled with even more lovely butter. The result is a silky-smooth salted caramel cream which can be easily piped into the macaron shells, but which does not leak out (which pure caramel, delicious as it is, is apt to do). You’ll end up with quite a bit of the filling left over, and you’ll probably just want to eat it with a spoon. As I said – filthy, and irresistible.

One final trick – these are worth making ahead of time. If you can, leave the assembled macarons overnight in the fridge, and be sure to leave them to come up to room temperature before serving. This will help make the inside of the shells lightly chewy and the creamy filling with be delightfully soft and fluffy. Things to make you go wow.

So what’s your baking nemesis? Have you managed to beat it?

To make salted caramel macarons (makes 25-30):

For the shells:

• 175g icing sugar
• 175 ground almonds
• 130g egg whites (about 4 eggs), at room temperature
• 175g light muscovado or brown sugar
• 75ml water

• caramel food colouring

For the filling:

• 150g white sugar
• 50ml water

• 180g salted butter (divide into 30g and 150g)
• 150ml double cream

• vanilla extract
• salt, very finely ground

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper.

2. Mix the icing sugar and ground almonds, and put into a food processor or spice mill. Grind until fine. Put into a large bowl.

3. Divide the egg whites into two portions (2 x 65g). Add one half to the almond/icing sugar mixture and mix until you have a smooth, thick paste.

4. Next, make an Italian meringue. Put the water and muscovado or brown sugar into a saucepan. Add caramel/brown colouring as desired (I used enough to enhance the brown tint from the sugar, probably 20 drops of water-based colour). Heat to 114°C (237°F). In the meantime, whisk the rest of the eggs whites until frothy. Acting quickly, pour the hot syrup into the frothy eggs and beat the living daylights out of them! The mixture should quickly start to turn pale and fluffy, and increase in volume. Whisk for 5 minutes until the mixture is stiff and glossy – it should easily hold its shape.

5. Take one-third of the meringue mixture, and fold into the almond paste mixture to lighten it. Fold in the next third, then fold in the final third. Try to do this gently, and don’t mix too vigorously or for too long.

6. Fill a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm hole nozzle. Pipe out the macarons, leaving a few centimetres between each. Leave to dry at room temperature for around 20 minutes.

7. Bake the macaron shells for around 12-15 minutes until the shells have developed little feet but they are not browned. You might want to open the door briefly during baking to let any steam escape. When baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool, then peel from the baking sheet. Arrange on a cooling tray and prepare the filling.

To make the filling:

8. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Place on a medium heat until the mixture turns into a medium golden caramel (don’t be tempted to stir it at any point – it will turn into a crystallised mess!). The colour should be rich but without any burnt or acrid smell.

9. Remove the saucepan with the caramel from the heat, add the butter and stir well. It will sizzle, so watch out! Add the cream and vanilla to taste (just a drop or two) and stir until smooth. Put the pan back on the heat, and cook until it reaches 108°C (225°F). Remove from the heat and leave until almost cooled.

10. Put the cooled caramel and soft butter into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until perfectly smooth. It might seem like the mixture has curdled at one point, but keep going and it will come good. You should end up with a very smooth cream. Add a dash of powdered salt (to taste, but go a little at a time).

11. Fill a piping bag with the salted caramel cream and use to fill the macarons.

12. Leave the macarons in the fridge for 24 hours, and remove from the fridge a couple of hours before serving.

Worth making? A complete faff, but the results are superb so it’s worth trying when you’ve got a few hours to yourself.

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Birthday Macarons

I would love to be able to say that I made these macarons, but I didn’t.

Nope, in fact, I suppose that really I am just doing this to make you just a tiny bit jealous…I received this lovely gift for my birthday recently – a rather amazing (and delicious) box of macarons from famous Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini.

These require nothing more demanding than to be enjoyed with a cup of green tea.

The flavours are great, and really link back to the world of the chocolate maker – fruity (cassis, strawberry, vanilla, salted caramel, speculoos, one intesely dark chocolate, one chocolate and almond and finally, one citrus macaron that had been wholly dipped in chocolate. All in all, pretty sensational!

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Oh, mon amour! Macarons à la framboise

You remember I said that I wanted to something a little bit different for Valentine’s Day? Well, I did it with the beetroot risotto, so now let’s balance that by going all traditional. I whipped up a batch of very fruity raspberry macarons, which as you can see were very pink and rather romantic.

Previously, when making macarons, I have tended to make nutty, spiced or chocolate variants, usually filled with ganache. Why? My issue has been around the filling – I find meringue-based buttercream a bit of a faff, and I am not a massive fan of the result in all cases. The alternative – using jam as the filling – didn’t strike me as too satisfying either. So I played around, and came up with a winning combination. A simple buttercream, with fresh raspberry puree folded in. The result is creamy, sweet and fruity all in one go, and they have the freshness that jam just does not bring. I realise that purists will shudder at the butter-plus-icing sugar filling (too grainy! not smooth! too easy!) but it worked here and tasted good, so that’s a success for me!

This was also a chance for me to try out some all-natural food colouring that I bought in [Mmmmh!] in Brussels last year. This one is a deep pinkish-red, and is a beetroot extract – and looks like dried beet juice, ground to a very fine powder. I like the natural food colouring. The shades are a little more muted, but actually quite pretty, and it does make you ask what actually goes into something that is blood red, royal blue or shocking purple?

While this powder was perfect for adding a delicate pink hue, I am afraid that I did over-reach myself. Inspired by raspberry and peppercorn macarons from Cannelle & Vanille, I used some of my beetroot powder as she used raspberry powder. I imagine that powdered raspberry is fruity and sharp, welcome on the tongue as a foil to the sweetness of the macaron shell and the smoothness of the filling. As I could not have guessed, mine had a vague taste of root vegetable to them. The ten macaron shells I tried this on went straight into the bin, poor things.

But look closer…you can see I have hidden something from you. In the spirit of surprises for St Valentine, I included a chunk of fresh raspberry in the middle of each macaron, for a sort of “maximum fruit” experience. And it worked well! So it would seem that I have overcome my mini-phobia of macarons with real fruit flavours. Bravo!

For raspberry macarons (makes around 25-30):

• 150g ground almonds
• 150g icing sugar
• 110g egg whites (4 egg whites – but weigh them to be sure)
• red food colouring (I used a natural beetroot-based colour)
• 165g white sugar (granulated or caster)
• 35ml water

Combine the icing sugar and ground almond, and sieve well. Set aside.

Put 55g of egg whites in a bowl. Add the food colouring (if using) and whisk very lightly – they will become a little frothy, but should remain liquid.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the other 55g of egg whites until it reaches the firm peak stage.

Put the white sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat gently until it reaches the “soft ball” stage (118°C, or when you drop a little of the sugar into cold water, it forms a soft ball). I find this happens once all the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Once ready, pour in a thin stream into the whipped egg whites, beating continuously. This is best done using a Kitchen Aid or beater. Allow to cool to just above room temperature.

Pour the coloured liquid egg whites onto the almond mixture.

Add one-third of the meringue mixture to the almond mixture and combine. Add another third, combine, then add the remainder of the meringue. With a light hand, mix well until you have a smooth, glossy batter. It should flow slowly (think lava, not a mudslide).

Pipe the batter onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet, so that you have a sheet with lots of little rounds, around 3-4cm across. Leave to sit in the open for 20-30 minutes, then bake at 150°C for 15 minutes. Half-way through cooking, turn the baking sheet around.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. Assemble the macarons with the filling of your choice.

For the raspberry buttercream:

• 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 150g icing sugar
• 1 tablespoon cream
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 50g raspberries, crushed

Combine the butter, icing sugar, cream and vanilla in a bowl. Begin with a spoon, then start to whisk with a beater until light and fluffy. Fold in the raspberries. If the mixture splits or seems too wet, add more icing sugar until you have a smooth, soft mass. Use in a piping bag to fill the macarons – pipe on one side, place 1/2 raspberry on top, then add a dot of filling to the top macaron shell, and press together very lightly.

Worth trying? These macarons are super-pretty and very romantic, so perfect if you are looking to impress on Valentine’s Day. The trick with the fresh fruit in the filling is, in my view, the best way to provide a flavourful raspberry macaron. And they provide just a little glimmer of the summer that is hopefully not too far away now.

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Tonka Bean Macarons

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Genevra gave me an unusual and welcome gift – a box of tonka beans (an intensely aromatic spice, with strong elements of marzipan and vanilla, with hints of cinnamon and raw tobacco – you can also read about her brave renovation of on old townhouse in Brussels here). I’ve used this spice before to make chestnut jam, but didn’t have any of these beans left, so I’m glad to have them back in the store cupboard as they are not so easy to find.

If anyone had ideas what to do with them, then I would love to hear your suggestions. Leave a comment or email to london.eats.blog@gmail.com.

In the meantime, I thought I would turn my hand to macarons flavoured with tonka bean. This time, I went all out. I had allowed the egg whites to age (I left them in a bowl in the fridge for a couple of days), and I used the “difficult” method to make the batter  (using hot sugar syrup to make a cooked meringue). All this effort seemed to work well, as I ended up with a batch of perfect macaron shells. Smooth, shiny and crack-free!!! All in all, I was very happy with the result.

To fill the macarons, I used two different ganaches – one using white chocolate, and one based on dark chocolate. I thought this would be a good way to see whether tonka works better with white chocolate (which would emphasis the tonka flavour) or dark chocolate (where it would be more a care of the tonka complementing the dark chocolate).

These macarons were sublime. The flavour was just right – the aroma was in the shells and the filling, and it was sufficiently strong to be noticable but without be overpowering. Over time, the strong almond/vanilla notes mellowed, allowing some of the spicier notes to come out. If you are making these, just be sure to store in the fridge, but allow them to come to room temperature for eating so that the flavour is at its best.

And which was better? I can’t choose – the white chocolate has a stronger tonka aroma, but the dark chocolate is as good but tastes quite different. In short, I encourage everyone that has tried them to have one of each. No-one seems to mind.

Now…I just have to sit back and wait for someone to send me a tonka bean challenge!

For the tonka bean macarons:

• 1 tonka bean
• 150g ground almonds
• 150g icing sugar
• 110g egg whites (4 egg whites – but weigh them to be sure)
• 165g white sugar (granulated or caster)
• 35ml water

Use a nutmeg grater to grind a tonka bean. Sieve the powder finely and discard any larger pieces.

Combine the icing sugar, ground almonds and ground tonka in a bowl and sieve well. Set aside.

Put 55g of egg whites in a bowl. Whisk very lightly (they should remain liquid).  Set aside.

Whisk the other 55g of egg whites until it reaches the firm peak stage.

Put the white sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat gently until it reaches the “soft ball” stage (118°C, or when you drop a little of the sugar into cold water, it forms a soft ball). I find this happens once all the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Once ready, pour in a thin stream into the whipped egg whites, beating continuously. This is best done using a Kitchen Aid or beater. Allow to cool to just above room temperature.

Add the remaining liquid egg whites to the almond mixture.

Add one-third of the meringue to the almond mixture and combine. Add another third, combine, then add the remainder of the meringue. With a light hand, mix well until you have a smooth, glossy batter.

Pipe the batter onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Leave to sit in the open for 20-30 minutes, then bake at 150°C for 15 minutes. Half-way through cooking, turn the baking sheet around.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. Assemble the macarons with the filling of your choice.

For the chocolate ganache:

• 80g chocolate, finely chopped (dark or white)
• 60g double cream (if using dark chocolate) or 50g double cream (if using white chocolate)
• 1/2 tonka bean, finely ground
• 20g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Put the chocolate into a bowl.

In a saucepan, heat the cream with the tonka bean. Bring to the boil, allow to sit for a moment, then pour over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps.

Finally, add the butter, and stir until smooth.

Allow the mixture to cool, and place into the fridge until set. Use in a piping bag to fill the macarons.

Worth trying? Macarons are always popular. The question here is whether they are worth trying with tonka? I think so. This is an unusual, very aromatic spice and macarons are a great way of showcasing the flavour without it becoming overpowering. Everyone that tried these loved them and commented on the unusual flavour. I would happily give these another go in the future.

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Brixton Macaron Bake and a temperamental oven

I’ve just come back from a great staycation down in Brixton in South London. My friend K and her baby were on their own for the night, so I went down there, we made macarons, and saw some of the local food highlights. To top off the evening, some guests were coming to dinner, and we decided that they would be tasting the results and giving us their verdict.

K had been determined to at least have a go at making macarons during her maternity leave. In the interests of science, we tried two versions: simple (whisk egg whites, add to icing sugar and ground almonds) while the other was rather more laborious (involving preparing meringue with cooked sugar syrup). We also prepared a range of fillings.

Macarons are a combination of cooking, art and chemistry. You need to have an appreciation of the magic that is at work, everything needs to be measured exactly, and you need to have an oven that works. “Oh, did I mention that there is a problem with the oven?“. Eh, no, you didn’t. “Well, the dials are off, so it’s difficult to know the exact temperature of the oven, or even whether it is the oven or the grill that is on“. It looked like this was to be more of a sporting option than I had first anticipated…

We started with chocolate maracons using the easy method. This all went smoothly. I would have preferred to blitz the almonds in a coffee grinder to get them perfectly powdery as they were a little coarse, but this wasn’t a major issue. I piped out a trayfull, then my co-chef for the day had a go. It turned out it was her first time piping macarons, but after a couple of tries, she got the method down to a tee. The texture was good too – the tops smoothed out perfectly. We left them to dry for 20 minutes, baked them, and they came out of the oven looking perfect. Only one of them saw fit to erupt volcano-style. Nice chewy texture too. Result!

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Macarons from Yauatcha (Soho, London)

I have blogged before about macarons and my attempts to make them. It’s fun to do and you feel a sense of pride about having mastered something complex, but you are then usually left facing a mountain of the things, all in the same flavour. Given just how rich the filling typically is, they are also not the sort of thing that you would sit down and eat a lot of in one go. But I am sure that has not stopped many from trying.

For this reason, it is still fun to buy macarons, as you can then choose from the exciting flavours on offer. I have had the excellent dim sum at Yauatcha in central London before, and on Thursday picked up a selection of their macarons. The main draw for me was the flavours they offer – in addition to the French classics such as coffee and vanilla, they also have matcha (green tea), earl grey and an intriguing black sesame. If I have one niggle from my recent visit, it is that they didn’t have quite the same range as I have seen in the past. It might have been due to me passing rather late in the day, so I’ll check back in the near future for the promised ginger, violet or yuzu…

I took a box of fourteen. I have so far worked my way through the matcha (with very grassy notes), raspberry (fruity) and black sesame. This last one was excellent. The filling was a black sesame paste and white chocolate ganache, with a pronounced but not overwhelming sesame flavour. It was clearly black sesame too – not toasted white sesame. Almost like poppy seeds. This was innovative and delicious, and so far, my clear favourite.

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Salted Caramel Macarons

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!

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