run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Friday, 13 June 2014

Parisian macarons


“Paris is the only city in the world where starving to death is still considered an art,” wrote Carlos Ruiz Zafón. So no wonder whenever I visit the city I ogle the Eiffel and explore the Pompidou but only get really, really excited when I'm stuffing my face.

It helps, of course, that my tour guide in the city of lights food is usually my old uni pal Lydia, who knows all the best gastronomique spots in the City (Philippe Starck's Mama Shelter was her last, delicious recommendation).
Last time I was in town, Lydia ushered me away from Ladurée's doors: Pierre Hermé, she said, was the place to stock up on macarons. And we did, and she was right... 


Now Pierre has moved into Londontown, he's a little less exciting. But in any case, no need to go out for macarons anymore: after a lot of trial and error and a lot more egg whites, I've honed a macaron recipe that means you can make your own. It's based on a recipe from Delicious magazine, but I tweaked it to make it a little easier.
Even so, macarons aren't the fastest baking around. But they're still far from the complicated razzamataz that some claim, and are a great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. Not convinced? Read on...

Ingredients

175g icing sugar
125g ground almonds
3 large egg whites
75g caster sugar

Filling

150g butter, softened
75g icing sugar
Few table spoons of jam, if desired

Method

You’ll need to cook the macarons at 160°C, but I wouldn’t put the oven on until they’re ready on their baking tray and about to rest for ten minutes – it just wastes energy otherwise.

So, the first step is this: mix the icing sugar and ground almonds to as fine a mixture as you can – in a mixer if you have one. I don’t, so tend to sift the two until I can sift no more (even ground almonds are fairly big particles) and it’s as fine as I can get it.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar until thick and glossy.

Fold half the almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue and mix, then the other half. It should be shiny with a thick consistency.

Fold the top of a freezer bag or, if you’ve got one, a proper piping bag with 1cm icing nozzle, over the rim of a tall glass, and pour in the macaron mixture.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Snip off the corner of the freezer bag, for a ‘nib’, or just pick up the piping bag and nozzle, and pipe small rounds of the macaroon mixture, about 3cm across, onto the baking sheets. 

Try to make them all a uniform size:


When the baking sheets are filled, carefully tap it on the work surface, or I sometimes put the tray very near the floor and drop it hard. This helps get rid of air bubbles.

Now put the oven on, at 160, but leave the tray to stand in the kitchen at room temperature for 10-15 minutes – it’ll form a slight skin, so if you touch the mixture, it doesn’t stick to your finger.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling: I love the above simple ingredients, with raspberry jam: it makes a sweet and tangy and colourful filling. Other ideas are chocolate (use cocoa powder or melted chocolate), other jams, or any kind of essence.

When the macarons have cooled, pair up partners that are most similar in size, spread a generous but still flat layer of filling on the flat side of one, then pop them together like little Saturns. Et voila, bon appetite..


PS If you want more colourful macarons, mix in a food colouring after all the other ingredients are stirred together. Be wary, though, of natural colourings: sadly in my experience they make the macarons taste of over-cooked, school dinner-style beetroot. So on this occasion, best to either opt for artificial colours, or stick to au natural, as above. 

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