I’ve just about recovered from my three attempts to make these little *?!!#*s
After my second attempt came out of the oven riddled with cracks and wrinkles, and then stuck to the baking paper anyway I almost gave up. My third and final attempt certainly didn’t produce brilliant macaroons, but at least I could tell what they were supposed to be.
The whole macaroon/macaron saga began with my husband’s decision to give them a go. He bought a piping bag, a special baking sheet with macaroon-shaped holes, some hot pink gel food colouring and some freeze-dried strawberries for the purpose.
He followed James Martin’s recipe from Sweet – they’re macaroons in his book. The recipe makes 60. We didn’t want that many, so Jon decided to make half and proceeded to make my usual mistake of forgetting and adding twice as much of one ingredient (I’m not sure which one) as required.
He blitzed icing sugar and ground almonds in our tiny food processor that is really a spice grinder, and then whisked some eggs whites to soft peaks. He added caster sugar to the egg whites and whisked until the mixture was smooth and glossy as per the recipe, added a few drops of the hot pink gel and folded in the almond and icing sugar mixture. He wrestled it all into a piping bag, swore a bit, piped it into the macaroon-shaped holes and let it sit for a while. James Martin says that you need to leave macaroons for at least half an hour if you want a smooth crust.
They went into the oven at 180° (without the fan) for 10 minutes. They came out looking pretty good – although you couldn’t tell that there was anything hot pink in the mix. They were smooth and shiny and looked like macaroons are supposed to look. He couldn’t get them out of the holes on the baking tray though. We had to scrape them out with a spoon and they broke under the pressure.
I decided to have a go. I’m the one with the baking blog after all. I used Edd Kimber’s macaron recipe from Patisserie Made Simple. Given my success with Edd’s Flan Parisien, I had high hopes. My macarons were going to be smooth, shiny and hot pink and would peel off the baking paper like a dream.
Not smooth, not shiny, and not hot pink.
I started the macarons by mixing ground almonds with icing sugar. The recipe does tell you to use a food processor, but also says that mixing the sugar and almonds together with a fork is fine. I mixed with a fork. I just thought it seemed easier to do it that way. No wonder I ended up with lumpy macarons. Next, I added egg white to the almond and sugar mixture and made a paste. The two recipes couldn’t really be more different.
Edd Kimber uses Italian meringue for his macarons. This involves making a syrup with water and caster sugar and pouring it into soft-peaked egg whites once it reaches 118°. Tricky. One hand keeping the sugar thermometer off the bottom of the pan, the other holding on to the KitchenAid to prevent lift-off as the whisk reached the mind-blowing speed of level 6. Somehow, I managed to get the syrup safely into the egg whites, and keep the KitchenAid on the worksurface and whisking until the bowl cooled down. I added the remainder of the hot pink gel (a teaspoon and a bit) and ended up with a thick, glossy and pink meringue mix. So far so good.
I added the almond paste and started to mix it into the meringue using a wooden spoon. The recipe says that the batter should fall off the spoon in a thick ribbon, which should then be absorbed back into the mixture leaving only a faint trail behind. It would have taken me years to get to this stage with my wooden spoon. I put everything back into the KitchenAid with the beater and mixed. It still took ages until the thick ribbon was absorbed back into the mixture, and I’m not sure whether I mixed for long enough or too long.
I piped the mixture into rounds on baking paper – no fancy macaron baking trays for me – and left them. I’m not sure how long for. It could have been half an hour, it could have been longer. I got side-tracked and completely forgot to check the time. Anyway, when I came back to them, they had developed a skin and weren’t sticky so I put them into the oven.
I did use the fan, and baked them at 160° for about ten minutes. As you’ve seen, they were some distance from my shiny, smooth, hot pink ideal.
I’m not sure why I felt I needed to make another batch, but I decided to give the James Martin recipe a go in a final attempt. I made sure I had the correct quantities of everything. I carefully made templates on baking paper. I blizted the icing sugar and almonds in the food processor. I added a good slug of pink food colouring (the old-fashioned type from a bottle this time) and then some more to my meringue mix. I folded in the almonds and made sure that the mixture was silky smooth before I put it into the piping bag.
I didn’t quite keep to my circle templates. The mixture was too runny and came out of the piping bag in a constant stream.
I left the macaroons for around an hour and a half, and then baked them at 160° fan for ten minutes. They were smoother than my first batch, but a lot of them had cracks on the surface. They weren’t that pink either. I started to think that macarons/macaroons weren’t worth the effort whatever you called them.
I was in two minds whether to make a filling to sandwich the macaroons together. My original plan was to make a posh strawberry-flavoured buttercream with egg yolks and sugar syrup (from Patisserie Made Simple), but, to be honest, I was running out of steam. I had a cup of tea and decided to make the stuff. I’d come this far (twice) so I should at least try to finish what I started.
I dissolved some caster sugar in water (without stirring) and heated the syrup to 120°. In the meantime, I whisked egg yolks in the KitchenAid and, when the syrup hit 120, I poured it in. I did lose some of the syrup which crystallised against the side of the bowl. It’s quite a job to pour it in while the whisk is still whizzing around. Once the mixture had cooled, I added unsalted butter. I added the freeze-dried strawberries for flavour, and also the very last of my pink food colouring (the buttercream was pretty yellow and just wouldn’t go with the disappointing salmonish colour of the macaroons). My buttercream ended up yellowish pink. Not great.
I turned to the macaroons which had been cooling on the baking paper. They wouldn’t come off. They were soft and flabby all the way through. Not cooked enough I suppose. I managed to sandwich two together for a photo call
but the rest had to go into the bin. Terrible.
I did say that was my final attempt, and I was sure that it was, but I woke the next day to find that my baking mojo was back. I was going to make a decent batch of macaro(o)ns.
The children were at home, so I couldn’t risk the Italian meringue method. 118° sugar syrup, an out-of-control KitchenAid and potty accidents all at the same time just didn’t bear thinking about.
This time I not only blitzed the almonds and icing sugar into the food processor, I also sifted them twice. I whisked my eggs until they were a little bit stiffer than in my previous James Martin attempt and I didn’t spend as long folding in the almond mixture. I didn’t use any food colouring in this batch. I piped the mixture onto baking paper templates using a freezer bag – I couldn’t face washing up our reusable one again – and left them for an hour and a half. I baked them at 160° for ten minutes and, this time, I had recognisable macaroons. I left them on baking trays to cool and them sandwiched them together with the buttercream. Phew.
They tasted OK, nice and soft in the middle. The buttercream was a bit funky though. It had a bit of a slimy texture, maybe because of the sugar I lost on the side of the bowl, or perhaps the eggs weren’t whisked enough before the sugar syrup went in. I wouldn’t recommend freeze-dried strawberries either. Never mind though. I’ve made macaroons . I won’t have to do it again.