Mastering macarons

In case you missed the news, Nigella was in town last week.

That’s right, the domestic goddess herself. I just adore her attitude to food and those gorgeous cashmere cardigans.... they’re the kitchen accessory I covet the most in this world after a Kitchen Aid mixer.

It got me thinking: if Nigella were to pop round for arvo tea at my place, what would I make? I delved into How to be a Domestic Goddess for inspiration and then it came to me – macarons!

Macarons are the most elegant biscuits in the world – a divine concoction of almond meal, icing sugar and egg whites, sandwiched with ganache or buttercream. They shouldn’t be confused with macaroons which are more like little cakes and are made traditionally with coconut.

Macarons are quintessentially French and are about to take over from cupcakes as the next big thing in baking. If you were a fan of Masterchef Australia you would have seen Adriano Zumbo’s killer Macaron Tower challenge.

There are hundreds of blogs celebrating the macaron and many offer advice for the aspiring baker – apparently the sexy little French biscuit is notorious for being tricky to bake.

Debate abounds over
  • the optimum time for resting the batter before baking (anything from 10mins to 5 hours - I vote for 45mins)
  • correct baking temperature
  • how long to bake for
  • how to achieve ‘feet’ - the little ruffle at the base of the biscuit
  • whether the shell should crunch or not.
And let’s not even started about whether it should be spelt with one ‘o’ or two. (If you consult Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopaedia of gastronomy, it spells it with two.)

But the biggest debate seems to be about the correct ratios of almond meal, icing sugar and egg whites – what is the best [failsafe] recipe for the not so humble macaron?

Since it was my first attempt I wanted a recipe that had some serious French credentials.

I had flirted with the idea of making Nigella’s Chocolate Macaroons purely based on her description in Domestic Goddess that words could not convey just how good they were – “Eat them: that’s enough”.

Then I discovered Dean Brettschneider in a back issue of Cuisine magazine that I picked up at the op shop for 99cents (May 2005). Dean Brettschneider, also known as the Global Baker, is an authority on all things baked. The article was an exclusive excerpt from his then forthcoming cookbook Taste: Baking with Flavour. He was given the Chocolate Almond Macaroon recipe from BakeMark Ingredients France’s export pastry chef, Olivier Hutt. I took it as a sign and plunged in.

With respect to the mixture, yes, you really do need to sift the almond meal. I didn’t have any cream of tartar so I substituted with a few drops of lemon juice.

I admit I did get spooked into changing the baking temperature and time after reading about other people’s trials and tribulations with macarons. I baked them with a starting temperature of 130degrees (no fan) and then turned it up to 150degrees, for 15minutes. Call it beginners luck but they worked. Next time I’ll try Dean’s recommendation of 180degrees for 8-10minutes.

My pretty as a picture chocolate macarons had a lovely small 'foot'. I used a small palette knife to lift them off the baking paper lined trays as soon as they came out of the oven and they came off cleanly. They had a smooth shell surface which look deceptively hard but provided little resistance when bitten. Inside they were chewy – the optimal result. Most importantly – they weren’t crunchy! (I am extremely proud of this achievement!)

I sandwiched them with the chocolate ganache and then put them into a container and stored them in the fridge overnight. Apparently they get better if they’re aged in the fridge for a couple of days. Handy to know – bake them on a Friday and store them in the fridge for a Sunday afternoon tea!

So how did they taste? In a word – di-licious!

My three year old daughter exclaimed “Wowsers Mummy – they’re great!” My brother-in-law pronounced them “yum” and insisted that I would have to keep ‘practicing’ just to make sure I really had got it right.

And I’m delighted – I’ve ticked off my first baking resolution for the year – mastering the art of making macarons. Nigella would be proud!

Comments

Yes they would make a perfect afternoon tea treat for a special guest. Chocolate macaron with chocolate ganache are one of my fav combinations.
Well done on your macaron success and conquering one of your resolutions! Best of luck with the rest of the list :D
Anonymous said…
Totally scrumptious Ms D!! Had the last one yesterday - Happy you left them :-)

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