Here's a recipe for macarons, a french almond biscuit/pastry typically sandwiched together with a creamy filling. They are notoriously tricky to bake (and oddly expensive to buy) so I thought I'd give them a go.
I'm not going to lie - it took a few attempts to get these working. However, yesterday I found success and I'll share my tips with you guys :) Ideally you want to end up with biscuits that are slightly shiny, with no cracks. They're crisp on the outside but have a light soft texture in the middle.
I coloured mine a light yellow colour, and filled them with a cinnamon buttercream, which I also lightly spiced with ginger. Think the warming inside of a cinnamon swirl.
The end results were bliss (if not perfectly even in size), and I'd really recommend giving them a go.
They would make the perfect addition to a Christmas food hamper, and would really impress whoever you were giving them too :)
The only equipment you need is a baking tray and a piping bag - no special nozzles required!
They're written in the recipe but here are the key points where mistakes could be made:
1. Use free-range egg whites. Caged eggs give worse meringues in my experience, and this is crucial for a good macarons.
2. Grind the almonds with the icing sugar, and sieve them. Not doing this can lead to grainy-ness and an uneven bake.
3. When whisking the meringue (the meringue is used to make the macarons), make sure the peaks are stiff!
4. Leave the piped macarons until a skin forms. Not doing this will lead to cracking.
5. Gently sandwich two macarons together - they are delicate creatures.
Makes 12 (24 biscuits sandwiched together)
For the macarons:
- 125g (1 cup) ground almonds
- 125g (1 & 1/4 cups) icing sugar
- 90g (around 3 medium eggs, or 6 tbsp) free-range egg whites (use the best quality egg whites you can, and make sure they're as fresh as possible)
- 2 tbsp water
- 110g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
- Concentrated gel food colouring (optional, I used an ivory concentrated gel)
For the buttercream:
- 100g (1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp) softened butter
- 200g (2 cups) icing sugar
- 1-2 tbsp ground cinnamon (to taste)
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1-2 tbsp milk
1. Whizz the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor (or a high-speed blender such as a Nutribullet) until very fine. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a medium mixing bowl.
2. Add 40g (about 1 & 1/3 medium, or 2 tbsp & 2 tsp) egg whites to the ground almonds/icing sugar, and beat to form a paste.
3. Heat the caster sugar and water in a saucepan gently until the sugar has melted. Bring to the boil and heat until a sugar thermometer reads 115c/240f.
4. Meanwhile, in a completely grease free bowl (I find glass bowls work best), whisk 50g (about 1 & 2/3 medium) egg whites until they are very frothy, and a soft peak is formed when the whisk is lifted from the mixture. (Soft peak means that the mixture forms a tip that topples over to one side).
I used an electric hand whisk for this, but a whisk attachment on an electric mixer would work well too. I wouldn't recommend doing this by hand unless you want a bicep workout.
5. Pour the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites, whisking constantly. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted from the mixture (by stiff peak, I mean that a peak is formed when the whisk is lifted, which does not topple over to one side). BE PATIENT at this stage - it will probably take 5-10 minutes. You have effectively made an Italian meringue at this stage.
6. Colour the egg white/sugar meringue mixture to your desired shade.
7. Add a tablespoon of the meringue to the almond/icing sugar/egg paster, and beat well to loosen the mixture. Gently fold in the remaining meringue mixture, until the meringue is evenly distributed. Fill a piping bag, and cut off 1cm from the end.
8. Place a small amount of macaron mixture onto each corner of two baking trays, and line the trays with baking parchment.
9. Pipe 4cm circles onto the tray. Hold the piping bag directly above where you want to pipe, and pipe enough mixture to make a 4cm circle. To make things more consistent (I didn't do this but it's a good idea to do if you have time), draw 4cm circles on the opposite side of the greaseproof paper, and use this as a guide to make equal macarons.
10. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, leaving a 2cm/1/2 inch gap between each macaron.
11. You should see a tip on each macaron, left by the piping bag. Gently pick up and drop the baking trays on the surface. This allows the macarons to settle.
12. Preheat the oven to 170c (150c fan)/325f/Gas mark 3.
12. Leave the macarons for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until a skin has formed on the macarons. You can test this by lightly pressing a macaron - if the mixture doesn't stick to your finger, the skin has formed.
13. Bake the macarons for 8-10 minutes until they are firm. Keep a close eye on them as they burn quickly.
14. Take the baking parchment carrying the macarons off the trays and leave the macarons to cool fully. Then carefully peel the macarons from the baking paper.
15. Make the buttercream. Place the butter in a medium mixing bowl, and beat until very soft. Sift in the icing sugar, and then add the ground cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Add a tablespoon of milk, and then start to cream the butter into the icing sugar with a wooden spoon. Keep beating until the mixture is smooth and slowly drops off the spoon when lifted from the bowl. Add drops of milk if the mixture is too stiff.
16. Taste the buttercream, and add more cinnamon if desired. Spoon into a piping bag.
17. Flip half of the macarons over and pipe buttercream onto each flipped base. Gently press a non-flipped base onto the buttercream-covered macarons.
18. To present my macarons I used the remaining buttercream to stick the macarons in two lines. These would also look beautiful in a box or gift bag.