In my books, pleats and macarons are the dictionary definition of 'perfection'. I've mastered (well sort of) pleating. So I turned my attention to macarons. High failure potential these little buggers. I convinced myself to give them a try. Actually, I decided to give them many tries. I wanted to master the art of macaronage - and told myself that any rubbish batches could (and would) quickly be binned. I was prepared to try seventeen times. But it only took two! (Well maybe three). That, and lots and lots of reading.
First attempt. FLOP. I'll admit, I was extremely impulsive and jumped right into it before doing any reading. I made all the cardinal mistakes. I didn't double line my baking trays. I added liquid food colouring. I didn't re-grind my store bought "ground" almonds. I didn't age my egg whites. I got tired and only sifted half my mixture. The result? Flying saucers.
Second attempt. I was prepared to go to extremes. I bought cream of tartar. I aged my egg whites. I re-ground already ground almonds. I sifted the dry ingredients three times. I even carried a dehumidifier into the kitchen to regulate humidity levels. EVERYTHING matters when making macarons.
That said, I was still a little hard headed. Just a little. My first attempt (which I soon hope to forget all about) yielded a very very (extremely) liquidy mixture. Given that the only moisture in there came from the egg whites I subconsciously maneuvered the situation such that I mistakenly reduced the number of egg whites from three to two in my second attempt. Self-deception? Yes. Akrasia? Indeed.
Two egg whites instead of three resulted in a thicker mixture which, whilst resulting in just as yummy macarons (and by yummy I mean divine crunchy outer shells with a gooey and slightly chewy interiors), the shells do look a little wonky. Just a little. So I realise that it wasn't an overload of egg whites the first time around. It was, rather, everything else.
Here are a few (many) tips I learnt along the way. Follow them and your macarons will have feet. In all honesty, I was mainly interested in getting the distinctive foot, (Fr. pied), rather than perfectly shaped shells. I can assure you that by next week I'll be interested in getting both simultaneously. Oh yea. Oh yea.
Chocolate Macaron Ingredients:
- 3 aged egg whites, brought to room temperature
- 4 tbsp caster sugar
- 125g ground almonds
- 200g icing sugar
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp (or less than 1/2 tsp) espresso powder
- Around two days before making macarons, separate three egg whites (one at a time) and leave them to age in the fridge. Note that egg whites can be aged for 1-5 days.
- Any trace of fat will stop your egg whites from whipping up nicely. If a small drop of yolk falls into the bowl, put the whole egg aside and use it for something else. If a little bit of egg shell falls into the bowl, pick this up using a larger piece of egg shell. Do not attempt to use your hands as natural oil from your fingers may ruin the egg whites' 'whipability'.
- Whip aged egg whites (brought to room temperature) on a medium speed until slightly frothy.
- Add a pinch of cream of tartar.
- Continue to whip egg whites on a medium-high speed until they resemble bubble bath foam.
- If using a stand mixer, carefully move a spatula down the sides to ensure that no un-whipped egg whites lie at the bottom of the bowl. (You can skip this step if using a hand mixer).
- Add the caster sugar slowly, 1 tbsp at a time, ensuring not to deflate the whipped egg whites.
- Increase the speed and mix until firm peaks are formed. The meringue should appear opaque and glossy.
- Carefully add 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the egg whites and fold in by scraping the spatula down the side of the bowl, up the other side and around over the the mixture. The aim is to a) incorporate all the dry ingredients and b) remove only part of the air which was incorporated into the meringue. Treat the mixture carefully as you do not want to deflate the meringue completely.
- Continue to fold in until the mixture flows off the spatula in a 'ribbon-like' motion.
- The correct consistency can also be tested for by dropping a teaspoon full of the mixture onto a plate. Give it a few seconds. The mixture is ready if it spreads out slightly. The mixture needs another few folds if it remains as is when dropped onto the plate.
- Pipe similar sized shells onto a double lined baking tray. You may then push down the tips using your finger (optional).
- Lift your trays off the table (say, 4-5cm), and let them fall down onto the table. Repeat 2-3 times. This will help your macaron shells form the distinctive foot.
- Leave the baking trays in a cool environment until the shells are dry to the touch. This can take anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour.
- Preheat you oven to 150 °C.
- Bake for around 15-20 minutes, or until the shells feel firm to the touch. However, don't be tempted to open the oven before around 12-14 minutes have passed or else the shells may sink.
- Let the shells sit on the baking trays for around 3 minutes before gently lifting them off the baking paper and placing them on a cooling rack.
I melted some dark and white chocolate separately in bain maries, let them come to room temperature and mixed them into a little mascarpone. You can really fill them with anything that tickles your fancy so long as the filling is not liquidy and does not drip out of the shells when sandwiched together.
* Makes 24 macarons, i.e. 48 individual shells.
** Something magical happens around 24 hours after filling and sandwiching two shells together. As a result, macarons are at their best a day after making/filling. Wait! It's worth it.
*** Macarons may be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, or frozen (filling and all) for up to three months.
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