Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Love and Hate - Macarons

These delicate egg white and ground almond shells has caused a stir a few years back in the Hong Kong food blogging community, and now they are slowly getting popular in the UK. Whether you like to eat them or not, they are famous for at least one thing: challenging to make. It's so well known that many dare not to attempt at making them.

Making the mixture is not difficult, it's actually very simple and quick to make. But they are challenging indeed, as there are many factors in your kitchen that can turn these beautiful and delicate French cookies into a blob of goo, which you'll have to scrape off the greaseproof paper (still delicious though).

I've done a quite extensive research in 2009 (*cough*geek*cough*), had made some beautiful ones, until a friend of mine asked me why they were gooey-er than shop bought ones.


My answer was: Well, I never had them from a shop before (they bloody charge £2.00 for each!). I just know that mine had the look, and I thought that was it!

So, for 2011 Christmas, I searched for another recipe, and succeeded at my 3rd batch. Smooth and thin crispy top, ruffled 'foot', flat bottom; light, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and not as sweet as the ones I've made before.


(Make approx. 2inches dia x 6 macarons - ie about 12 shells)

Ingredients:

37g Ground Almond
37g Icing Sugar
3g Food powder (eg cocoa powder, macha powder, or corn starch for plain)
35g Egg White
35g Caster Sugar

  • Line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper
  • If you are piping, prepare a piping bag with a 1cm round tip nozzle. Otherwise 2 teaspoons should help
  • Prepare a small cup of cold water, and a brush

Method:

1. Sieve ground almond, food powder of your choice and icing sugar together, twice.

2. In a seperate bowl, whip egg white until foamy, then add the caster sugar in 3 seperate lots, whisking in between.

3. Whisk (on low speed with an electric mixer) the egg whites until creamy, right before it started to form peaks.

4. Add the sieved almond sugar into the egg whites, and fold until combined.

5. Add food colouring (paste, do not use water-based colouring) if you are using any. This time, fold around the bowl, scraping from the side of the bowl, instead of cutting through the mixture. Continue to do so until the mixture has become shiny, thick and gloopy enough to when you lift your spatula up, the mixture will drop back into the bowl like a big blob of lava, and slowly disappear back into the mixture.

6. If you are using a piping bag, fill it with the mixture now. Be careful as the mixture will easily flow out from the nozzle.

7. Pipe, or spoon the mixture on the prepped baking sheets, making approx 2cm wide blobs, with a 1.5cm gap in between.

8. Gently tap the baking sheet on the table a few times, and leave the macarons to dry for about 15-20 minutes, until the top of the shells are dried.

9. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 150 C.

10. Put one tray of macarons in the oven. Set timer on 5 minutes and keep a very close eye on the macarons. The 'foot' should appear within 5-8 minutes.

11. Once the feet appear, turn the oven temperature down to 120 C, and bake for approx. 5 minutes.

12. Then turn the oven down again to 100 C and bake for a final 10 minutes. The total baking time should be 20 mins, and less for smaller size.

13. When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, immediately brush some cold water on the baking sheet, under the greaseproof paper. Then leave the macarons to cool before gently removing them from the greaseproof paper.

14. Turn the oven back to 150 C for the next batch.


You can use any ganache, cream cheese icing or buttercream for the filling. My favourite is mildly sweetened vanilla whipped cream, it makes the Macarons that much lighter and heavenly. Must consume as soon as though.


Key Points:

1. Sieving ground Almond

- If they aren't fine enough like powder, you'll have a Macaron covered with pimples.

- If using the usual sieve upset you a lot (I was), get one of those mug shaped ones that has bigger holes. You'll get slightly bigger ground almond through, but the results aren't really that bad.

2. Whipping Egg White

- Whipped too much, the top won't be smooth
- Not whipped enough, your mixture will spread so thin it won't hold it's shape
- Use medium speed (low if only 1 portion of the above ingredients) on your electric whisk throughout
- Whip only until the egg white is just about to form peaks, but not yet

 3. Drying the shells before baking

- If not dried enough, you'll end up with something that looks like a Whoopy Pie
- If too dry until the bottom has started to dry as well, the 'foot' might not appear

4. Baking

- If too hot the shell might rise so high it comes off from the base
- The colour won't be vibrant if you brown the Macarons
- Macarons might crack
- If not hot enough, the shell won't rise, meaning that the 'foot' won't appear
- An oven thermometer might help
- Only bake 1 tray at a time, but it is up to you to test which rack is the best to bake it; I suggest to start with the middle rack
- Everytime you finished baking 1 tray, re-adjust the oven temperature back to 150C 

5. Practice makes perfect

- Don't expect too much at the beginning, see it as a test for oven temperature and such.
- Just because you have mastered it, doesn't mean you won't fail the next time. You just won't fail too badly :)
- Do give it a go, as they are so colourful, fun and pretty (and yummy for some). And it's very easy to whip up another batch