Sunday, 9 January 2011

Mad about macarons

The quest for the perfect macaron looks set to take rather longer than I had over-confidently expected.

Not that I’m not heading in the right direction – I think (and fervently hope!).

Or let’s put it another way: Sunday’s experience was not the complete disaster that New Year’s Eve would have been had I not been intending to use what I produced then as the base for trifle.

And oh, they might look such dainty, pretty little things, and they might taste so light and fresh, but that completely belies the effort required to actually make them.

However, after separating the eggs in advance on Saturday, I took the whites out of the fridge on Sunday morning and left them to come back to room temperature.

As per the book I’m using, I took measured out ground almonds and icing sugar – and thank goodness for Google: I had to work out translations for ‘confectioners’ sugar (although I was able to hazard a vaguely educated guess) and ‘superfine sugar’, which turned out to be caster. This is a book by a Frenchwoman, which was apparently published by Larousse originally, but has clearly been translated to take account of Canadian and US markets as well as that in the UK.

Anyway, once those are measured, you sift together and bake for around seven minutes on a baking sheet, then allow to cool.

Next up, make the filling. Loads of lovely dark chocolate, melted slowly over simmering water before unctuous double cream is gently mixed into it in marble-like prettiness. Let cool and then chill.

And so to using my lovely mixer again. There’s an alchemy about parts of culinary endeavour that fascinates me. In this case, it was the first time I’d watched as egg whites metamorphosed from a clear, sticky gel to a snowy white foam with little peaks.

No, I’ve never made meringues before. That awaits.

As it’s stiffening, you gradually add the caster sugar. Now I was making chocolate macarons, so in went some 100% cocoa powder too. Finally, fold in the sugar and almond mix.

Then comes the great piping moment. This time, it stayed in the piping bag while I filled it – and then I managed to create a series of not entirely round and not entirely all a set size circles on a lined baking sheet.

Leave for an hour to allow a crust to start to form. Well, I couldn’t see anything resembling a crust after the allotted time, but decided to go ahead and bake anyway.

The book said 10-12 minutes. Knowing my oven, after pre-heating it for a long time in the hope of stabilising the temperature, I gave them 12. They seemed very soft when I looked at them, so I gave them another three minutes.

Let them cool a bit, then drip a little water between the parchment paper and tray and, with a spatula, ease off the macaron halves and let them cool completely.

When done, spread the chocolate ganache on one half and pop another half on top.

There. Easy. And the business of five minutes. Not.

They’re certainly tasty – so that’s quite a lot of the battle.

However, the texture of the biscuit itself is grainy. That, I assume, is the almonds. But they were ground. Now, I know that the book said to put the icing sugar and ground almonds in a blender or grinder and pulse them, but I’m struggling to see what I’ve got that would achieve a finer result than you get when you buy ground almonds in the first place.

I also suspect that I might not have beaten the egg whites quite enough. Okay, that’s something I’ll learn to be able to judge with practice.

So further testing and investigation is required. And it won’t be longer before that happens. There was so much ganache left over that I have to use it within the next few days – so I’ll look at making another batch during the week.

Still, as a friend used to say to me: “Living is learning”. Indeed, I wonder why I always seem to assume that something new will perfectly the first time I try it. Perhaps it’s that recipe culture that Nigel Slater talks about – and if we follow a recipe closely, surely it’ll come out perfect?

But to think – what a tragedy to think that I’m absolutely going to have to make more macarons!

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