The jury is out on whether it’s “macaron” or “macaroon”, but whatever you call them, these seemingly innocuous, cheerily coloured friandises have been known to furrow the brow of even the most dilettante baker.
And with good reason too – the feather-light confectionaries are as delicate in temperament as they are in appearance.
Variables that can condemn a batch of would-be macarons to the dustbin include everything from the age of the eggs used and the heat of the oven, to the humidity levels of the kitchen.
As with most tricky endeavours, perfection comes down to practice and precision. And, once you get the hang of it, rest assured that you’ll be baking batches of flawless pastel rounds fit for a Frenchman.
Essentially made by folding meringue into ground almond flour, macarons can be either French (when caster sugar is added to the stiff egg whites) or Italian (which feature hot sugar syrup instead of sugar).
Before the sifted ground almonds are added to the meringue (a process called “macronage”) it should be sifted three or even four times to prevent the much dreaded lumpy macaron shell.
Start by folding a small quantity of meringue into the almond flour using a spatula, then incorporate the remaining mixture using a regular action, moving the spatula from the bottom of the bowl towards the top, and from the sides to the centre. Use the same motion to add the food colouring, but don’t overmix.
The perfect consistency of macaron batter is said to be similar to magma – shiny and flowing, but not too runny. Pipe rounds of the mixture onto your baking tray, holding the piping bag perpendicular to the tray and moving it away with quick, sharp movements, leaving at least 2.5 cm between the rounds.
Give the baking tray a few light taps on a flat surface to remove any lingering air bubbles and take care not to set the oven too high, as this will crack the shells. In appearance, the perfect macaron shell is glossy and smooth with a “foot” or ruffled edge at the bottom.
Once cooled, the shells are sandwiched together with a wide range of fillings. The taste test should reveal pastries that are light and airy, but slightly chewy … and, of course, completely addictive.
FABULOUS FILLINGS FOR YOUR MACARONS
Salted caramel Spoon good-quality dulche de leche into a mixing bowl and whisk until soft and silky. Spread on the underside of two macarons, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and sandwich together.
Chocolate ganache Melt 200 g dark chocolate, then mix in 1½ cups whipped cream, a little at a time, until thick and smooth. Do the same with good-quality white chocolate, but swirl through blended fresh raspberries drained of excess liquid.
Fruit cream Spoon the pulp from 6 ripe granadillas and fold into 1 cup whipped cream, along with 2 T sifted icing sugar, until combined. Do the same with puréed guava, banana or berries and use to fill a batch of macarons.
Fruit curd To make orange curd, place a saucepan over a medium to low heat. Whisk together 4 free-range eggs and 1 free-range egg yolk, then add to the saucepan along with 350 g caster sugar and 225 g butter. Whisk for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and has thickened. Remove from the heat and cool before icing (lemon or granadilla curd works equally well).
Flavoured butter Fold crushed berries or grated pineapple or mango into softened butter together with 2 T icing sugar. Spread onto the underside of two macaron shells before sandwiching together.
Peanut butter frosting Place 130 g icing sugar, 250 g smooth peanut butter, 80 g butter and 1 t vanilla extract into an electric mixer and beat for 6 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add 1⁄3 cup cream and beat for a further 2 minutes. Spread between macaron shells.
READY? SET? MAKE MACARONS!
Here is your ultimate recipe for basic macarons - save them to your online recipe book, occasion planner and create a shopping list with the ingredients.
Follow Abigail's instructional step-by-step slideshow that teaches you how to make macarons every step of the way.
Remember macaroons that we all had as children? Try them in pots of granadilla yoghurt with coconut macaroons