Today, my friend and I (you can read her wonderful arty blog here) set out to make our first ever marcarons. After a bit of reading this week, I found out I’d been spelling it wrong and really I should be spelling it the French way. Macaroons are those traditional almond meringue biscuits with a cherry or almond on top which your Granny might have baked for you. Or you may have tried coconut macaroons. Macarons are the elusive, delicious French petit fours which come in all sorts of different flavours such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio.
We tried three different recipes and were hoping to pull off strawberry, chocolate and vanilla with salted caramel by the end of the day. We didn’t realise what a huge challenge we had set ourselves. We knew it was going to be difficult after reading lots of blog posts about how hard they were to get right but we thought we have all day, surely we’ll get one batch right.
First up was this strawberry macaron recipe (see pic above). The first batch cracked pretty much as soon as we brought it out of the oven…Hmm we thought – not to worry this is our first batch. The baking parchment we were using from Waitrose’s essential range literally crumbled or stuck to our macarons and rendered them useless. Next up was this chocolate macaron recipe from David Lebovitz. This recipe took him seven attempts before he perfected it! We realised we’d made the macarons too small when we’d piped them and we also tried them on the top shelf and the middle shelf of the oven. Middle shelf was definitely the way to go. The grease proof paper ruined those ones too.
After a trip out for some Sainburys greaseproof paper and some lunch we started again. This time we tried this cardamon meringue recipe and adapted it with a couple of drops of vanilla extract and instead of cream of tartar we put in a couple of twists from the salt grinder. We didn’t have any cardamon pods either. Aha! We were getting closer but still they looked a bit thin and not the lovely plump smooth macarons we were looking for. We tried one more chocolate batch. Nope – they cracked and looked a bit horrendous.
At this point we decided to do the fillings. We used some extra thick double cream and some homemade strawberry jam made by one of the chefs from the British Medical Association who knows my flatmate. Tis delicious strawberry jam, the smell of strawberries knocks you for six in the best fruity way you can imagine. It’s like about 50 punnets of strawberries have been fitted into one jam jar. We happened upon the idea of vanilla macarons with cream and strawberry jam. It was like a macaron cream tea! Brilliant! We ate loads of them. For the chocolate macarons (the ones we could salvage from the greaseproof paper) we just used the double cream.
My friend had to leave then, she had been baking with me for five hours and took some of the filled macarons with her. By now I was on such a huge sugar high I decided I just had to continue and find the perfect macaron. I peered in the free range egg box…I had just two eggs left. I cleared the decks, washed everything up again, rolled up my sleeves and took a deep breath. I made two more batches, one of the vanilla recipe with a dash of red food colouring and one of the chocolate recipe.
The pink ones were not bad but I forgot to add the vanilla extract (whoops!) and from the piping I hadn’t got them quite smooth/flat enough, despite letting them dry for a whole hour! Right, one egg left…I prayed to the cake gods that this would be the batch I cooked correctly. I swapped to a different piping nozzle – about 1/2 an inch thick and stumbled across a different piping technique – don’t go swirling round in a circle – you’ll end up piping a macaron which looks more like a dog poo – see pic below! (excuse the crudeness but that’s what the chocolate ones looked like previously). I realised you had to give the piping bag one long squeeze then stop. It is quite hard not to get a little raised bit after you finished piping but after a bit of trial and error, I got the odd one right. Then no drying out with this recipe, but I gave the baking sheet about 20 taps on the top of the cooker to smooth out the little raised bits on top. Sure enough some of them started to look like promising macarons. In to the oven they went, gas mark 4, 15 mins, middle shelf.
If anyone out there can offer up a decent macaron recipe which is consistently good, please let me know! I felt like a failed chemist in her science laboratory today. Macaron making is less about cooking and more about science. I’ve never felt such a range of emotions from baking before – there was despondency, excitement, hope, darned right frustration and perplexity. Much scratching of heads and almost foot stamping at failed batch after another.
And did I get my perfect macaron batch? You’ll have to wait ’til the next blog post to find out…