Sunday, 9 March 2014
I’ve had more than a few macaron fails over the years. They don’t rise, they bubble, the batter is too thin, too thick, they’re undercooked, overcooked, they’re not round, they spread too much, and the list goes on. I won’t lie. Macarons are hard. But, after many hours and many dollars wasted on less-than-perfect batches, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to help the frustrated macaron-maker do all they can to achieve macaron success. Having said that, you can do everything right and they still turn out wrong. The temperature of your kitchen, the humidity, the oven and the quality and age of the almond meal can all affect the way macarons cook, but don’t let that deter you! If you’ve all but given up on macarons, have a go at my macaron recipe, put these into practice and see if they bring some joy back to baking my favourite French treat.
1. Age your egg whites
This is an absolute must. I’ve read lots of recipes and blog posts from people who claim to not age their egg whites (or just microwave them instead) and still manage to produce beautiful macarons, but I’m convinced it simply can’t be done. Anything can look beautiful through an Instagram filter, but if you want smooth, silky, chewy, shiny macarons that look stunning in real life, not just on Facebook, you need to age your egg whites. (They need to dry out and thicken to give the meringue the thickness and lift it needs to support the almond paste.) Crack them into a bowl two or three days ahead of time, cover them with a paper towel if you’re paranoid about dust, and leave them on the bench top. They won’t turn gross, I promise. Egg white can be left at room temperature for weeks without any problems. The yolks, on the other hand, need to be refrigerated and used within 24 hours, so go and make yourself a crème brulee or some lemon butter and get back to those macarons in three days. You’ll thank me for it!
2. Pass your almond meal through a very fine sieve
Don't just use a regular ol' sieve. The almond meal needs to be very fine, otherwise your batter won't be runny enough and your macarons will end up lumpy and grainy. I don't actually use a sieve at all - I scrape my almond meal through a splatter guard that I sit flat over the top of a bowl. I firmly rub my fingers over the almond meal in a circular motion against the splatter guard. You'll see all the coarse husky bits that didn't make it into the sifted almond meal - I usually just tap these into the sink, but if you're super thrifty you can always save them and add them to a cake or muffin batter later. If you absolutely have to use a regular sieve, blitz the almond meal in a food processor first - this will help break up the really coarse grains.
3. Use a high-quality stand mixer
I know this is bad news for anyone who wants to make macarons with their hand beaters, but hey – I’ve just given you an excuse to buy a KitchenAid! Unfortunately hand beaters and low-end stand mixers just don’t have the “grunt” needed to beat that meringue into submission. A KitchenAid or Kenwood Chef is the best, but as long as you have a high quality bench-top mixer, you should be fine. I hate to say it, but even the Thermomix doesn’t cut it in this instance. Anyone who knows me knows I rarely go a day without praising my Thermomix, I love it like part of the family, but when it comes to whipping macaron meringue, the speed-4-limit that comes with using the butterfly attachment means the meringue doesn’t quite stiffen up enough. I tried it once and ended up having to finish the job in my Kenwood. Having said that, macarons made with the Thermomix or cheaper mixers may still work, but they definitely won’t be what they could be if a higher powered mixer was used. You’ll find the batter will be thinner than it should be, your macarons will likely spread too far, and they will feel dry or hollow inside. These are still technically macarons, but you will get a better result by far with a KitchenAid or Kenwood Mixer.
4. Ensure the bowl of your mixer is very clean and very dry
Stainless steel is the best bowl to use with your mixer, although I’ve always used plastic as it’s all I’ve ever had and it’s been fine for me. You do, however, need to ensure there’s no oily residue on the bowl or whisk, otherwise it will upset the batter in the cooking process.
5. Be careful with colours
If you’re going to colour your macaron shells, you need to know when to add the food colouring, depending on what type you’re using. Powdered food colouring should be added to the almond meal/icing sugar mixture before the egg whites are incorporated. Liquid food colouring should be added to the caster sugar/water mixture as it heats up on the stove. Gel food colouring is the best type to use (as it has less water so is less likely to affect the consistency of the batter) and this should also be added at the sugar/water heating stage. It’s also important to only have one colour per batch. Don’t try and divide the batter in half right at the end and colour two separate lots – you will end up over-working your batter and it will be ruined. If you want to make shells in two different colours but don’t want to be stuck with 100 macarons (not that anyone would complain about that…) then make two half-batches separately to each other.
6. Don’t use cocoa in shells
Chocolate macarons are very popular, but cocoa and macaron batter don’t mix. The amount of cocoa required to tint your shells a nice “chocolatey brown” ends up adding too much oil to your batter and they will turn out soft and fudgy. You won’t get the crisp outer that macarons are famous for. You can add a very small amount of cocoa which will tint the shells a pale beige, but if you want them to look like chocolate, use food colouring and save the cocoa for the filling instead.
7. Don’t over-work your batter
I think this is where most people get stuck. It’s the scariest part of making macarons. Hundreds of macarons later and I still get nervous when it comes to working the batter. Under-worked batter will leave you with little mountain peaks on grainy macarons, and over-worked batter will cause them to spread too thinly, stop them from rising and will keep the foot from forming. There’s such a fine line between under and over-working the batter that it’s really hard to know when to stop. The best way I’ve found is to keep folding the batter onto itself until you can lift the spatula and a continuous ribbon of batter falls away. If the ribbon “breaks”, it probably needs to be worked a little more. The only way to know is with experience, so keep trying! You want it to wobble like jelly but be smooth enough to fill a well in the centre. When I think I’m getting close to the right consistency I usually put a small amount (enough for 3 or 4 shells) into my piping bag and pipe a couple of circles onto the baking paper. Wait 30 seconds, tap the bottom of the tray onto the bench, and if there’s still a little peak on top of the batter, you probably need to work it a tiny bit more. Remember, the batter will also be working itself in the piping bag as you pipe your shells, so it’s always better to be under than over. At the end of the day it’s an art, not a science, and only experience will tell you when the batter is ready to pipe.
8. Use a template
Using a template ensures all your macarons are uniform. They look so much more beautiful when they're lined up perfectly matched with pairs the same size and shape. Just slip your template underneath the baking paper and you're good to go. Make your own on the computer or you can use mine. Alternatively, trace your circles directly onto the baking paper by tracing around a circular object about 4cm in diameter. Just make sure you turn the paper upside-down before piping. No one wants pencil-flavoured macaron.
I hope these tips are helpful in your macaron endeavors, but really the best thing is to just keep trying!!! If something goes wrong, Google it and find out why! You’ll feel such a sense of accomplishment after baking your first (or second, or third, or fourth) successful batch of macarons, it’s definitely worth persevering!
Saturday, 14 September 2013
I was almost too ashamed to write this post for fear that everyone would see how long it's been since I last blogged. I knew it had been a while, but really? October 2012? How did I go 11 months without posting a blog? More to the point, how did I go that long without baking macarons???
In my defense, a LOT has happened since last October. I had a baby for one thing. And I guess with pregnancy, working, staging The Wizard of Oz, supporting Brendan and the Unichurch plant, giving birth and learning to use my new Thermomix, there just hasn't been any time for baking. How embarrassing.
So when a friend asked me to bake macarons for a lunch get-together tomorrow, I was more than happy to have a reason to get back in the kitchen to make something other than dinner.
I've had this vision in my head for a while now to make one of those chocolate cakes with a chocolate finger biscuit border that you see all over Pinterest, except filling the top with a mish-mash of rocky road bits. I needed to make macarons for Sunday, so Brendan, in the style of Old El Paso, suggested, "Why not have both?"
I guess since it was hubby's idea to make the macarons in the first place, I can forgive him for nearly sabotaging the entire effort. After waking up at 7 to give our bubba boy his morning feed, I put him back to sleep (yes, we have a super baby. He sleeps 10 hours, has a feed, then sleeps 2 more), I sacrificed my Saturday sleep-in so I could bake without distraction. While the macarons were in the oven, baby Ethan needed another feed, so I asked Brendan if he could put the last two trays in the oven for me. I gave very explicit instructions, one on the top shelf, one on the bottom shelf, nothing in the middle, put the hot tray on the stove, etc, etc, but failed to mention that the trays of uncooked macarons were sitting on the table at the other end of the house (I keep my trays there while they wait for the oven so they don't clutter the kitchen.) My lovely, helpful husband unfortunately didn't read my mind, and instead of looking for the trays of raw macaron batter, he saw two trays that were already cooked and put them back in the oven for another 16 minutes. Sigh... We both agreed that each of us were partially responsible, but secretly I was thinking to myself "really? Pretty sure a trained monkey would have known that tray was already baked". Brendan is very patient. He let me have my moment, he let me breathe deeply, close my eyes and say "I'm not angry at you, I'm just angry", but I'm pretty sure he was secretly thinking "really? THIS is what makes you angry? Two trays of overcooked macarons? First world problems much??"
Anyhoo, on with the baking.
I started with just regular ol' pink macaron shells, but instead of filling them with a traditional ganache, I added in a cup of minimarshmallows, hoping to get a bit of the marshmallow flavour in with the chocolate. I used my Thermomix for this (I still needed my old faithful Kenwood Chef for the whipping of the egg whites though - speed 4 on the Thermo just doesn't cut it for Italian meringue) by combining 250g dark chocolate, 200g cream and a heaped cup of mini marshmallows at 50C for 4 minutes on speed 3.
When it came to filling the shells, I piped a blob of ganache on the bottom shell, sprinkled some chopped nuts on the ganache, then piped a small amount of ganache on the inside of the top shell before sandwiching them together. (The ganache on the top shell isn't normally necessary but I needed to make sure the shells still stuck together even with nuts covering the ganache.)
Then came the fun part!
I decided my rocky road would be made out of mini marshmallows, small slices of raspberry licorice, chopped nuts and milk chocolate. I piped another small blob of ganache on top of my assembled macarons, arranged three marshmallows and three licorice slices on the ganache, drizzled the tops with melted chocolate and sprinked nuts on top. Too easy! Perhaps one day I'll make the marshmallows and licorice myself, but for now, I'll stick with what's convenient.
I have to say, I'm pretty chuffed with how they turned out. Brendan and I agree - they are the most delicious flavour combo I've come up with (well, Brendan thinks he can take the credit since it was his idea). It's probably a good thing I only had half a batch to work with. Because I need to take every single one with me when we go to lunch tomorrow, there aren't any leftovers for us to nibble on - I can guarantee you, they wouldn't last long otherwise.
Monday, 8 October 2012
One baking blog I've been following for some time is Raspberri Cupcakes. Everything she does is amazing, but I especially love her crazily shaped macarons. She's done all kinds of animals, ice cream cones, shamrocks, presents, hearts and more. She also writes about a delicious-sounding cookie dough buttercream which I was keen to use in a macaron. One of my most reliable and delicious cookie recipes is my Gingerbread Cookie Dough recipe (I'm sure I'll put it up here sooner or later). Whenever I make them I have to force myself to stop eating the raw dough. So, I had a go at combining the cookie dough buttercream with my gingerbread cookie recipe to put together these ultra cute Gingerbread Man Macarons with Gingerbread Cookie Dough Buttercream.
I used my basic macaron shell recipe to make the gingerbread men. I meant to colour the shells with Parisian Browning Essence, except I forgot to add it to the sugar (second time this week I've done that!!). I didn't want to stuff up my egg whites by adding too much liquid, so I just put in a few drops of the browning essence meaning I didn't get as deep a brown as I was hoping for.
It was my first time piping shapes, so I used a slightly smaller nozzle on my piping bag and drew some gingerbread man outlines on my baking paper. I ended up undermixing my batter which made my men a little bumpy, but at least they all held their shape.
Gingerbread Cookie Dough Buttercream
Adapted from Raspberri Cupcakes
55g butter, cubed and softened
6 tbs firmly packed brown sugar
135g plain flour
180g sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
1 - 2 tsp ginger (to taste)
2 tbs golden syrup
1/2 cup icing sugar
Beat the butter and brown sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and mix for 3-4 minutes until well combined. Leave in the fridge to set for 20 minutes or so.
Be sure to not add garam masala to your buttercream instead of ginger like I did... My fault for seeing the "G" on the packet and assuming I had the right spice. I scraped as much as I could out of the mixture, but the slightly strange spicy flavour tells me that I didn't quite get it all out. It's still a delicious buttercream and tastes just like the bits of cookie dough I nibble on whenever I make Gingerbread Cookies. The decorations are done with a very basic royal icing made of egg white and icing sugar mixed together until a stiff consistency is reached.
They're a little too cute to eat! Fortunately I made some round macarons too, so I can indulge on those instead of beheading one of my little macaron men.
Friday, 5 October 2012
I wanted these macarons to give the same experience as eating a Malteser - smooth melty milk chocolate, followed by the crunch of the malt, but I didn't want to cheat by using actual Maltesers. I read online that you can make your own malted milk balls by combining malt power with white chocolate, rolling it into balls, freezing them, then dip them into melted chocolate. I used this technique to make malt discs large enough to cover the surface of the macaron shell. Ganache is generally made with dark chocolate, but again I wanted to preserve the taste of Maltesers, so I used milk chocolate instead. Click here for the basic macaron shell recipe.
Crunchy Malted Milk Filling
125g white chocolate
4tbs malt powder
Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler or in the microwave. Mix in malt powder. Once the mixture is combined, take a handful and press onto a flat surface until it is about 5mm thick (you could probably use a rolling pin but I just used my fingers). Using a 3cm cookie cutter (or anything else round) cut out circles of the mixture. Place the circles onto a tray lined with baking paper and freeze for a few hours. I also sprinkled some of the crumbled mixture all over the baking paper before freezing, as I wanted to try two different techniques for including the malt into the macaron.
Milk Chocolate Ganache
250g milk chocolate chips
Place the cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Just as bubbles begin to appear, pour the hot cream over the choc chips and stir until melted. Refrigerate until set.
Once the discs and crumbles are hard, pipe chocolate ganache onto one macaron shell, place the malt disc (or crumbles) over the chocolate, then pipe a small amount of extra chocolate ganach before sandwiching another shell on top. I chose to dust cocoa on top for decoration.
The "disc" macarons really do give that sensation of biting into a Malteser. First you gently bite into the soft macaron shell, then you taste the smooth, rich chocolate, then you crunch into crisp malt in the middle. Admittedly, it's not quite the same level of "crunchiness" that Maltesers have (I think Maltesers go though some sort of vacuum process to get the bubbly crispiness) but it's still exciting to experience that many textures in such a tiny morsel. Having said that, I actually think the "crumble" macarons look a whole lot more special. They look like they're going to be fun to eat. They look like they should be served at a party or somewhere exciting. But they don't have that same contrast in texture as the "disc" macarons. I guess you have to decide what you want more - textures or prettiness. Or you can be like me and make both.
Anyhoo, I hereby dub Choc-Malt Macarons a roaring success. They have also received the seal of approval from Brendan, who thinks they may even taste better than his all-time favourite Peanut-Butter Choc Macarons. Who needs Maltesers when you can make your own in macaron form?
Thursday, 4 October 2012
School holidays have come and have brought with them plenty of macaron inspiration! I can't believe it's already Thursday and I'm only just getting my first batch of macarons up and running. Well, despite a slow start, I'm hoping to get right on track and try all sorts of baking experiments. First up: Turkish Delight Macarons.
To be perfectly honest, the main reason I wanted to try Turkish delight macarons was so I had a reason to buy pashmak, otherwise known as Persian Fairy Floss. Okay, I know, Perisan Fairy Floss and Turkish Delight are from two separate countries, but it's all kind of the same area, right? Anyway, I've always wanted to try pashmak, and Turkish delight macarons seemed like a good accompaniment. Pashmak isn't something you buy to eat on it's own, it's more of a garnish to add prettiness and excitement to desserts. My vision was to make some cute little pink macarons and finish them off with a swirl of pashmak on top.
Once that was done, it was time to tackle the Turkish delight. That's when things got a little crazy. In my head I wanted to make some sort of flat tray of Turkish delight and then cut out disc shapes with a cookie cutter to sandwich between the two shells. I googled some Turkish delight recipes and ended up trying not one, not two, but three different versions. Yes, you read correctly. I needed to try three different times, and still wasn't 100% satisfied. But here's what happened anyway...
My first attempt at making Turkish delight came from here and turned out like this:
Yeah...I know, right? It looked like a cross between vegemite and tree sap. Poor Brendan even stood over the stove for an hour stirring, and it STILL failed. Plus my beautiful Tupperware silicone spatula is now stained. Not to worry, I decided to give it another go, this time with a microwave recipe. Apparently this one wasn't technically Turkish delight, because it used gelatine to set rather than a starch. It ended up looking okay...
...but it didn't taste so good. It was alright at first, but I was left with a really floury aftertaste. I didn't want to ruin a perfectly good batch of macaron shells by filling them with sticky cornflour. Trying not to think about all the ingredients I had already wasted, I decided to give it one more try using this recipe. It wasn't too bad in the end.
Aside from the fact that I added a bit too much rosewater essence, the flavour was quite nice. It may have had a texture like Clag glue, which threw my cookie cutter idea out the window, but it wasn't so bad in the end as it meant I could pipe the mixture straight onto the macaron shells.
The finishing touch was the pashmak. I only put it on top of the white shells, but it actually enhanced the flavour and made them taste so much better, so I think it's worth serving with all the shells, not just the whites. The pashmak is so deliciously delicate and so stunning to look at on its own that when paired with macarons it brings the entire dish to a whole new level. It was exciting for me just to plate it up, let alone eat it!
I would definitely make these again, especially if I was going to some sort of Middle-Eastern-themed event, but I think next time I'll just buy the Turkish delight and either cut it or pipe it onto the shells. Although I was happy with the flavour of my third Turkish delight attempt, I still think the store-bought stuff tastes better (especially the one they sell at Kakulas Sister!!!) I'll be looking for other ways to incorporate pashmak into my cooking, too. It's hideously expensive ($15 a pack) but now that I have some, a little seems to go a long way. I still have most of the packet left, and it seems to last a while in an airtight container. Has anyone else had more success than me in making Turkish delight? Can you think of other ways to use pashmak?
Monday, 6 August 2012
Since I didn't really like the lime curd, I decided to only make a half batch of margarita flavour and fill the rest if the shells with a basic ganache. Chocolate is a great, fool-proof, timeless classic. Everyone loves chocolate, so it's a great choice to serve up for dessert. My freezer has been getting rather cluttered with unfilled macaron shells (leftovers from making large batches and running out of filling) so I used some of the ganache to fill these too. I love having ready-to-go macarons in the freezer!!
Saturday, 28 July 2012
This experience has shown me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, just how important it is to age egg whites. My last few batches of macarons have been made with egg whites that either haven't been aged at all, or have just been out overnight. Sick of frantically trying to age egg whites in the microwave, I have begun to always have a bowl of egg whites on my bench ready for me to bake whenever I please. The egg whites I used today had been out for 4 days and as soon as they went into the mixer I could see the difference. They begun to foam up much quicker than normal, and after six minutes of whisking they were gloriously glossy, voluminous and airy. The sheer volume of the egg white also meant my batter went further - I was able to fill 5½ trays with batter. I've had as little as 3½ tray's worth with non-aged egg whites. I don't know why it is (something to do with the proteins in the egg breaking down or something) but I am now completely convinced how important this step is in making macarons.
The inspiration for this flavour came from a friend at work. And let's face it - who doesn't love honeycomb? I wanted to create macarons that combined both chocolate and honeycomb flavours, but I was a little hesitant about attempting chocolate macaron shells again. Zumbo may say it's okay in his book, but things just never work out for me when cocoa is involved. Instead of risking another failed batch of macarons, I emailed Alexandre Lui-Van-Sheng who taught a macaron class I attended last year. He replied by saying that this particular recipe for macarons just doesn't work when cocoa is added. Maybe due to the oil content perhaps? I'm not sure. So even though it apparently works for Zumbo, it's just not going to happen for me.
I was disappointed, as I had a picture in my mind of a deep, dark, brown chocolate shell filled with a bright yellow honeycomb filling. I had a look in some kitchen stores to look for some brown food colouring, to no avail. I wasn't brave enough to mix red, blue and yellow food dye - I didn't want to be left with some purpley-browny mess. I was about to give up and just make yellow shells, when I discovered Parisian Browning Essence in Coles. It says to use to to brown puddings, gravies, sauces and cakes, so why not macaron batter? Apparently it's not Parisian at all, and it looked a little like soy sauce, but I decided to give it a go. It didn't have that deep, dark, chocolatey-brown effect like I was hoping, but it is still a good alternative to using cocoa. It absolutely stinks so I wasn't going to put too much in. I used about 2 tablespoons which gave a light brown shell colour. I could have added more, but didn't want to risk affecting the taste.
Even though they don't look as striking as I wanted, they still look quite rustic and pretty (rustic because the chunks of honeycomb in the buttercream make it impossible to pipe smoothly!) They taste delicious, and look lovely with a bit of cocoa sifted on top (I'm not sure how the sprinked cocoa will go in the freezer though, so I would only do this just before you serve). I'm sure the Arts Staff at school will love these!!!!
For the macaron shells:
Makes about 50 macarons
300g finely sifted almond meal (see note)
300g sifted pure icing sugar
110g aged egg whites
300g caster sugar
110g egg whites extra, at room temperature (don't have to be aged)
2 tbs Parisian Browning Essence (or a few drops of brown food colouring)
Note: I use my hands to press the almond meal through a splatter guard as I can't find a fine enough sieve. Sift it first, and then weigh to see if you have enough. You'll end up having to discard any almond meal that's too course for the sieve.
Line four trays with baking paper. Combine the sifted almond meal and icing sugar in a large bowl. Put the aged egg whites into a mixer bowl. Combine caster sugar and water in a saucepan and carefully mix so all the sugar is wet. Try not to leave too much sugar on the sides of the saucepan - use a spatula to push the sugar back down to the bottom. This will prevent the sugar crystalising. Heat up the sugar on low heat until it's dissolved (rub some water between your fingers. If you can feel the granules, the sugar hasn't dissolved.) Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Once the sugar reaches 100oC, turn the mixer onto low speed. As the sugar is boiling, add the browning essence/food colouring. Adding it here allows the water to evaporate out. If you are using powdered colouring, mix it into the dry ingredients instead.
Continue boiling the sugar until it reaches 118oC. Pour the sugar into the mixer. Pour it down the side of the bowl, rather than in the middle, to prevent spun sugar. Increase the mixer to high speed and whisk for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, use a spatula to combine the extra egg whites with the dry ingredients to create a thick paste. When the egg whites are thick and glossy, mix a bit at a time into the almond paste. Once all the egg white has been incorporated into the paste, continue working the mixture with a spatula. Be careful not to overwork the batter - it's ready when you can lift the spatula out of the bowl and the batter slowly falls off.
Using a piping bag with a 12mm nozzle, pipe 3cm circles of batter onto prepared trays (I like to use a template that I slide under the baking paper). Turn on the oven to 135oC (I have a fan-forced oven so I only heat it up to 135oC. All ovens are different, so you just have to figure out what works for you. Wait 20 minutes and see if the batter has formed a skin (gently touch one of the macarons - if the mixture feels sticky, leave it for another ten minutes.) Bake for 16 minutes. I like to just bake one tray at a time because my oven is a bit dodgy, but other ovens may happily take more than one tray - you just have to experiment.
Remove trays from the oven and sit for 2 minutes. Try removing a macaron with a spatula. If it is sticking to the paper, put the tray back in the oven for 2 minutes then try again. Allow macarons to cool completely, then pair them together with shells of similar size.
For the Honeycomb Buttercream:
120g softened butter
200g sifted icing sugar
1 cup finely crushed chocolate coated honeycomb
Yellow food colouring
Cream butter in a mixer with the beater attachment. Add icing sugar and mix on low speed until combined. Increase speed to high and beat until pale and fluffy. Add food colouring and mix until combined. Fold honeycomb into the buttercream.
Assemble your macarons by piping the buttercream onto a shell, then sandwiching it with another shell. Be careful with the size of your nozzle - you need to make sure the nozzle size is larger than the chunks of honeycomb in the buttercream.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for a few hours before serving. Dust with cocoa if desired.