“The Parisian macaron is a snobby-but-scrumptious little treat that has lately become a vogue frontrunner in the ongoing dessert popularity contest.”
—The Lost Girls—
Last week, fueled by a desire to step outside my baking comfort zone (and to be a total show-off at an upcoming hen’s night), I decided to try my hand at making macarons—that’s macarons pronounced mac-ah-rhones, not mac-ah-roons.
The macaron (spelled with one ‘o’, as opposed to the chewy, coconut macaroon) allegedly took its culinary cues from the Italians who are credited with creating the airy and slightly crispy meringue-like cookies from almonds, sugar, egg whites, and the magic Italian touch.
But it was the French (in particular fancy pâtisserie Ladurée) who claim to have added ganache to the middle of the macarons, thereby creating the delicious dessert we know and have recently started to love.
“The story of the Ladurée macaron starts in the middle of the 20th century with Pierre Desfontaines, who first thought of taking two macaron shells and joining them with a delicious ganache filling,” proclaims Ladurée website.
A quick Google revealed a large collection of macaron recipes, none of which looked easy and all of which left me asking some key questions: What the hell is almond meal? And why are there ‘feet’ involved? And how do I separate egg whites?
So, in true lazy domestic goddess fashion, I opted to take the easy way out and start my macaron adventure with Adriano Zumbo’s Salted Caramel Macaron dessert kit.
I’d heard conflicting reports about the mix; some raved about its ‘fool proof’ ease while others said it was still a struggle and that they macarons were disasters.
The best thing is, almost everything you need to make the macarons is in the box … including two piping bags (one for the shells and one for the filling), a stencil to help you evenly space the shell mixture on your baking tray and the meringue mix, almond meal and caramel filling.
All I needed to add was some water and butter.
The recipe is listed on the back of the packet but here are some highlights, just to give you an idea of what’s involved:
Start by adding the meringue mixture some water (1/4 cup or 62mls (seriously … who measures 62mls?!?) so I grabbed one of my ¼ measuring cups) into a mixing bowl and whisk for about 5 minutes.
Once the mixture is whipped like a meringue, add in the almond meal mixture and mix it in with a spatula.
Now, this seems simple enough, yes? Well, apparently not; after timing myself for five-minutes of blending, I added the almond meal mix and mixed it all together (see above … which is NOT how it’s supposed to look).
But having never made macarons before, I wasn’t quite sure what the mix should look like when being piped onto my baking tray, although it soon became apparent that I had under-whipped my mix.
In the words of Devo, “Whip it. Whip it good.”
The trays go into a pre-heated fan-forced oven at 140 degrees fan forced for 14 minutes, but only one at a time to ensure they cook evenly.
While the shells are cooking, make the ganache-style filling by mixing the supplied packet of caramel with 2 tablespoons of butter. Easy peasy. (if you’re making the raspberry and chocolate macarons, the butter is replaced with thickened cream for a rich chocolate ganache!)
Once the macaron shells have cooled, pair them off into matching sizes, pipe on your filling and lightly squish them together.
My first attempt was a bit of an epic fail; less crispy meringue, more chewy cookie but they were still quite delicious in a chewy kind of way.
Not one to be defeated, the next night I was back in the kitchen trying my hand at Adriano Zumbo’s Raspberry & Chocolate dessert kit.
I also swapped my Mixmaster for beaters, turned down the temperature on my (apparently fan-forced) oven and used the video guides available at Zumbo Baking for reference (this helped me identify when my meringue mix was at the right consistency to add the almond meal … which took a couple of minutes longer than the box suggested).
And the result was macaron perfection.
Well, my version of perfection, which meant a couple of were cracked but I prefer to think the beauty lies in the imperfection.
It turns out that Adriano Zumbo’s dessert kits really were le bon choix (the right choice)!