For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares: Macarons! Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from Pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze. The Daring Bakers tackled the macaron back in October 2009, however with so many new members  it was a good challenge to re-visit. The main ideas was to have fun with creative flavor profiles and colour combinations of macaron shells and fillings.

Macarons are a quintessentially French pastry – beautiful, delicate, and a bit finicky – but with a few tips and the right technique, they are completely achievable for the home baker. There are two schools of thought when it comes to macaron shells, which are made from a batter of ground almonds and sugar folded into meringue. The first is to use a French meringue (a basic meringue where sugar is gradually beaten into egg whites) and the second is to use an Italian meringue (where a hot sugar syrup is drizzled into whipping egg whites).

The original recipes for both macaron methods are in grams. Because macarons rely on specific ratios, we recommend using weight rather than volume measurements, which are much less accurate. Many sources recommend aging egg whites but it is not necessary for either method. Regarding almonds – you can use ground almonds with or without the skins on. Almonds can be substituted for other nuts or seeds, however their oil content can change the way the batter behaves, so it is probably best to use almonds on your first try.

Some thoughts on food colouring… Whether you use it or not is entirely up to you, but if you do use it, what you use will determine how much you use and the method you use will determine when you add it. You should only use gel or powder – avoid liquid food colouring, as it can add too much moisture to the mix. The ideal ratio of shell to filling is 2:1, the filling should be about the same thickness as one shell. The easiest way to achieve that is to go by how much is in the piping bag; fill the bag twice for piping the shells and fill it once for the filling.

MACARONS – FRENCH MERINGUE METHOD

Ingredients:

For the Macaron Shells

112g / 4 oz ground almonds

204g / 7 oz powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

102g / 3.5 oz egg whites (from approx. 3 eggs)

51g / 1.75 oz granulated (white) sugar

Seeds of one whole vanilla bean

A few drops of non-oil-based essence

A few drops of gel or powder food coloring

For the Chocolate Ganache

4 oz. / 113g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/2 cup / 120ml heavy (whipping) cream

2 tablespoons / 28g butter, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

  • Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper on top of the piping guide, and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a food processor, combine together ground almonds and the powdered sugar.
  • Pulse until homogeneous. If  using powdered food coloring, combine with almond mixture.

  • Sift the mixture onto a bowl, then return any large bits left in the sifter to the food processor.
  • Pulse again until very fine. Set aside. Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean large bowl.
  • Whisk on medium speed until it turns frothy, then very gradually add in the granulated sugar.

  • Once all the sugar is added, increase speed to medium-high and continue beating egg whites.
  • Beat until they form a stiff-peaked meringue. Do not over mix or allow the meringue to dry.
  • Before the meringue reaches stiff peaks, add the paste food coloring and vanilla bean seeds.

  • Add half of the almond mixture to the meringue and fold it vigorously with a plastic spatula.
  • Use about 15 strokes to combine and break down the meringue so it does not turn so puffy.
  • Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl so that dry ingredients are incorporated.

  • Add half of the remaining almond mixture. Fold again with 10-15 strokes, until just combined.
  • Add the remaining almond mixture and fold it well again, 10-15 strokes, until just combined.
  • The macaron mixture should fall from the spatula in long, thick ribbons, like slow-flowing lava.

  • Scoop the macaron mixture in a large piping bag fitted with a large round tip or plain coupler.
  • Pipe the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets with a piping template as a guide if available.
  • Pipe straight down so that mixture comes out in a round blob and it will smooth and spread out.

  • Lift baking sheet up, then firmly bang down on a work surface to dislodge any large air bubble.
  • Set the piped shells aside to dry for 30 to 60 minutes, until a skin has formed on their surface.
  • They should no longer be sticky to the touch. Preheat the oven to 275˚F / 135°C / Gas Mark 1.

  • Bake the shells, one baking sheet at a time, in the top third of the oven for some 12-16 minutes.
  • During this time they should sprout feet. To test the macaron shells, gently tug them on the top.
  • If they jiggle at all, bake for another 1-2 minutes. Once baked, they should peel cleanly off paper.

  • Allow the shells to cool completely on the parchment paper, then peel off the parchment paper.
  • Store in an airtight container, layered between wax paper, at room temperature or in the freezer.
  • For the ganache, place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat cream and salt until just simmering.

  • Then pour over the chopped chocolate. Cover bowl and let sit for 2-3 minutes to melt chocolate.
  • Stir with whisk until smooth, then stir in butter and flavoring till well incorporated and smooth.
  • Let it cool in fridge, whisking every few minutes, until thick enough to pipe (about 30 minutes).

  • Pipe ganache on flat side of half the macaron shells, sandwich with a second shell of similar size.
  • Chocolate ganache can be kept for up to one week in the fridge but freezing is not recommended.
  • Once filled, macarons should be kept in an airtight container. Makes 25 to 30 x 3.5cm macarons.
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