Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Recipe: Macarons

"I want to make macarons," my sister said to me one day, with the same nonchalance with which she brushes her teeth. Horrified, knowing what it involved after a lesson at Canelé, I tried to impress upon her the artform that was macarons. Not to be dissuaded, she promptly bought everything she needed and embarked upon Project: Macaron. Intrigued, I was drawn into helping out, and eventually I spent the whole of today making macarons on my own, which explains this post.

Ingredients (Makes 20 macarons, depending on size)
250g ground almond (Almond flour)
450g Icing sugar
220g Egg white (about 6 or 7)
60g Sugar
Cocoa powder (optional)

Macaron mis en place

Special equipment required: Piping bags, a good mixer and Silpat

Notes on ingredients: You can buy ground almonds from the supermarket or Phoon Huat, but the latter sells very coarse almond flour that you have to grind down again. You can get Silpat at Shermay's Cooking School.

Meet 027

Sieve the icing sugar together with the ground almonds into a big bowl. If your almond flour is too coarse, grind it down in a pestle and mortar and sieve it again, rather than discarding it right away, as that makes your macaron mixture too runny.

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Beat the caster sugar and egg whites in a mixer on high speed till you get a nice meringue that forms stiff peaks.

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Fold the meringue into the almond flour and icing sugar.

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This bit is tricky, because you don't want to overmix your meringue and dry ingredients, nor do you want to err on the side of caution and leave unmixed egg whites in. You need to mix quickly and exactly, without undue nervousness or energy. The original recipe calls for you to knock out some of the air from your whites by a few judicious strokes of the spatula, but I'd recommend only two or three quick strokes.

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Fill a large piping bag with the macaron mix. It should not be runny, rather, it should ooze slowly, much like sludge.

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Pipe circles of the mix onto the Silpat-covered baking tray. Be very controlled in your piping, otherwise the mix will spread all over the place and ruin your efforts. This is also the time you find out if you're mix is too runny or too dry. It's better to fall on the side of runniness - if your mix is too dry the little peaks from piping will not melt gracefully back into the piped circle, and if it's runny your circle quickly becomes much larger than you had envisioned.

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You can dust them lightly with cocoa to decorate, which is also a sneaky way of obscuring any cracks that may occur during baking. You can see that these macarons were piped a little too close together, so some estimation is required while piping.

Preheat your oven to 160°C.

Macarons, almost unlike any other confection, are an exercise in delayed gratification. After piping them out and dusting them if you wish, it is a very good idea to let them rest, in an air-conditioned environment, for about fifteen minutes (or two hours, if you can wait). This enables the macarons to form skins, giving them that glossy sheen, and prevents cracking when baking.

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Place the macarons in the oven, centre rack, for 14 minutes, by which time your macarons should have risen slightly (or a lot, if you chose not to beat out the air), and developed a little skirt round the edge.

Meet 041

Allow the macarons to cool down in an air-conditioned environment while you prepare your filling. This makes it easier to turn them over, without leaving great big bits of macaron mix on your Silpat.

Meet 020

The macaron fillings can be almost limitless in variety; buttercream and chocolate ganache tend to be the most common. Here my sister is making a raspberry-white chocolate filling.

Chocolate Ganache
200g cream
220g 58% dark chocolate, chopped
30g butter

Boiling Cream

Heat the cream and butter till boiling.

Melting Chocolate

Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and emulsify, till you get a gloriously glossy bowl of melted chocolate.

Melted Chocolate

Once that happens, you can refrigerate it for about 20 minutes, or leave it in an air-conditioned room for an hour to cool to piping consistency. If you leave it in the refrigerator for too long, stir the hardened chocolate thoroughly with a wooden spoon till it liquefies. Do not be impatient to pipe it, or your chocolate filling will be too firm.

Fill a piping bag with the chocolate ganache and pipe some onto one half of a macaron before sandwiching it with another half.

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Like I said, macarons are an exercise in delayed gratification. You could eat one now, but its texture will be slightly crunchy; not quite the melt-in-your-mouth quality that characterises the most sublime of macarons. To achieve this, you need to refrigerate them overnight; to be enjoyed the next day.

Meet 045

It's not often I have the patience or precision to devote an entire day to confection, but macarons occupy an entirely different plane of existence.

For an in-depth tutorial on macaron-making tips, do read J's excellent post on the subject.

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