Macaroons. With their delicate crisp shell, light, nougaty centre, and ever more exotic fillings, is it worth making them yourself? Or are they one of those things that is really best left to the professionals? Should I be spelling it macarons? And can I catch eggs with my feet? This weekend, I was on a one woman mission to find out the answer to all these questions. Spoiler alert, I can’t catch an egg with my foot.
I started out with Bruno Loubet’s book, Mange Tout and its recipe for salted caramel and coconut macaroons (just the title was enough to get me thinking this can only be a Good Thing. And also answer the spelling question). The recipe starts by processing 200g of icing sugar, 125g ground almonds and 20g of desiccated coconut until fine. Then whisk three egg whites, together with a pinch of salt until they reach the “soft peak” stage, i.e. when you lift the whisk out of the bowl, peaks form but flop over. A note on eggs. If your kitchen was built by cowboys, and the worktops are at an angle, don’t rest your eggs on them so they roll off in comedy fashion while your hands are full. You can’t stop an egg with your feet. It just makes a mess.
Tip in 40g of caster sugar and continue whisking to get the stiff, glossy mixture above. Add a drop of lemon juice and whisk it in for a few more seconds. Now fold in half the almond mixture until completely combined then add the rest and fold it in. There’s your macaroon mixture done with only minor egg casualties.
The next step takes a bit more skill but only a little. Fit a piping bag with a 1.5 cm nozzle and spoon the mixture into it (it’s going to be a sticky mess. Embrace that). Now, place the piping nozzle onto a tray lined with baking paper and squeeze out a flat disk, about 4 to 5cm diameter. The recipe says 3cm but I carefully drew out 20 odd 3cm diameter circles and they were small. The second, bigger, batch, fit the bill a little better.
Next you want to smooth off the tops with a wet finger so there are no pointy bits. Sprinkle a little desiccated coconut over each one. Then bash the tray down to get rid of any big air bubbles (this step always seems counterintuitive to me but I did it and nothing bad happened) and leave the macaroons for at least 20 minutes to develop a skin. That way, they don’t spread into one big blob as soon as they go in the oven. Use this time to firstly turn the oven to 145C and, secondly, to try and clear up some of the carnage that may have ensued. After their resting time, place the baking tray with the macaroons onto a second baking tray, put both in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until they lift cleanly off the baking paper. Bruno recommends the double baking tray to conduct heat more slowly through to the bottom of the biscuits and get the right chewy interior.
The filling is far trickier than the biscuits themselves since it requires making caramel. Heat 60g of caster sugar in a pan, over a low heat, until it melts. Once it all melts, swirl it around a few times (DON’T stir it at this stage since it will crystallise the caramel).
Add 60ml of double cream, carefully because it will spit, and two pinches of sea salt, then turn off the heat and stir. Stir in 140g of dark chocolate (or a mixture of dark and milk). Wait until the caramel has stopped bubbling furiously and throw the chocolate in, stirring the whole time. The chocolate may seize if the caramel is too hot (I’m sure mine did) but it didn’t really seem to be the end of the world. Stir in two tablespoons of dark rum and then pour into a bowl to cool completely.
Use the chocolate mixture to sandwich the macaroons together. It really firms up as it cools so will stick them together nicely. If you don’t fancy messing around with boiling sugar, or don’t like the idea of rum tinged salted caramel chocolate (are you mad?), then strawberry jam goes very nicely with the coconut for a more old-fashioned teatime delicacy.
These are definitely worth the slight fiddliness it takes to prepare them. They crack temptingly through to the soft centre as you bite into them and have added a certain flair to my packed lunches.