Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Roon-ing around (and no nothing to do with Wayne)

It's hard not to love macaroons (macarons en Francais). Small, perfectly formed, melt in the mouth. But being an impoverish journo the one thing I don't love it the price (£1 a macaroon!! But they're tiny!!!) and they've stopped sending me free ones... So... I thought... how hard can they be to make? Uhum...

So make your own macaroons. There are plenty of recipes out there so Saturday morning and I set to work. I had two recipes: Ottolenghi and Delicious Magazine. So of course, erring on the side of caution why not combine them?! But what flavour, what flavour... the trusted Ottolenghi offered up salt peanut and caramel, lime and basil and chocolate, while Delicious opts for a myriad of flavour extracts or chocolate.... mmmm. But it had to be raspberry.

The first stumbling block came when 'the big Tescos' didn't have raspberry flavour extract. Ok, I thought, I'll get really raspberries, we'll work this.

Macaroons are essentially almondy meringue sandwiches, so the basis to the recipe is sugar, egg whites and ground almonds. Easy! Laduree, watch out.

I kicked off on the Delicious recipe (sorry, Otto, I love you really and this may have been my first mistake) but mostly because it called for bigger qualities (175g icing sugar, 125g ground almonds, 3 large egg whites, 75g caster sugar) compared to Otto's (110g icing sugar, 60g ground almonds, 2 large egg whites, 40g caster sugar) and I was greedy.

The method though is pretty much standard:

Pre-heat the over to 160 (less if you're is fan, not accounted for in the Otto recipe, error two). Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds into a bowl.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk until thick and glossy, adding the caster sugar as the peaks form.

Of course, I couldn't resist the classic test: tipping the bowl upside down. Gingerly, very gingerly...

Phew. Fold bit by bit, either the meringue into the almond/icing sugar or the almond/icing sugar into the meringue (recipe dependant). Now add your flavouring. Working with my fresh raspberries, I decided the best option would be to blitz them in the food processor and then sieve them to take out the pips. So I added the juice which gave a satisfying pinky colour to the mixture. Now comes the fun/messy bit: piping! So armed with a icing piping bag (John Lewis or a specialist cooking shop will help you out), fill the bag halfway and then pipe only a baking paper lined tray. You're aiming for blobs about 3cm wide, about the size of a two pound coin. They don't swell like cookies when you bake them so space them but you don't need loads of room.

Bang them on the kitchen surface so they form a good 'foot' (you know that distinctive puffy, rough base). Leave for 15 minutes uncovered before you pop them in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.

While the 'bread' of the sandwich as cooking, it's time to make the buttercream filling. Having had far too much meringue mix for my trays last time, I decided to switch back to my beloved Otto (sorry I deserted you!). So 100g unsalted soft butter and 45g icing sugar mixed together until pale coloured and smooth. Then add your flavouring (more pulverised raspberries).

Check the 'breads' regularly though (third mistake), you want them raised and hard but leave them too long and they'll go golden and overcooked. They should also be cooked enough that they come easily off the baking sheet and there's no meringue goo still holding them on. Mine were almost there but somehow both slighty over-and under-cooked.

Leave the meringues to cool before assembling the macaroons with a small spoonful of buttercream holding the sandwiches together, then leave somewhere cool to set.

So the verdict? Ok, so they're no Laduree, more homely than haute-caketure but they still disappeared between me and the Boy in ooh two days. Twenty of them. But for next time? Work on the meringue mixture (I think I might need a more precise scale). The flavouring needed to be a bit more intense... it was kind of like roses to rose water in terms of the raspberry flavour. And I need to play with the oven temperature and time (a constant battle with my oven). And oh, one last thing, I think they would've been better with a jam-y filling rather than buttercream. But apart from that they were deeeeeeeeelicious. And very much less than £1 each.

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