Sunday, November 16, 2008

Macaron class at L'Atelier des Chefs

Not to be confused with coconut macaroons…macarons are a sugary French delicacy, think little domed, almondy meringue biscuits sandwiched together with something sticky and decadent. They are a treat I'd tried in Parisian cafĂ©s but never been brave enough to bake before. However with some encouragement from Niamh of Trusted Places, moral support from a whole host of fellow food bloggers (Lizzie, Su-Lin, Krista, Josh, Alice, Helen, Jonathan, Abi, Kang, Tom, Bron, Mark, Mia and Shuna) and expert instruction from our teacher Baldwin, on Saturday the impossible became possible.

We split into four teams, each of which was assigned a different flavour of macaron. My team was tasked with the Foie Gras & Porto variety, a sophisticated flavour combination in chic cement-grey. Another first for me was de-veining the foie gras, a messy job but very satisfying. Rather like walking barefoot in mud and letting it squidge between your toes, we plunged our fingers into the foie, squeezed and pulled it apart, ripping out the veins wherever we found them (much to the revulsion of our vegan videographer!). We then simply whizzed this up in the machine with some porto, butter and cream to make a super-rich and luxurious filling.

De-veining the foie gras

We then moved on to the basic recipe for the outer macaron shells, which was identical for all the teams save for the different lurid food colourings.

Basic Macaron recipe

350g icing sugar

250g ground almonds

215g egg whites

150g caster sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 160c. Whisk up the egg whites with a pinch of salt, add the caster sugar and beat until you have a stiff and glossy meringue mixture. Add food colouring of your choice.

2) Sift the almonds and icing sugar through a chinoise to get a fine powder.

Sieving the ground almonds

3) Mix the dry ingredients with the meringue mixture throroughly. There's none of the usual gentle folding, in fact you're intentionally knocking the air back out of the meringue mixture. We used a plastic spatula to cut and fold the mixture until it was smooth and shiny. It is ready when a cut in the mixture absorbs back in 9-12 seconds.

4) Use a piping bag to pipe macarons onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray. The trick is to let the tip of the piping bag rest on the greaseproof paper at a 45 degree angle and increase the pressure without moving the bag. This makes the macaroons perfectly circular.

Piping the macaroons

5) To get the air bubbles out of the macarons (and therefore stop them cracking open in the oven), drop the trays onto the worktop hard!

6) Let the macarons dry for 15 minutes at room temperature. They are ready to cook when they are just "touch dry".

7) Cook for about 15-20 minutes in the oven.

8) Leave to cool on the tray, then sandwich together with your choice of filling.

It is really up to you and your imagination as to what to fill your macarons with. Some great filling ideas from around the blogosphere can be found. How about chocolate ganache, passion fruit or cardomom, wattle seed and orange? Even Nutella would go down a treat I'm sure.

After almost two hours of slaving in the kitchen, we finally got our just desserts (literally). The foie gras teamed perfectly with the sweet, crunchy and slightly gooey macaron casings, rather as it does with a sticky dessert wine. I also adored the golden-brown salt caramel variety. The raspberry & rosewater were subtle and fragrant, belying their razzle-dazzle-red exterior, and the lime & ginger were zingy and refreshing in a zippy green. After trying one of each flavour, we picked up our doggie bags (haggling/bargaining/fighting for our favourite flavours where necessary) and tottered on our sugar-fuelled way.

Raspberry & rosewater macaroons

L'Atelier des Chefs was the perfect place to pick up a tricky new skill in a relaxed atmosphere. Of course if you're not willing or able to go to all that trouble you can pick up a few macarons from Laduree. However, all that labour comes at a price. And you wouldn't have half as much fun…

The Princess


Haley said...

How fun! I love the colors! I have been wanting to make macaroons for a while now, but have been too nervous. Maybe I'll give it a try now

Anonymous said...

Hello! Great post. I had so much fun. Great you could make it.


alexthepink said...

Thanks, I had a great time too! Now I just have to be brave enough to try them without Baldwin to help me...

windo said...

it's so easy to confuse w/the coconut versions here in the states. the first time i had macaroons was in paris 2006. there's only a couple french bakeries that make them here in california. always a treat. the colors in your photos are fantastic.