Raspberry Macarons

Country of origin: France, with some Italian ancestry?

What comes to mind when you think of macarons? A Ladurée rainbow of pastel colours, Pierre Hermé’s magical lychee, rose and raspberry creation and elegantly dressed ladies nibbling on them delicately in between sips of tea but to tell the truth I think that they may be slightly over-rated. With coffee, a piece of cake is perfect, with tea, bring on the scones and for dessert I don’t automatically think macaron. However, they are still very fun to make and sometimes nothing but their chewy, nutty sweetness will do. The fruitier flavors like lemon or raspberry allow you to cut through the sweetness with more tart fillings like curd or jam (although these Salted Caramel macarons are delicious).

The recipe I used was from Macarons which has all sorts of interesting flavor combinations and is very easy to follow. In the basic recipe:

1 Combine almond flour and icing/confectioner’s sugar: sift, blitz in a processor until well mixed

2 French meringue: whip egg whites and gradually add caster sugar

3 Add any color or flavors

4 Pipe out and let them sit until not sticky to the touch, and then bake

 Another method (e.g. Ketchup macarons from Pierre Hermé) uses egg whites in step 1 above and step 2 is Italian meringue, made by adding hot sugar syrup to the whipped egg whites. To be attempted soon.

I find judging when the macarons are ready to take out of the oven the most difficult part of the process. It depends on your oven of course, but I think mine works best starting at 162°C/325°F as per the recipe, and then lowering it as soon as the macarons go in, to 150°C/300°F, cooking them for about 12 minutes. To check their done-ness, I open the oven towards the end and push the shell part to see if it slides around too easily, which indicates that they need another minute or two. I’m sure I’m doing some damage  to the little chaps by opening the oven and checking like this, but I’m not sure how else to tell.

I used white chocolate ganache with fresh raspberries and raspberry jam with berries as fillings. I “tested” them straight after sandwiching and then again after 24 hours in the fridge – the latter definitely tasted better.

My top tips for macarons:

– Take your time, don’t make these if you are in a hurry! It’s Ground Almond’s Law that they will go wrong.

– Draw circles on the underside of your baking paper, it makes piping them out much easier.

– Allow them to dry properly before they bake – mine took an hour and a half before they developed their “skin”.

– I learned the hard way that if you make multiple flavors with one batch you should weigh the egg whites and almond/sugar mixtures that you split

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French Meringue

Country of origin: Could be Swiss, could be German

I have not had many dealings with meringues in my culinary adventures so far. I’ve eaten an Eton mess here, a bit of Pavlova there and of course macarons; and to me it was all just eggs and sugar… As I’ve been discovering however, there is a whole world of meringue out there: French, Swiss, Italian, to name a few. What they all have in common is the whipping of air into the egg whites, where friendly little proteins allow the air bubbles to stay put, converting the humble egg white into a glorious fluffy cloud. As outlined in the excellent Professional Pastry Chef, the addition of sugar makes the whipped egg whites even more stable  but also  slows down the foaming process. Thus the warning you always get to add the sugar after the egg whites have already increased in volume, and also to add the sugar very gradually.

French meringue, the simplest and sadly least-stable kind, is made by adding sugar to whipped egg whites and is suited to making nests and cookies. The Swiss kind is made by beating egg whites and sugar over a bain-marie and Italian meringue requires hot sugar syrup to be poured in a thin stream onto egg whites as they are being whipped. The cooking of the egg whites creates a more stable meringue, and makes the Swiss and Italian meringue good for topping pies and making buttercream.

This French meringue recipe is as follows:

1 Whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form

2 Add caster/superfine sugar a spoon at a time

3 Stir in the icing/confectioner’s sugar

4 Pipe and bake, then dry in the oven further, to make sure all the water has evaporated away

They come out a beautiful pale gold colour and were delicious and crunchy. I served them sandwiched together with sweetened whipped cream and also filled with cream and topped with chopped berries in little nests. They kept well for about a month, ever-ready to be thrown into something.

My top tips for meringue learned so far, from here and The Professional Pastry Chef:

-Use a CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN bowl; any fat or grease just ruins the party and the egg whites won’t increase in volume

-To be sure that your bowl is spotless, rub half a lemon/lemon juice across it

-Bring your egg whites to room temperature before whisking

-With the French meringue in the recipe above, once you’ve whipped your egg whites, pipe into shape straight away, even if you are baking them later