The Lavender Trials

I’ve never worked with lavender: it’s floral, it’s in candles and bath oil, it has pretty flowers, but can you bake with it?

After umming and ahhing about which fillings to use for these lavender macarons I decided to try them all: white chocolate ganache, buttercream and a mousseline (made from crème pâtissière with butter and whipped cream added to it!). I went purple-crazy and made further variations by adding blackberry compote to each of these and separately, fresh blueberries.

The clear winner for the filling was the mousseline by itself, as it was nice and light and didn’t compete with the lavender flavor of the shells. There are only a few steps for this stellar filling: heat milk and vanilla until they are steaming. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, and then add the cornflour, making sure it’s nice and smooth. Add the hot milk a little at a time to the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go, ensuring that you don’t shock the eggs into cooking. Then add all the mixture back to the heat and keep stirring until thickened. Take off the heat and add the butter, and once it’s cool, fold in the whipped cream. Leftover mousseline can be used to fill profiteroles, chocolate eclairs, in a fruit tart, eaten neat, the list goes on…

Buttercream and blackberry compote 

The buttercream was OK, rather sweet and my attempts to balance this out went too far with the the very tart blackberry compote.

The blueberries and white chocolate ganache filling 

Next, the white chocolate ganache filling. This was delicious, but pretty sweet again, and maybe overpowering the delicate lavender in the shells. I think white chocolate ganache would be more suited to dark chocolately shells instead.

All in all, a calorie-laden and informative afternoon. I am now a firm believer in using a variation on mousseline as a filling for many macaron flavors, especially for the more delicate ones. My only regret was that I didn’t have any teensy dried lavender flowers I could scatter on the macaron shells before baking but…a few days later, a friend and I made them again, with flowers. The result: almost too pretty to eat.

Tips:

– Go sparingly with floral flavors, about a teaspoon and a half of lavender extract was good (for a 200g icing/powdered sugar and 100g ground almond recipe)

– Definitely give the macarons time in the fridge to meet and greet with the fillings, it gives the filling time to permeate the shells

– After lightly burning many shells, I’ve learned that my oven is better at 300 Farenheit/149 Celcius oven for about 12 minutes (rather than the 325Farenheit/162 Celcius recommended by the book)

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