I pass a bakery with its rows of cascading coloured and perfectly formed macarons and with admiration and envy am ready once again, like a lamb to the slaughter, to face my nemesis. I have tried a few times to make macarons and although there has been improvement from the sorry dried up mess of my first attempt I have still not managed to make one with a smooth domed, crispy and soft gooey shell. It’s not that I even want to perfect them, not for the moment anyway, I just want to be able to make one that’s edible and has some resemblance to the fine French patisserie classic*.
This time however, things are different – very different. I have at my side weaponry that will beat them in to submission and new found technique that will make them stand on their feet and rise to the occasion. I prepare for battle with instruction from French Chef José Maréchal, and at my side a KitchenAid and sugar thermometer. Oh yes you will be mine.
First off, the tant pour tant (mixture of almond meal and icing sugar), or translated the so much for so much. The first new technique: process the icing sugar and almond meal and then pass it through a fine sieve. I have never done that before, but I feel with this small improvement the macaron is getting nervous. All good so far. Now to beat the tant pour tant in to a paste. Egg-white is added and gently caressed into the almond meal mix – super, a paste. I feel like I have been here before though so do not lose focus. Next for the big guns; KitchenAid is whipping those egg whites and boy are they responding. Sugar and water now boiling, he pulls out from nowhere a sugar thermometer – At 115 deg C you will be mine. Temperature reached, off the heat with fervent veracity, into the peaky whites, slowly, cautiously, all in, now beat like crazy. 10 minutes and the whites are beaten “we love you oh meringue!”.
Oven’s preheating, in preparation to break the nemesis. A little meringue into the almond paste – just a loosener. The rest carefully folded in – she’s providing some resistance but the air is safe. Lined baking sheet ready and piping bag filled – pipe now, and pipe like the wind. Hand is shaking, expectation is now high, you’re nearly there. 30 minutes drying, new technique number 2. A crust has formed on each mound – the plan is working, but now for the biggest test of all. In to the 150 deg oven, it’s sink or swim; please, not sink again. Seven minutes pass, and it’s half time. Just a little look through the glass. Can’t see much, oh no. Ten minutes, and another look. Wow, is that a dome? And feet, they’re growing feet. Fourteen minutes and time’s up. Out of the oven, on to a dampened work top (still on the baking parchment) – new technique number 3. They look good, but will they hold. The pressure is too much. I back away, leaving the macaron with nobody to taunt. Twenty minutes later I return, to silence…not one heckle. I look down and see rows of macaron shells; domed and crisp with their characteristic ‘feet’. One last test – will they peel from the parchment. They didn’t peel – they slid off with ease. Thank you and goodnight; the nemesis is finally off my back.
It felt as dramatic as that. And such wonderful results deserved an equally fitting filling; salted caramel.
*The macaron was originally introduced to France from Italy in the 16th century. However, its evolution over the years has transformed it in to a patisserie treat.
Addendum: macaron or macaroon? There is a difference and I can’t put it more succinctly than Adriano Zumbo, a well-known Australian pastry chef from Sydney:
a macaron is characterised by a dome-shaped biscuit made of egg whites and almond meal, hard to the touch with a chewy interior. A macaroon is a small meringue cake, typically made of coconut and often dipped in chocolate.