Monday, June 24, 2013

A Macaron Making Masterclass


A few weeks ago Florence, Phoebe, Dad and I piled into the car and made for the On Cookery Club in Clapham for a morning of macaron making in celebration of our Dad's Birthday!

There is no denying that macarons are absolutely beautiful to look at - so pretty and delicate! To eat them though is an equally wonderful experience - it's all in the texture! Most countries can boast their own version (hey maybe we'll have a go at English coconut macaroons next! Remember them?) and certainly in London they've been enjoying something of a moment in recent years. The French style macarons (see Pierre Herme and Lauduree to name but two examples) are famously light in texture and incredibly difficult to make so I couldn't wait to get some expert tuition from our instructor (and the founder of the cookery school) Loretta!

The cookery school is located in a quiet mews building - the space inside is light and airy with lovely big wooden work tables all equipped with Magimix stand mixers! We were each handed a copy of the basic macaron recipe then we watched as Loretta demonstrated the technique. At first glance the recipe looked fairly simple - egg whites are whisked, sugar is added, eggs are whisked some more then the meringue mix is combined with ground almonds and more sugar. Simples! Except it's really not. The difference between a macaron and a little deflated puddle of meringue is all in the mixing and folding which really have to be taught in person, not learned from a book! Loretta taught us to recognise the point at which the sugar should be added, when the egg whites have been whisked enough and how to carefully fold the meringue into the dry ingredients.


Once the meringue has been folded into the almonds and sugar it's called a 'macaronnage'. The trick is to recognise when to stop folding - if you stir too much the mixture will collapse in on itself. In a worst case scenario this means that the mixture at the centre of the macaron will seep out underneath during the bake - so you'll end up with a crispy macaron shell with a little skirt sticking out at the bottom but nothing inside :(

Now it's time to pipe it!

We each piped out a tray of macarons, using a template placed under the baking sheet to guide us. We piped one row free style, then Loretta showed us how to get rid of those little peaks you can see in the photo above - you do this with a clever flick of the wrist (which I have yet to master).

Here's my batch! And yes my camera is now covered in pink macaron mixture!

The macarons are left on a tray for about 20 minutes to allow a little skin to form before they go in the oven.

Mmmmmm macarons!

Happy Birthday Dad!

Uh oh Dad's got the camera...

Cookery class - a time to be sensible.

Before we knew it, the macarons were out of the oven!

Yeah - I made it

One by one Loretta assessed our macarons and explained how we could improve our technique next time (a fraction less folding for me I think).

This was the first one I piped OK. There was just enough time to learn how to make a delicious dark chocolate ganache to fill the macarons with, then it was time to box up our goodies and head home...

...for a party!

Once the macarons had cooled back home, we sandwiched them together with the soft chocolate ganache and set the table for a party tea. I had made a carrot cake decorated with crystallised violet petals!

Don't the macarons look sweet?

They were so out of this world delicious and had the most amazing texture! The class has given me the confidence to try them at home - I can't wait to play around with some different flavours too! Because the recipe for the macarons themselves has to be so precise, you can't add any flavouring to the macaron mixture without re-balancing the ingredients so it's best to use the filling as a way to flavour the macarons instead. At the cookery school Loretta showed us these amazing flavoured oils which is what the professionals use to create so many different flavours. The recipe we used was fairly 'rustic' in that it used a large quantity of ground almonds. The less ground almonds used the finer the finished texture of the macaron will be (and the more difficult to make)! I'm really looking forward to making them at home and am desperate to perfect my technique! I have one slight issue though...

I absolutely adore macarons but (and it's a big but) I sort of have a problem with artificial food colouring? You can't use the natural stuff in macarons apparently as the heat from the oven destroys the colour. I can kind of suspend my disbelief occasionally for a mint choc chip ice cream on a hot day or a decadent red velvet cupcake to go with a cup of tea on a wet afternoon but increasingly I'm finding myself going off the idea of putting these artificial chemicals (many of which seem to be banned in other countries yet considered fine in the UK WTF?) in my body. I don't know, I guess it started with quitting smoking.

But tell me, who could love a plain macaron?

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