Macarons are one of those things I've always wanted to try but have been too intimidated to. I haven't even tasted one, let alone baked them. From the horror stories to the legends about how hard they are to bake correctly, I put it in the "one day" basket. I decided I was going to finally tackle this fickle beast for this Christmas. I spent many hours researching recipes and advice and all the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos. The more I read, the more confused I became. There is so much conflicting information, sworn by recipes, refuted techniques. It's enough to make you want to throw in the towel.
After one such evening I finally closed my internet browser and decided that was enough. It's only a meringue. I can do meringue. I needed to just get in the kitchen and have a go.
Turns out, there's a whole lot of fuss about not much.
Being confident in making meringue will certainly help you here. Knowing how to successfully get meringue to stiff, glossy peaks is half the battle won. If you're not so confident, refer back to my meringue tutorial to help get you over this hurdle.
You'll want to make sure you allow a bit of time to complete this, but most of this is inactive time. Your egg whites need to be separated and left in the fridge to age for 1-3 days before you even begin making the macarons. The macaron batter, once piped, needs to be left for an hour to dry before baking. Then, once baked and filled, they're best left for a day in the fridge before being consumed.
But while you're busy waiting, it leaves you plenty of time to mull over what you want to fill your macarons with.
I drew my inspiration from the festive season upon us. I left the shells plain almond, choosing to focus all the favour into the filling. I made one batch of white macarons and one batch of red.
I don't mind buttercream when the flavour is interesting and it suits the cake, but I'm not a great fan of it any more. Ganache was definitely the answer for a more sophisticated dessert, and in keeping with the bright Christmas theme it had to be white chocolate. That said, that's a lot of sweet flavours. I needed some bitterness to balance it out.
I have to confess to being fairly against the idea of tea in food. I'd heard of the concept in a few dishes and hadn't been tempted to try it. It just sounded like something that shouldn't be in food. But for some reason, once the idea struck me I couldn't let it go.
For the red macarons I chose peppermint, both for the colour and for the iconic Christmas flavour.
For the white I'd wanted strawberry but there were no strawberry teas to be found. Cranberry, raspberry and strawberry sounded like the next best thing. The best thing about these teas were that they come in packs of 10, so they're perfect to have on hand for desserts.
The later flavoured ganache invoked such a strong food memory. The moment I tasted it, it took me back to being a kid. There was some snack, some biscuit perhaps or maybe even a roll up, that had an identical flavour. Something in the aftertaste. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what it was. I called my sister over, told her, and got her to try some. As she tasted it she gave me a look as though all her suspicions about my food memory nonsense had been confirmed. Until the after flavour hit. Her expression changed completely into one of amazement and she exlaimed, "Hey!" Well, we both still have no idea what it is, but we had fur trying to work it out.
Being Christmas, however, this was not enough. I had to go for the full tower.
A macaron tower is a simple beast to contruct. Don't let any cooking show (I'm looking at you, MasterChef) convince you otherwise.
All you need is a polystyrene (or styrofoam for those Americans playing at home) cone, a whole bunch of toothpicks and a couple batches of macarons.
Start by inserting your toothpick about half the diameter of your macarons from the top. Push it in until only the tapered point is protruding: the macarons aren't heavy, and you don't want the pick to push right through your macaron.
Holding the macaron by its sides, slide it onto the toothpick. Repeat until the top layer is full.
Don't be tempted to push your macaron on from the top. This happens:
Eat any fallen soldiers (it's a hard job, but someone has to do it) and carry on. When you move down a layer, position the next toothpick between the two above it. This will ensure you leave as little gap as possible.
You can leave the top blank if you wish, or fill it with macarons. I used a pair of napkin rings to adorn it.
Once you're done, you'll end up with something like this.
I like alternating the colours to get the swirl running down the cone. But you can arrange them in any way that takes your fancy. Perhaps you'd like to have horizontal layers of colours, form zig zag patterns, cascade shades of colour from top to bottom, or find beauty in chaos. Whatever you choose, your imagination is your only limit!
But before we get too wrapped up in talk of towers, let's talk of baking macarons.
Macarons are best eaten the day after they are made. They will become stale if left for too long, but store well in the freezer. Store unfilled shells in the freezer for up to 3 months. Some fillings (most buttercreams and ganaches) will store well in the freezer, so with these you can fill them and store them until needed.
Here's how to make a batch of almond macarons:
125g almond meal
150g pure icing sugar
3 large egg whites (aged 1-3 days) at room temperature
65g caster sugar
Tea-infused White Chocolate Ganache
150g white chocolate
2 flavoured teabags
Tea-infused White Chocolate Ganache
You'll find the printable version of this recipe here.