French macaroons seem to be the sweetest thing on our highstreets at the moment, their pastel shells and irresistible ganaches brightening up the window displays of boutique patisseries and enlivening an afternoon café au lait. The beautiful fancies, which have become an imperative for any elegant elevenses, are the invention of Pierre Desfontaines, grandson of Louis-Ernest Ladurée. In 1930 he had the innovative idea of sticking two ‘macaron’ shells together with a sticky filling, making the double-decker almondy sandwich which we find today, otherwise known as the ‘Gerbet’, or ‘Paris macaron’.
The delicate confection have substance behind their multi-coloured daintiness, a chewy almond meringue centre inside the crisp crust. Either with a chocolate ganache for glue, or some soft and sweet buttercream, macaroons melt in your mouth to prove themselves as the ultimate luxury. Both beautiful and sweet, they make the perfect Mother’s Day treat. To seek perfection in making your own is a time-worthy labour of love, and you can mix and match colours and fillings to make them bespoke. Results can vary because macaroon-making seems to be a fine art, but surely a mother’s unconditional love is all about appreciating imperfection?
For basic macaroons, you will need:
170g icing sugar
160g ground or powdered almond
4 egg whites (in 2 batches of 2 egg whites)
160g granulated sugar
* Blend the icing sugar and almonds in a food processor until fully combined. Sieve into a large bowl. Mix in two egg whites and stir to make a thick paste.
* Put the other two egg whites into a large and very clean bowl. Have an electric whisk ready. Meanwhile, dissolve the granulated sugar in the water in a saucepan over a medium heat. When dissolved, bring up to the boil. If you have a sugar thermometer, watch the mixture until it reaches 110C (if without the thermometer, the mixture should have become increasingly thick and have large bubbles rolling on the surface, but the liquid should still be clear). At this point, begin to whip the egg whites until light and fluffy. When the sugar mix reaches 118C, or has got to the point of becoming very slightly golden, begin to pour down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg whites, whisking continuously.
* Whip the egg and sugar until glossy and thick, like a peaked meringue mixture. At this point, you can add any food colouring (gel is ideal so as not to alter the consistency of the mix).
* Lightly fold the egg whites into the almond mixture.
* Line 3 or 4 baking sheets with parchment paper and carefully spoon or pipe the macaroon mixture into rounds, about an inch in diameter. Set aside for 30-60 minutes, until the macaroons have begun to develop a skin.
* Heat the oven to 170C.
* Bake the macaroons for 14 minutes, making sure to time this. When you remove from the oven, slide the baking paper off the trays and onto a cool, heatproof surface to prevent them from continuing to cook.
* When cool, sandwich the macaroon disks together with a simple buttercream, made from mixing together 150g butter (at room temperature) and 75g icing sugar. Try not to eat the majority before presenting to Mother.
The shops are awash with a slightly more dependable, and less laborious, alternative to this fashionable delight, so Mothering Sunday can be sweet, no matter what.
The birthplace of the modern macaroon, Ladurée, offer wonderful giftboxes which look fit to house jewels, with their iconic macaroons nestled inside. A box of six is £9.80. Ladurée at Harrods, (0203 155 0111 E: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bettys sell handpiped macaroons that are so delicate, they are only available in-store. offered in Lemon, Raspberry, Pistachio or Chocolate, a set of 6 is £7.50, and they come in lovely pastel boxes.
Pierre Herme offer a luxurious selection called ‘Initiation’ which is sure to make you acquainted with the sublimeness of the ‘macaron’. For 58 euros, you can order an assortment of 20 macarons comprising Mogador chocolate, rose, porcelana dark chocolate, salted caramel, praline and crème brûlée, direct to your door.
More mouthwatering ideas can be found at Katherine’s Blog: http://bejammed.wordpress.com