I am a big believer in fate. When she (for I can't help thinking that fate is a female) tells me to do something, I do it pretty darn quickly. This weekend fate told me to make maracoons* and I was powerless to resist.
I had already decided that this weekend was going to be a weekend filled with baking. I'd had vague thoughts about attempting to make macaroons and conquering my fear of piping bags and ground almonds but when an email popped into my inbox last week from Divertimenti about a last-minute macaroon class that was being arranged for Sunday, I recognised that this was the hand of fate at work and signed up there and then.
*Macrons or macaroons? I would spell it 'macaron' I think (which just got auto-corrected to 'macaroni' which would make for some hilarious typos) but as Divertimenti spell it macaroon, I will go with that for the purposes of this post.
There were only five of us in the class which made for a truly hands-on experience. All of us were able to stir and taste and pipe and, most importantly, ask our teacher, Diane Thuret, as many questions as we could think of about how to make the perfect macaroon. Although class sizes at Divertimenti never exceed 12, the smaller size was really perfect for getting to grips with such a tricky beast as a macaroon.
When Diane had demonstrated the basic technique, we were let loose on our own macaroon shells.
My group was responsible for production chocolate macaroons which were to be filled with a dark chocolate and passionfruit ganache. First we whisked our egg whites until they were frothy and gradually added some caster sugar until we had a meringue. A little red gel food colouring produced a very pink mixture that was a little bit off-putting but when this was combined with our almonds, icing sugar and cocoa powder, the requisite dark brown was formed and they baked up beautifully (in colour at least).
We then had a go at piping our macaroon shells and we learnt that it's much easier to pipe them when you've drawn a template of circles on your parchment paper (especially if you have as little spatial awareness as I do). Diane showed us the easiest way to pipe the macaroons, holding the piping bag in the palm of our hands and holding the tip straight up just above the baking tray in the centre of our pencilled in circles and squeezing allowing the mixture to spread out into a circle rather than force it.
A few bangs of our trays on the counter later (which must have terrified the customers in the shop), we were ready to leave our macaroons out to dry out and form a crust while we got on with having lunch and, more importantly, making our fillings.
Diane demonstrated three different ways of filling our macaroons. For the green pistachio macaroons and the pink raspberry macaroons, we made a chocolate ganache by pour boiling cream over white chocolate until melted and adding pistachio extract and raspberry puree respectively. Similarly the chocolate and passionfruit filling was made with heavy cream, dark chocolate and the flesh of a couple of passion fruits.
For the yellow lemon and macaroons, Diane made a quick lemon and basil curd. The flavour was subtle but delicate with the basil providing a welcome relief from the tartness of the lemon.
Finally Diane made a salted caramel filling which I used with gay abandon on any shells I could get my hands on and, frankly, it was only good manners that stopped me piping it into my mouth. First sugar was heated in a small saucepan until it was melted and wonderfully golden-brown. The lava-like caramel was then mixed with some butter, some cream and salt until a smooth and rich salted caramel sauce was produced. When it had cooled, the mixture was whisked up with some more butter to make sure that it would hold the macaroon shells together and because more butter is always a good thing.
It was then time for the great reveal and our now-cooked macaroon shells were brought out of the oven. The results showed the importance of keeping your piping uniform as one tray could contain several small overdone and several large underdone macaroons with just a few perfect shells. On the whole though, we were pretty pleased with the results. Almost all our macaroons had the requisite feet and a bit of practice with the piping is surely all that's required to even out the size issues. A factory-assembly line was then required to match up our macaroon shells, pipe in the filling and turn the halves together to make a whole.
There is no real flavour in the shells and so we were advised to leave the macaroons for at least 24 hours before eating to allow the flavour of the filling to really disperse through the shell. That's not really stopped me.
As might be obvious from the above, the salted caramel macaroons were my absolute favourite but I wouldn't kick any of them out of bed. I feel really excited to get back into the kitchen and see what other flavours I can come up with. Guess what everyone I know will be getting for Christmas?
As a slight disclaimer, I'm pretty sure that none of the macaroons pictured where actually piped by me although I may have been in the room when they were piped which is surely good enough?