For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.


Quite a long time ago, actually October 2009, we Daring Bakers were first challenged to bake macarons. At the time I had heard of the macaron but had never seen or tasted one. Yes, true! Where I live in tropical North Queensland we have lots of sun, summer and beaches but trends take a long time to arrive! Hence that challenge was a challenge indeed. I went on to make them regularly even giving them as gifts to my children’s teachers at the end of the school year. A couple of years later I made two macaron towers for my niece’s wedding. I think that did it for me as I hadn’t made a successful macaron since

Fast forward to Daring Bakers Challenge October 2015 and once again we are challenged with macarons. This time I decided to try the Italian meringue method said to produce shinier shells. Actually I didn’t think it did produce shinier shells but it does seem to produce more consistent results and a more forgiving mixture. And this time no air bubbles in my shells! I am so happy! Thanks to our hosts Rachael and Korena!

Macaron shells using the Italian meringue method (Rachael’s recipe)

Servings: 30 x 4cm / 1 1/2” filled macarons

Ingredients
(original recipe in grams)

140g / 4.9 oz ground almonds, room temperature
140g / 4.9 oz powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
100g / 3.5 oz egg white (from approx. 3 eggs), room temperature, divided 50/50
100g / 3.5 oz granulated (white) sugar
40g / 1.4 oz (weight) water

Optional:

Replace 20g / .7 oz of the powdered sugar with unsweetened cocoa powder or powdered freeze dried fruit
The seeds of 1 vanilla bean
A few drops of non-oil-based essence
A few drops of gel food colouring or a pinch of powder food colouring

Directions:

Prepare 2 parchment (not wax paper) lined baking sheets. They need to be big enough to hold 30 x 4cm / 1 1/2” diameter shells each.

Mix the ground almonds and powdered sugar (and cocoa powder, if using) together in a bowl, then grind in a food processor until you have an extra fine texture. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your food processor.

Sift into a large bowl (I use a mesh strainer and push the mixture through with a spatula), putting any bigger pieces of almond back into the food processor to re-grind.

Add 50g egg whites and mix thoroughly into the almond mixture. At this point, you can add food colouring or flavouring such as vanilla seeds, citrus zest, essence, if desired. ( I coloured mine violet) Set aside.

In another bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, scrupulously clean and free of any oil or egg yolk, beat the other 50g egg whites to stiff peaks.

Meanwhile, put the granulated sugar and water into a small heavy-based saucepan and heat on medium-low to 118°C / 244°F, without stirring.

While whisking constantly on low speed (to avoid splashing hot syrup), slowly add the cooked sugar mixture to the beaten egg whites, pouring it down the inside edge of the bowl. You’ll get a bit of it hardening on the side of the bowl, but that’s okay – just leave it there.

Whisk at high speed until the mixture is cool, about 3 minutes. About 1 minute before the end, you can add food colouring, if not done at the almond paste stage. The mixture should increase in volume and become firm and shiny, and it should be thick and marshmallowy when you lift the whisk.

Scrape the meringue onto the almond mixture and incorporate with a rubber or silicone spatula. You do actually want to get a lot of the air out of the mixture – you do this by folding and squashing the mixture against the side of the bowl, rotating the bowl a quarter turn with each fold. Be sure to firmly scrape the bottom of the bowl with the spatula, so you don’t leave a layer of almond paste there.

Mix until you have a homogeneous batter that runs from the spatula in a thick ribbon.

Transfer the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 7 – 9mm / #10 – #12 plain round tip (this is best done in two batches, so you don’t overfill the bag). Pipe 60 equally sized rounds, about 4cm / 1 1/2” in diameter, in staggered rows onto the prepared sheets. Hold the piping bag upright with the tip just above the sheet and pipe without pulling upwards or swirling in circles, so the batter comes out in a round blob around the tip, and give a little sideways flick at the end to break the stream.

Tap the baking sheet firmly on the bench several times to release air bubbles and obtain a smooth surface. If you have any tips sticking up, press them gently down with a damp fingertip.

Leave the tray to rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes until a slight skin forms. If you touch it, it should be only just tacky.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2.

Bake the macarons in the centre of the oven for 18 minutes (20 minutes if using cocoa in the shells), one sheet at a time, turning the sheet half-way.
Remove from oven and remove the parchment from the tray with the shells still on it and place on a cooling racks for at least 30 minutes, until completely cool, then remove macaron shells carefully from the parchment.
If not filling straight away, store in an airtight container at room temperature, separating layers with parchment. Otherwise, fill and store in an airtight container in the fridge to mature for at least 24 hours before eating.

Brandied Fig and Caramelised Honey Filling (my own adaption of an Adriano Zumbo recipe)

250g dried figs, roughly chopped
50g honey
100g dark chocolate (70%)
50g brandy
65g butter, chopped and softened

Place the figs in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for an hour then drain and puree the figs in a food processor until smooth.
Put the honey in a small pan over a medium heat until it boils and caramelises.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. Add the puree of figs, caramelised honey and brandy. Mix well and bring up to 50C.
Add the butter to the chocolate mixture and blitz with a stick blender. Allow to cool. Then pipe generously onto half of the macaron shells and top with remaining shells.
Allow the macarons to rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours.