Today has been a Good Day. The sun is shining and the sky is a bright, clear blue here in Cardiff. Sam - who turned 6 months yesterday - and I have been baking, the house is quiet while the rest of the boys are at work or school, and all seems very right with the world.
It seemed like a day to try something new. I have wanted to try my hand at macarons for some time now, so today felt right to be the day.
These pistachio macarons with a dark chocolate ganache were inspired by a little trip to the village Sam and I had yesterday. We stopped at our local deli for a coffee and a little something, and to sit in the sun. The little something turned out to be their version of these. They tasted so lovely, I knew I wanted to try my hand at them.
I did some macaron research, and became a little confused by which was the best method to try. I know they are notoriously difficult to make, and so I wanted to make it easy on myself for my first time. But there were questions. Macaroons or Macarons (I settled on Macarons as it somehow seemed right)? Do you age the egg whites? Do you use a hot sugar solution to add to the egg white or not? How runny should the mix be? How do you make sure you get' feet' on them? How much space do you leave between them when piping?
I thought I'd made it easy on myself on that last one, as I had bought a macaroon mat from Squires Kitchen. Someone then also bought me a Lakeland macaroon mat, so I thought I would try them both out. The Squires one is a flat silicone mat with circles marked and evenly spaced. The Lakeland one is also silicone, with very shallow round indentations, to hold the macaron mix. It was interesting to see the differences.
There is a lot of information available on the web, and recipe wise, after confusing myself even more, I decided on what looked like a fairly easy method, from Delicious magazine. I particularly wanted to use pistachios though, so adapted the recipe slightly. This is what I did.
The recipe calls for 175g icing sugar, 125g ground almonds, 3 large egg whites and 75g caster sugar. I therefore used half the amount of ground almonds, (62g) and 63g of pistachios, which I ground in a food processor using some of the icing sugar to prevent them becoming oily.
I then added the rest of the almonds and icing sugar, processing again for a short time, to thoroughly combine it, and to get the nuts as finely ground as possible.The smell of the mix was gorgeous, with a real hit of pistachio.
I had separated the eggs, and allowed the whites to stand on the kitchen counter for about an hour and a half. Then, using my stand mixer, I whisked the egg whites to soft peak stage. I then continued whisking on high, while adding the caster sugar gradually. Once the eggs were smooth and glossy, I added a miniscule amount of Wilton Kelly Green food gel colouring, whisking briefly to mix it in well. You can't see it in the photo, but it gave a lovely pale green tint to the egg whites.
I then added half the nut mixture and mixed well until smooth, then folded in the remainder until the mix was glossy, and fell in a ribbon from my spatula.
I used a 1cm round tip on a piping bag to pipe out the macarons. This was an experience. Nothing prepares you for exactly how quickly the mix will run form the nozzle, and it took a few go's to get the right amount. I tried to ensure that I stopped piping before the mix filled the circles, to allow for spreading, but this was by far the trickiest part!
The photos below show the Squires mat, just as I stopped piping, and then a few minutes later - you can see that some of the macarons had spread into each other at that point.
|Five minutes after piping the mix had spread even more!
I rapped the trays on the counter to dispel any air bubbles, and then left the trays for 30 minutes to cure and form a skin (apparently you have to wait until the macaron is no longer sticky to the touch). I baked the Squires batch first, for 15 minutes at 140 fan.
As soon as I took them out of the oven, I carefully slid the mat onto a wire rack to cool. I then put the Lakeland batch into the oven for 15 minutes. Again, as soon as they came out of the oven, I slid the mat onto a cooling rack.
The first thing that struck me was the fact that they all had the little frilly edge, or feet, and certainly looked the business. The Squires batch were slightly flatter, but in a way neater, as the Lakeland ones had rougher 'feet' where they had been in contact with the indentations in the mat. The Squires ones also seemed slightly more fragile, with more of an 'air gap' under the outer skin, so that they tended to crumble/shatter more easily when biting them. Perhaps this was because they cooked quicker, being flatter?
|Squires mat macarons
|Lakeland mat macarons
|Squires mat after peeling off macarons
Well, what can I say? They were fantastic - chocolatey but with the flavour of the pistachios clearly there. The meringues were crunchy on the outer surface, but with that lovely chewiness inside. If it wasn't for the amount of washing up I had managed to accumulate, I don't think I would have believed that I made them!
There were a few points I'd bear in mind for next time (as there will be a next time):
- If using food colouring, it seemed to get baked out, as the macarons turned a slightly brown shade, so I think I'd increase the amount to get a darker shade.
- It's tricky to get the balance of filling right so that it doesn't overpower the macaron. As far as the ganache went, as it was quite intense, I found that less was more, and so those macarons that had a smaller amount of filling, were far better balanced in flavour.
- Unless using the Lakeland mat, be very careful when piping so that there is a sufficient gap around the macarons to allow for expansion. You probably need a gap equivalent to the size of the macaron to be sure.