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The season of sweet seduction

The season of sweet seduction
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First Published: Fri, Feb 11 2011. 12 19 PM IST
Updated: Fri, Feb 11 2011. 12 19 PM IST
It must be their fairy-tale appearance, ethereal delicacy and tantalizing flavours but I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t squeal with delight when presented with a plate of macarons. They’re the latest craze in the capricious world of patisserie although making them at home can induce meltdown in a way the good-natured cupcake never could.
A few golden rules. Firstly, in macaron-making, precision is everything in order to achieve the correct consistency—this is no time for a dash of this, pinch of that. Once you’ve nailed the basic mixture, most problems are oven-related—gas ovens in particular. The oven needs to be just hot enough to bake the macarons without browning them. I use a small electric oven which has quite precise temperatures but even so I’ve had my share of disappointments. This recipe is based on my own trial and error and for me is now pretty much infallible. To start with, I recommend baking small amounts, perhaps four macarons at a time, to see how your oven behaves, adjusting temperatures between batches.
Before you start experimenting with Wasabi, Green Tea and Salted Caramel, go easy on the colours and flavours. When you’re ready to experiment, the general rule is that liquid colourings and flavourings should be added to the meringue mixture while dried ingredients should be added to the ground almonds.
It won’t be easy but if ecstatic squealing is what you’re after this Valentine’s Day, you’ll just have to persevere.
Strawberry Macarons
Makes 20-24 super seductive macarons
Ingredients
For the macaron shells
140g icing sugar
70g finely ground almonds
80g egg white
70g caster sugar
A pinch of cream of tartar
Pink food colouring
For the filling
100g cream cheese
1 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp good strawberry jam
Method
You will need digital scales, a baking tray, parchment paper and a piping bag.
A couple of days before you plan to make the macarons, separate the eggs—you will need approximately two-three eggs to give you 80g of egg white—leaving the whites in a bowl on the work surface to “age”. This helps the consistency of the macaron mixture. I cover mine with a net to keep flies off. Use ready-ground almonds if you can find them; if not, peel and grind whole almonds. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit your baking tray and draw 3.5mm circles about 2cm apart (I used the base of a chai glass as a guide).
Carefully weigh all the ingredients. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in an electric grinder and blitz to combine thoroughly, then sieve the mixture into a bowl to remove any larger pieces of almond—this will ensure a perfectly smooth shell.
Tip the egg whites into a large stainless steel bowl. Add the cream of tartar and with an electric hand-held whisk set to medium start to whisk the eggs. When the meringue is puffed up but still with tiny air bubbles in it, add the caster sugar and food colouring. For these moderately sexy strawberry macarons, I used a tiny amount of pink concentrate but only you can decide how brazen you want to be. Continue to whisk until the meringue looks dense, smooth and glossy.
Now, sprinkle the almond/icing sugar over the meringue and start to fold with a spatula. Getting the mixture to the right consistency takes a little bit of practice—you need to mix firmly until the almonds are totally blended with the meringue without knocking the life out of it. Perfect macaron mixture is supposed to resemble molten lava but as most of us have never been near a volcano in full flow, we’ll just have to imagine something thick and gloopy moving slowly down a mountainside. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and carefully pipe the mixture to fit into the circles you’ve drawn (do this on the reverse side of the parchment paper so you don’t get pen marks on your macarons).
Next, hold your baking tray firmly and bash it on the work surface—this settles the macarons—then leave for about 30 minutes to dry out slightly.
Heat your oven—I set mine to 170 degrees Celsius with both top and bottom elements on, but you may find this too hot and need to adjust once you’ve done a trial batch. After the macarons have rested, put them into the oven on the middle shelf.
My oven has a glass door and I love watching the macarons on their journey from gloop to haute patisserie. After about 5 minutes, the distinctive “feet” (the little frill around the bottom of the macarons) will appear—this is the moment you’ll feel like applying for jobs with Pierre Hermé. After about 7 minutes, I move the baking tray nearer to the bottom of the oven so that the top of the shells don’t brown but the bottoms are perfectly baked. At 10 minutes, the macarons should be perfectly cooked.
Take the tray from the oven and after a couple of minutes the macarons should be cool enough to peel away from the parchment. Leave to cool completely before sandwiching with the strawberry filling. The filled macarons keep well for a few days in the fridge.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at pieceofcake@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Feb 11 2011. 12 19 PM IST