We call them macaroons but in France they are 'macarons'. The word comes from the Italian 'maccarone' or 'maccherone'. They are very similar to the Italian amaretti biscuits with the chewy almond and meringue taste.
To me they just look gorgeous. Putting all these little sandwich cookies together on a pretty Victorian cake stand really seem impressive. The colours side by side are like a grown up's sweet shop.
I saw them fairly recently for the first time and thought they were very cute. An ideal centre piece for high tea or an alternative to cupcakes at a wedding. In fact they were everywhere.
So now I decided to try making them - and they are very tricky to make indeed! Getting the shape and size right and handling them delicately so they don't break up is not easy. But I did it. Some came out better than others but they still taste good...
The ingredients needed:
175g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
125g ground almonds
75g caster sugar
Optional colours and/or flavourings
Either butter icing:
150g softened butter
75g icing sugar
Then a flavour of your choice
Or you can make a ganache or fruit filling
Making Your Macaroons:
Pre-heat your oven to 160C/Gas 3. They need to be cooked on a low temperature.
Next you will need to ground up your almonds some more in a blender or food processor. The almonds need to be fine for this recipe. Mix them up in the processor then add your icing sugar. Ensure they are mixed together.
Sift the almonds and icing sugar into a bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and a pinch of salt using an electric whisk. They need to be whisked so that they form soft peaks when lifted. Gradually add the caster sugar whilst whisking until they have a glossy appearance.
If you want to add colourings and flavourings then add them at this point. You can also separate the mixture evenly if you want different colours. (If you are unsure about separating all the mixture into equal quantities, then make more batches when you are done).
Use lemon, sifted cocoa, vanilla essence and different food colourings. You could also make your colours and flavours from natural fruit or use half pistachios and half almonds.
Next fold in the almond and icing sugar mix gradually. Fold and cut, making sure the mixture is thick in consistency. It should be shiny and thick enough to be piped.
Line 2 baking sheets with grease proof paper then fill some of the mixture in a piping bag. Use a wide nozzle.
If you are not confident with the piping bag then only fill a little at a time.
Then pipe little walnut-sized cookies onto the baking sheet, leaving space between each one. They should be about 3cm across. If you give your baking sheet a quick tap on the surface, it will establish a 'foot' for your macaroons.
Leave you macaroons to sit for 20 minutes or so at room temperature. They will form a film - this can be tested by lightly touching them. They should not stick to your finger. At this point they are ready to go in the oven.
Cook for 15 minutes, then cool.
Make your required filling. For a simple butter cream beat the softened butter in a bowl. Sift in the icing sugar while still beating. When thick you can add colouring, flavouring or add sifted cocoa powder with the icing sugar for chocolate macaroons.
Lift your macaroons from the baking sheets and match up equal sized cookies. Spread on a little of the filling and sandwich them together.
Make sure that you cook your macaroons at the right temperature for the right length of time, and always ensure the consistency of the batter is stiff - to avoid flat, hardened or broken biscuits.
Like I said, they are dainty little things, and some of mine broke and a couple went flat. It takes practice and trial and error to get them right. They will be perfect for my summer picnics this year!
Whenever I am making a recipe, I use a pretty looking file and put my recipes into plastic wallets inside. It is less messy than having a recipe book or laptop on the sideboard as it can be wiped clean!