Thanks to my lovely friends Ruth and Gemma, I spent last Sunday afternoon learning how to make macarons.
I was quite nervous as I’d always imagined that macarons were made only by master patissiers in fancy French kitchens. I therefore expected that it would be extremely difficult and way beyond my skill set. How wrong I was! Much to my delight, we were taught a really simple method and I now realise that the real skill comes in perfecting that method, but just about anyone could make a batch.
The class was held at the On Cookery School in Clapham. It’s a social enterprise set up by Loretta Liu, who has over 20 years experience as a chef and has previously worked with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Pierre Gagnaire. With all that experience and training comes a rather militant cookery teacher – this was certainly a class for learning and not for having a giggle! Despite this, I thoroughly myself and most importantly I came away feeling really delighted that I had learnt something entirely new.
One of the best things about the class was the structure. First we watched a full demonstration, given by Loretta (who we were instructed to address as “Chef” at all times!). This was helpful as it gave me a chance to take everything in and to make some notes on the recipe sheet that we had been provided with.
To ensure total concentration we were instructed not to ask any questions throughout the demonstration. Photography was also a big no no, which I learnt the hard way!
After the demonstration it was entirely hands on, we were let loose and everyone made their very own batch of macarons. Chef was on hand to answer any questions and she then gave a second demonstration at the end in order to consolidate our learning.
We started off by sifting 260g icing sugar into 170g ground almonds.
Then we whisked 140g of egg whites and 95g caster sugar to firm peak stage. This is what a firm peak looks like – you should be able to hold the bowl over your head without anything falling out. Go on, I dare you!
Next Chef added a drop of food colouring paste or gel (no liquids here please) to our spatulas and we folded the egg mixture into the dry ingredients. Then it was time to pipe. I was very relieved to see that we had a bit of help, with a template slipped under our mat so that we could at least have a chance of getting them all the same size.
My piping technique leaves a lot to be desired but I found it very therapeutic. Chef said not to worry about how to finish off piping each one as that was too advanced for us at this stage (she did let us into the secret at the end). I therefore decided that it was essential that each one had a nice peak, which was of course entirely wrong, and resulted in my pink macarons looking rather like breasts!
Once the piping was done the macarons were left for about 20 minutes to set, until a skin formed.
I can’t deny that I was pretty chuffed with the outcome. These are the trays after they spent 10 minutes in the oven at 160 degrees and although mine were rather rude looking, they had managed to keep their shape. Apparently if they spread out so that there is a skirt around the edge this is a bad thing and means you have over folded your mixture.
Once cooled we peeled our macarons off the baking sheet and packed them away ready to fill at home.
Here are my little beauties.
Chef made us some chocolate ganache to use as a filling and I also filled some with lemon curd which worked really well and was super convenient.
The end result might not have been perfect but they were delicious with a lovely chewy texture. Yum!
I think I’ve got the macaron making bug! I’ve got a batch in the oven as I type and I’m determined to keep going until I make the perfect batch.
Here are my five top tips, courtesy of Chef, to help make your macarons a success:
1. Separate your eggs at least 3 days in advance and make sure they are at room temperature when you whisk them.
2. Don’t use parchment paper as it will only end in tears. Invest in a silicone baking sheet and get yourself a handy little template to slip under it for piping.
3. Don’t overfold or you will have flat macarons.
4. To get rid of the nipple effect, do a quick semi-circle as you finish piping each one.
5. Flavour the filling rather than the shell, it is much easier and no one will notice.