The last month and a half has been a lot of change, a lot of exciting change at that, and to celebrate such a great turn in events these rich and delicious macarons were a perfect and fun little treat to make and then devour! So the past month has consisted of leaving my job in the Midlands, moving in with Richard, having a month of just relaxing and next week I start a new job in a completely new sector - which is a complete turn of events from the grand university career plan from a year ago.
It's crazy really, the realities of the real world, I know a lot of my friends will say the same thing. Most of us left university either last year or the year before that and what we've all realised is that it's not a smooth road out there, like we were all so naive to think; things don't just happen in a robust and carefully crafted way like we all expected. I've learnt a lot over the past year, about myself, about the 'real world', a steep learning curve you might say, but really, it's been a great learning curve and I'm now in a place where I feel like I couldn't ask for anything more and that's simply because after quite a while I have somewhere to call my home.
So finishing up with the job up in the Midlands, I took a bit of time out and have had August to basically play and just 'recover' from a tough ride. Rich and I spent a week camping in Cornwall with what was the most incredible and refreshing view you could ask for, nice and high up overlooking the Bay in Falmouth, just perfect to wake up to every morning and go to bed with every night. The rest of the month has just consisted of Rich and I moving in together and buying an outrageous amount of Kilner jars to house all of our food, catching up with friends I haven't seen in so long, lots and lots of kitchen time, nice long cycles in Lea Valley, having my lunches on the lake near our home, simply just a relaxing time of doing very little which is exactly what was needed!
So let's talk about the macarons! These are pretty special if I say so myself; blackberries are one of my favourite berries, and living in the Lea Valley, I now have a free supply, which I've gone pretty overkill over the past couple of weeks with blackberry picking! As for chocolate, well we don't need to discuss that, we already know I'm obsessed and always find a way to incorporate chocolate into a bake somehow. As a pairing, blackberry and dark chocolate, brilliant, you're never going to go wrong with berries and chocolate though are you.
Macarons are one of those little treats with a pretty high status and surrounded by baking fear - I've wanted to make them for ages, but thought, "No, they're going to be way to hard and tedious" and they're really not all that bad at all, they just take a little time, attention to detail and patience, they're not to be rushed and I'd highly recommend you read these macaron tips and those below to alleviate those macaron fears.
Blackberry & Dark Chocolate Macarons
The macarons are a Pierre Herme's recipe from the highly recommended book Macarons - this is only way I've ever tried and I'm a bit of a precision-fiend, but it really is simple and eliminates any issues of not knowing how much egg whites might consist in an egg, so I'd highly recommend going for the weighing everything meticulously.
- With regards to ageing eggs, I'm not one for planning so far in advance and I'd say it's enough to ensure the egg whites are at room temperature - we've always made them like this and never aged them. When it comes to eggs and macarons, don't use egg whites straight out of the fridge, you need them at room temperature, I tend to keep some eggs at room temperature and I use those when baking. Basically the theory behind it all is that we want to reduce the moisture content of the egg whites as much as possible so that the they are more elastic when whipping - well that's what my mate Google says. So if you can age them, great, if not, you'll survive - I've never aged my egg whites and I'm still here!
- Sift, sift, sift! It's really important you sift the icing sugar and ground almonds to ensure a fine texture, it is bit of hassle, I won't lie to you, but it is completely worth it. Having made macarons the first time, I didn't do this and doing this the next time, the difference was pretty stark and the macarons looked smooth and not grainy like my first unsifted attempts.
- Food colouring - you'll see in the recipe you add the colouring to one of the batches of eggs whites, the batch not being used for the Italian meringue. It's really important that you do not use liquid food colouring as this alters the texture of the eggs. Also do pay attention to what type of colouring you used, make sure you're not using colouring specifically for icing as these don't have a heat-safe formula meaning the colour can diminish when baking - which explains so much now I've researched that! Honestly, I'm still trying to find a good brand at the moment but I haven't tried many, but I've found the colour disappears when baking when using gels, which makes me think it's time to invest in some professional grade pastes or powders.
- Macaron shells can be frozen - so if you make a huge batch and won't be using them all at once, just pop them away for later use - brilliant for a quick but special little gift actually, or for making them in advance and then do the ganache a day or so before they're needed.
- Templates will save your life. Seriously. It'll make everything far far easier if you use a template, you'll be able to maintain a standard size for your macarons so when it comes to pairing them up it's easy. Recommend finding something that is roughly 3.5cm as a stencil and tracing around that, leaving about 2cm between each row and staggering them. I did it onto white paper and then put some baking parchment over - much easier to see! Here's a printable template to help too - Get Creative Juice.
220g egg whites, split into 110g batches in two different bowls and be sure they are at room temperature if you're not ageing them
300g icing sugar, sifted
300g caster sugar, sifted
300g ground almonds, sifted
food colouring - if you want
1. Have all the ingredients weighed and ready to go. I'd highly recommend whizzing up the icing sugar and ground almonds in a food processor if you have one - we want to achieve as fine a texture as possible. Once you've done that, pass the ground almonds and icing sugar through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. If there is a large quantity of ground almond which did not pass through substitute that amount with finer ground almonds. Totally up to you how thorough you want to be but I can certainly vouch for taking the effort to do this, I noticed a remarkable difference.
2. To one portion of the egg whites stir in the food colouring and then pour them over the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds, but don't stir yet.
3. With the other portion of egg whites, place them into a mixer - you'll begin to start whipping these up alongside step four, where you'll be making a sugar syrup.
4. Take the water and caster sugar and place it into a saucepan (one with a spout is ideal) and bring to a boil. When the syrup reaches 115C start to whisk up those egg whites in the mixer to form soft peaks. When the syrup reaches a temperature of 118C pour it over the whisked egg whites, continue whisking for about 3 minutes and you'll see the mixture becomes glossy real quickly. Once they're done allow the meringue to cool down to 50C.
5. When the Italian Meringue has cooled down to 50C fold it into the almond-icing sugar-egg bowl. Gently fold for a couple of minutes making sure the volume goes down a bit, you don't to capture too much air.
6. Prepare a piping bag with a large round tip nozzle - something about 2cm will be perfect - and then spoon the batter into the piping bag. Hold the piping bag about an inch above the baking trays with the templates and squeeze the piping bag until the batter is almost at the line of template and then swirl up and onto the next. You want to leave a tiny bit of space as they'll spread out a little. Once they're all pipped, leave them to stand for about 30 minutes - they need to form a skin and this stage is essential. You'll know when they're good to go by touching them lightly, if no batter is on your fingers and they hold, they're ready to go into the oven.
7. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/ gas 4 and when the macarons have formed a skin then put them in for 12 minutes - it's important to watch this stage, all ovens are different so you may need to adjust the timings a little if you find they're browning too quickly. During that 12 minutes, you'll need to open the oven door twice quickly, once 8 minutes in and again 10 minutes in, this allows air into the oven
8. When baked allow them to cool on a rack ready to be filled or pop the shells in the freezer for use later.
*during the shell setting I dusted a little cocoa powder onto the shells to give them a speckled effect. You'll also notice I paid no attention to my templates which just made my life difficult when it came to pairing - lesson learned, use the template.
Blackberry Jammy Middle
50g caster sugar
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cornflour - or more for thicker jammyness
2. Add the berries, lemon juice and sugar into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. The mixture will start to reduce significantly and thicken up.
3. Mix the cornflour with a tsp of water to make a thick paste and then mix into the fruit mixture. Add more cornflour if you require I added as I went along in the heating process to make it look a little thicker like it'll set more - you may know by now but I'm a trial and error filling maker, everyone will probably aim for slightly different consistencies. You'll be chilling the mix to thicken it up a bit too and it'll be dropped in the middle and encased in dark chocolate ganache too.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
300 ml double cream
300 grams dark chocolate
2. In a heatproof bowl put the dark chocolate in and start adding the double cream and using a whisk, mix the two until combined.
3. Chill the ganache until it thickens a bit and can be used for piping - leave it for about 45 minutes and check on it. If it does get to hard just pop it in the microwave in 5 second bursts stirring around until you have something suitable again.