It may have taken forever to get the courage to try Italian macarons, but I finally got some gumption and the verdict is… I ain’t ever goin’ back!
I am not too proud to admit that I have waged battle with French macarons for years now. I have had the best highs and the worst lows, having to consign more misshapen, dimpled, footless, hollow macarons to the bin than I care to recount. No wonder I’d lost the will…
So, when the coronavirus lockdown was forced upon us and I had more time to try stuff out in the kitchen, I finally decided to give the Italian macarons a go. It was entirely on a whim and I held no hope for success. So, imagine my utter surprise when the first batch succeeded, and then the second batch… and the third…
What I was most happy about with this process was that you didn’t need to bother with the ‘resting time’ (in order to ensure the birth of those little feet). Nope… there was no resting at all – these babies were shoved straight into the oven after being piped. Easy peasy! Okay, it wasn’t all drop dead easy – there was the small matter of adding boiled sugar syrup into the egg whites, but once you get the hang of that it’s a breeze.
I’m not about to get into any arguments about which cookie actually tastes, looks, or feels better than the other. All I know is that the Italian process has brought the consistent results I’ve been searching for, and without the added fuss of ‘resting’ them. I do agree though that the Italian macarons can be crisper than French macarons and should be kept in the fridge for a day to soften their texture.
This great macaron recipe comes from Caroline Velik (adapted from Australian chef, Kirsten Tibballs), which I discovered on goodfood.com.au. The delectable whipped salted caramel filling recipe was borrowed from ‘The Tough Cookie’ and I can’t rate it highly enough. In fact, words can’t describe how good it is!
I’ve made this recipe now a number of times and they’re a knock-out each time. This particular flavoured macaron, with its mouth-wateringly good smoky salted caramel filling has become the all-time family favourite. Enjoy!
- 200g (7.05 oz) almond meal (ground almonds), laid out on tray to dry for 2 days
- 200g (7.05 oz) pure icing sugar (confectioner's sugar), sieved
- 150g (5.2 oz) egg whites (from 3 to 4 large eggs), allowed to stand at room temperature overnight
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- Optional: 1g (0.03 oz) dry egg-white powder
- 200g (7.05 oz) castor (superfine) sugar
- 50ml (1.7 fl oz) water
- 175g (6 oz) granulated sugar
- 60ml (1/4 cup) water
- 120ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
- 175g (6 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Preheat oven to 150C (300F). Line 2-3 baking trays with baking paper or a silpat and put aside.
- Place almond meal and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse to get a finer consistency. Sieve the mixture into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
- Divide egg whites in two batches, each 75 (2.6 oz) grams. Place one batch of egg whites in an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add cream of tartar and egg white powder (if using) and set aside.
- Mix the remaining egg whites with a metal spoon into the almond/sugar mix to make a thick paste, then set aside.
- Put sugar and water in a saucepan on medium/low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Dispense with the spoon and put up the temperature to moderate heat. Insert thermometer.
- When thermometer reaches 110C (230F), start whisking egg whites on low speed. Gradually increase the speed until the egg whites are thick. (If the sugar syrup gets too hot before the egg whites are ready, add three teaspoons of cold water to syrup to reduce the temperature). When sugar syrup reaches 118C (244F) and the egg whites are ready, slowly pour syrup down the side of the mixer (aim for the edge where the whites touch the side of the bowl) while whisking the egg whites on medium speed (don't worry about the sugar splattering and hardening on the sides - this is quite normal).
- Continue to mix for 7-10 minutes until the meringue cools (the bowl should still feel slightly warm).
- Using a firm spatula, mix half of the meringue into the almond meal paste - you don't need to be careful - you're really just loosening the mixture. Add the remaining meringue and fold using a ‘fold-pat down’ motion through the middle of the mixture (I flatten the mixture around the sides of the bowl as I go to deflate the air somewhat in the mixture - this helps to avoid hollow, soft macarons). Take the mixture to a lava-like consistency where it drops slowly but steadily off the spatula (you want to be able to create an unbroken figure 8 shape) forming a ribbon of mixture which slowly oozes into the mixture (don't overmix though; better to slightly undermix).
- Place a large piping back into a heavy vase or jug (for stability), folding down a good sized 'collar' at the top of the bag. Pour or spoon the mixture into the bag (use a half inch nozzle). Hold the piping bag vertical over the tray about an inch and pipe the mixture out in one ‘dollop’ rather than a circular motion. Keep a good space between each mixture, as it will flatten out a little. Depending on the size of your trays, you'll need 2-3.
- Once done, rap trays a few times on the bench firmly to bring any bubbles to the surface (this prevents cracking) and then pop any remaining bubbles with a toothpick.
- As soon as you've piped the cookies, put the first tray into the oven and bake for about 16-18 minutes. At about 16 minutes, open the oven and check whether they’re done - very lightly touch the top edge of a macaron – if it’s still wobbly or the feet compress, give it another minute or two. They’re done when they feel firm and the feet themselves don’t compress when they are lightly touched.
- Remove the tray from oven and cool completely on a wire rack (don't try taking off the cookie until they're cool), then repeat until all the trays are cooked.
- When cool, remove the cookies from the trays. If making ahead, these can be stored in a sealed container in the pantry or in the fridge (particularly if you have high humidity) until ready to fill.
- In a medium-sized (not small) saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Dispense with the spoon and increase the heat to medium-high. Let the syrup come to a boil (without stirring).
- Cook the syrup until it turns the shade of a copper penny (be very careful though that you don't overcook, as it's easy to burn). Take the caramel immediately off the heat and carefully add the cream (it will hiss and bubble furiously, but don't worry, it will settle down again fairly quickly). Should the mixture seize into toffee lumps, simply return it to a low heat and stir until the mixture is smooth again.
- Add half the butter, one cube at a time, whisking until incorporated. Then place the bottom of the pan in a cold water bath (fill your sink with an inch of cold water and dunk the bottom of the pan into it). Add the remaining butter and whisk until the caramel thickens and cools.
- Transfer the caramel to a medium-sized bowl and place in the fridge or freezer to chill.
- Once chilled, use a hand held mixer to whip up the caramel. Because there's a lot of butter in it, it will double in volume and lighten in color (like buttercream). Add the salt (start with a half teaspoon and taste test, adding up to a teaspoon if you prefer a saltier caramel).
- Match the macaron shells according to size (at this point I also spray painted each cookie using an edible gold spray - the sharp edges are created by laying a kitchen towel over 2/3rds of the cookie before spraying). Add the whipped caramel to a piping bag with a small round nozzle and pipe the filling onto one of the paired cookies. Place the other paired cookie and gently twist it on top (be careful, as the shells can be fragile and crack).
- Store the filled macarons in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days (you can freeze them if you prefer). When ready to serve, let them stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC ‘Art’ lens / Natural lighting