Macaroons made in Manchester

April 14, 2010 § Leave a comment



The dinky French macaroon (or more correctly macaron) has finally reached Manchester.

My friend Vivienne brought along to a recent recorder group practice (I jest not) a little pack of Maison Blanc macaroons (chocolate, pistachio and raspberry flavours) which, surprise surprise, are now stocked by our local branch of Waitrose.

If “macaroon” conjures up an image for you of a cracked beige saucer-sized rusk complete with a skirt of carelessly torn rice paper, then think again. The Parisian macaroon is a dainty confection of egg whites, ground almonds and sugar formed into two tiny shells sandwiched together with a butttercream or ganache filling. They come in a range of flavours with colours to match. Those made by Parisian pâtisserie Ladurée are iconic.

Since Ladurée relaunched the macaroon back in the mid 1990s, they have become a worldwide craze. Not only Ladurée but a range of chic French pâtisseries proudly make and display their own collections of macaroons. They have become an obsession to many American women if the number of blog entries is anything to go by – they apparently flock to Paris in their hundreds to buy them, photograph them, drool over them and even take classes in how to make them.

Having resisted the whole macaroon thing for a number of years now, I decided to have a go at making a batch. The colours of macaroons displayed in French shop windows is, if tastefully done, gorgeous but clearly artificial colouring is used which is really just not me. What I wanted to achieve was an entirely natural colour and flavour. I thought I’d begin with my all time favourites, pistachio macaroons. Then, inspired by the dazzling scarlet colour of a pack of dried Goji berries in my kitchen cupboard, I decided that these could be added, finely ground, to a second batch of macaroons.

My next problem was that I didn’t have a reliable recipe. From my cookery book collection, I dug out Nigella Lawson’s recipe for pistachio macaroons from her Domestic Goddess book. I’ve tried this recipe before and found it wanting (buttercream quantities are wrong and the macaroon mix is too runny and difficult to handle) but I had to start somewhere. By coincidence, the March issue of UK food magazine featured a recipe for French macaroons so I decided to compare and contrast the two.

After a somewhat frustrating afternoon in the kitchen, I nevertheless produced two extremely edible batches of, respectively, pistachio and Goji berry & orange flower macaroons.

Did they look like the dainty confections of the Parisian shop window? A resounding no! they were uneven, knobbly, charmingly homespun but a far cry from the tiny smooth shells of the French pâtissier with their technically perfect “feet”.

The texture was spot-on though – crispy on the outside and softly chewy in the centre. And, with all due modesty, the taste was sensational and the whole lot were consumed by family and friends before the afternoon was out.

Here are the finished pistachio macaroons. The colour when baked is an extremely subtle shade of jade tinged with brown which I find infinitely preferable in an understated way to the bright artificial green of the commercial product.

and here are the Goji berry macaroons sandwiched with a Goji buttercream filling scented with orange flower water – a further inspiration suggested by the orange colour of the baked macaroons. When this becomes Paris’ next “flavour of the season” you will know where the idea came from!

Now to compare and contrast the two recipes. I used Nigella’s recipe for the pistachio macaroons and the Delicious version for the Goji ones. Here are the different ratios of the 3 key ingredients:

Table of ratios:

1) Nigella “Domestic Goddess”

Egg white 1
37.5g ground nuts
70g sugars (a mixture of caster and icing sugar)

2) Delicious magazine

1 egg white
42g ground nuts
83g sugars (caster and icing)

The ratio of sugar to ground nuts is the same in both recipes but their is a whole 125 g of “dry matter” per egg white in the Delicious recipe compared to a meagre 107.5g in Nigella’s.

The Nigella mixture was extremely wet and practically unpipeable – I had to resort to spooning it onto the prepared baking sheet where it spread and didn’t hold its shape at all. Also, the yield figures she gives seem to be completely out – the mixture made about half as many paired macaroons as she suggested ie about 15 rather than 30 for a 2 egg white quantity.

And don’t get me started on her measurements as for the buttercream filling – though the mix of creamed butter, ground nuts and icing sugar is delicious, the quantity produced is far too much for the number of macaroon shells.

The proportions suggested in the Delicious magazine recipe produced a firmer texture which was pipeable and generally much easier to deal with. I think I would make this my starting point for any future macaroon experiments. I give my recipe for homespun macaroons below which uses the Delicious magazine ratios though not its exact method.

Here is the gorgeous pastel coloured “dust” of sugar, ground nuts and Goji berries which is folded into the stiffly beaten egg whites. Shame that the lovely colours don’t survive the baking process intact.

Here are the neatly piped Goji macaroons ready to go in the oven. The neat shape was somewhat altered by the heat of the oven!

Here are the pistachio macaroons ready to be sandwiched with the matching pistachio buttercream.

Recipe for Jennifer’s homespun macaroons

Don’t expect this to produce technically perfect Parisian results – it will however produce a very tasty macaroon. Assuming accurate piping of small 2cm diameter rounds, this should produce 40 shells, 20 complete macaroons:


For icing sugar/ground nut mix
300g icing sugar
215g whole blanched almonds or pistachios chilled in refrigerator
(makes 515g sugar nut mix in theory but some will stick to your liquidiser; recipe calls for a total of 450g sugar nut mix so there will be a little bit left over – sorry that’s the consequence of using convenient round numbers for the measurements)

For the macaroon shells

3 egg whites
300g sugar nut mix
75g caster sugar

For the buttercream filling

150g lightly salted butter, softened
150g sugar nut mix

First make up a batch of icing sugar and ground nut by whizzing the sugar and nuts together in a liquidiser or food processor until a fine powder is achieved. The idea of freezing the nuts first is to keep them cool so that they don’t turn into an oily mass. Don’t overprocess. Sift the mix into a bowl.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to the soft peak stage then whisk in the caster sugar and keep whisking until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Fold the weighed out sugar nut mix carefully into the meringue in two batches.

Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle.

Pipe 2cm rounds of the mix onto baking-paper lined baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes at 140 degrees C (fan). Remove from oven and cool on sheet. Remove from sheet when cold. This is tricky as they stick easily even with the silicon baking paper.

Make the filling by creaming together the butter and sugar nut mix.

Sandwich the macaroon shells together when completely cool.

If you fancy having a go with the Goji berry flavouring, substitute 50g dried berries for the equivalent weight of nuts and whizz to a fine powder along with the nuts as in the master recipe. Also, add a teaspoon of orange flower water to the buttercream filling.

I realise I’m very late on this whole macaroon trend but I do have further macaroon posts planned after a recent trip to Fontainebleau in France.

If you have macaroon experiences to share, Mancunian or otherwise, I’d love to hear them…

Hot Cross Buns

April 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

…is a recipe title that might confuse American readers but we in the UK know what we mean!

I spend most of the year going “Tsk, tsk” looking at unseasonal packets of hot cross buns on the shelf of my local Marks & Spencer food store.

Finally, Good Friday is almost upon us (yes, I know I have jumped the gun just a little) and we can eat them at their proper time.

If you fancing making a batch of your own, they are easy-peasy if you are familiar with the basics of yeast cookery (especially if you have a Kenwood or Kitchenaid electric mixer). Here’s my favourite recipe from Margaret Costa’s “Four Seasons Cookery Book”. As ever, I’ve tinkered with recipe just a little substituting half the white flour for wholemeal so you can kid yourself they’re good for you. Also I’ve added my favourite spice, cardamom, to her suggested nutmeg and cinnamon mix.

You unlikely to find cardamom in a shop-bought hot cross bun as it’s too pricy for the mass-market so you really will taste the difference (haven’t I heard that phrase somewhere before…).

Surprisingly, you can find the fresh yeast specified in the recipe at your local Sainsbury’s bakery counter. You may be able to find it at other supermarket in-store bakery counters too – Sainsbury’s just happens to be convenient for me.

I think there’s something magical about the way fresh yeast turns rapidly from an unyielding beige lump of putty into liquid when it is mashed and stirred for a few moments with a teaspoon of sugar. And it might be my imagination, but the rise, flavour and crust of bread and buns made with fresh rather dried yeast always seems superior to the result you achieve with dried yeast.

Here’s the mise en place for the hot cross buns – it’s a matter of just minutes to assemble what you need. The yeast and flour sponge after 45 minutes’ proving can be seen in the wider and shallower of the 2 stainless steel bowls.

Here are the buns after final proving ready to go into the oven. I happened to have a little ball of leftover pastry lurking at the back of my fridge so the buns are adorned with dinky crosses. I usually simply mark the crosses with sharp knife which is much quicker.

The finished product is shown at the top of the post. The aroma of warm spice and orange peel currently wafting round the kitchen is irresistible…

Recipe for Hot Cross Buns

From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book with some additions of my own.

1 lb (450g) plain flour ( I like to use half strong wholemeal and half ordinary white or vice versa half strong plain white and half ordinary wholemeal
1 oz (25g) fresh yeast
1/2 pint (300ml) milk-and-water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
seeds from 10 green cardamom pods pounded to as fine a dust as you can muster using a pestle and mortar
1 teaspoon salt
2 oz (55g) golden caster sugar
3 oz (85g) currants
1-2 oz (25-55g) chopped mixed candied peel
2 oz (55g) melted butter
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water for glaze

Sift half the flour into a bowl. Blend the yeast into a liquid with a pinch of sugar and a little of the lukewarm (not more than blood heat otherwise you will kill the yeast) milk-and-water mixture. Pour the yeast mixture and remaining milk-and-water mixture into a well in half of the sifted flour and mix well. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warmish place for about 45 minutes. The mixture will by then have become puffed-up and spongy.

Meanwhile sift the rest of the flour with the spices, salt and caster sugar. Stir in the currants and peel. When the first mixture has proved, add it to the flour then pour in the melted butter and egg. Mix thoroughly and knead until smooth. 5 minutes with the dough hook in your Kenwood mixer will make short shrift of this task. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to prove this time for about 1 hour. The mixture should approximately double in bulk.

Now turn the dough onto a floured board, knead it lightly and cut it carefully into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into rounds and place not too close together on a lightly greased baking sheet. Mark each bun with a cross using a sharp knife or alternatively criss-cross the buns with narrow strips of shortcrust pastry or, even better, marzipan.

Cover the baking trays lightly with clingfilm or a clean tea towel and leave to prove for a further 15 minutes until well-risen.

Bake in a hot oven 220 degrees C (425 degrees F; gas mark 7) for about 15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them generously with a glaze made by boiling together in a small saucepan for a minute or so the sugar and water.

Cool on a wire rack and eat them, split and spread liberally with butter, as soon as you dare!

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