Macarons have a reputation for being notoriously difficult; the kind of thing only mastered by sexy French chef-types like Eric Lanlard and people who win the Great British Bake Off. But they’re actually pretty simple once you know how. My favourite thing about making macarons has to be their versatility: once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, you can experiment with different nut flours, flavourings and fillings. Basil and lime macarons? Why not.
This particular recipe is a slightly jazzed-up version of the basic ‘blank canvas’ almond shells, which uses hazelnut flour and cocoa powder as well as almonds; to make the originals, simply take these extras out and use 100g of almonds instead. You can also try making them with pistachio flour, or adding natural flavourings in everything from cherry to champagne. I recently discovered Foodie Flavours at the Cake and Bake Show and am a complete convert. If you want to add a little extra colour to your shells to get that class Parisian patisserie-window brightness, use paste colours so you don’t destabilise your egg whites by adding lots of liquid food colouring.
You will need an electric beater for this, preferably a standalone mixer, as you have to whisk the egg whites for about 10 minutes.
I use two silicone macaron mats, primarily because I can never be bothered to draw circles onto greaseproof paper to use as guides, but you don’t need these.
A disposable piping bag, no nozzle required.
120-125g of egg whites (from 3-4 eggs)
40g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
50g ground almonds
50g ground hazelnuts (if you struggle to find these in the supermarket, buy them whole or chopped and grind yourself in a food processor)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Nutella, or other chocolate spread
Makes: 56 shells, 28 once sandwiched
Make sure your mixing bowl is spotless and completely grease-free as any traces of fat can stop your whites from whisking properly. Either place your silicone macaron mats on two baking trays, or line the trays with greaseproof. If you think you’ll struggle to pipe consistent-sized circles without guides, draw rough 4-5cm circles on the paper.
Place your egg whites and caster sugar in the bowl and, if you are using a standalone mixer, fit it with a whisk attachment. Turn your mixer to a low-medium speed (around 4 on a KitchenAid) and beat the egg whites and sugar for 3 minutes. Then, turn the mixer up to a medium-high speed (around 7 on a KitchenAid) for further 3 minutes, and lastly up to a high speed (around 8 on a KitchenAid) for the final 3 minutes. You should now have a stiff meringue that sticks inside your beater. (If you wanted to add any flavourings to your macarons, this is the time to do it.)
Next, add the almonds, hazelnuts, icing sugar and cocoa powder to the bowl. There is no need to be ceremonious about it; macaronage (yes, that’s a thing) is all about knocking the air out of your batter.
Using a spatula, begin to fold your dry ingredients into the batter. At first, it will look like they’re never going to come together; don’t panic, that’s normal. After about 20 folds, you should have a well-incorporated mixture. Don’t stop there. You need to continue to fold until you’ve achieved a ‘molten’ consistency, where a little mixture dropped from the spatula into the bowl sits on top for around 10 seconds before recombining with the rest of the mixture.
If your mix is too stiff, it will be difficult to pipe and will form a peak rather than a nice flat top on your macaron. If you start piping and find that it is too stiff, you can always return the mix to the bowl and give it a few more folds. If your mix is too loose, it will just run everywhere and won’t stay in nice round circles on your baking tray. Try not to reach this point.
When your mix is ready, fill your piping bag, secure the open end with an elastic band and snip the other to form a nozzle about 1cm wide. Pipe circles on your trays, starting from outside and piping inwards in a swirl. Once you’ve used all your mixture, give each baking tray a few firm raps on the work top to burst any bubbles and leave to form a skin for about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 170°C fan.
After 20 minutes has past, your macarons should have formed a very thin, slightly matte skin. Bake, one tray at a time, on the top shelf of your oven, for 14 minutes if using silicone mattes or 10 minutes if not.
Once your macarons have baked, leave them to cool for five minutes or so before peeling them off and cooling completely before filling. I filled these with Nutella, but you could use any chocolate spread. Whole Earth do a nice one which is whipped and slightly less cloying than Nutella. If you’re being really particular, pipe it in a circle with a star nozzle on one half of the shells, before sandwiching together, or just spread with a knife. Et voila.
Macarons are best eaten a day or two after baking, so pop in some tupperware and leave to rest for at least a couple of hours.
A longer version of this post, with step-by-step pictures, was first published by Lippy Magazine.