Me Vs. Macarons - by [a bird in the hand]

Hi! My name is Lauren (although I'm known to many as Elle), and I write a blog called [a bird in the hand], but today I have the honour of filling in for Kate whilst she's off doing exciting things like getting married and going on honeymoon! Thanks for having me, Kate!

For a long time, I have been a huge fan of those delicious and beautiful treats called macarons (sometimes called macaroons, but the French, who do them best, say macaron). I have tried most of the flavours offered by the famed Parisian store Ladurée, and have been determined to try my hand at creating my very own macarons. I've heard a few horror stories from people who have tried, and failed, to bake these pretty delicacies but nevertheless, I recruited a friend and bravely entered the kitchen armed with a recipe and the correct (or so I thought) ingredients.

Things started out well as we separated the eggs and triple-sifted the dry ingredients, but the calm was quickly shattered by the discovery that we had no implement to whisk the egg whites. We tried using a soup mixer, and I can now recommend that you steer clear of that option! We took a quick break to pop down to the local mall and buy an electric whisk, separated a new batch of eggs, and tried again. This time it was successful, and we took a moment to congratulate ourselves on creating a thick, glossy meringue mixture. We added the sugar, flavouring (simple vanilla essence) and colour (we were trying to get a sea-foam green, in honour of Kate's wedding), and then folded in the dry ingredients. It was at this point that we noticed how chunky the almond meal looked, and how textured the mixture was. It didn't look right, but we kept going, hoping that somehow in the cooking process the mixture would magically become smooth.

Alas, this was not the case. After baking the macaron shells for the specified time, it was clear that they were going to remain lumpy and that the almond meal we had used simply was not fine enough. Also, we had been a little too relaxed with our piping, and so the shells were all different sizes, which was not what we had planned! The other interesting result was that the colour had faded during the cooking process and was now little more than an off-white shade. Disappointing; but we decided to reserve judgement until we had tasted a completed macaron. 

Whilst the shells were cooling, we created a simple white chocolate buttercream for the filling, and then assembled our slightly rustic versions of the macaron. The finished product was slightly more unsightly than desired, but upon tasting them, we declared them a success. As a true macaron should be, they had a crispy shell but were chewy inside. They were light, delicate and flavoursome, and the buttercream filling was divine! 

Round one of Me vs. Macarons was mostly a success, although not so much aesthetically, and I learned the following lessons to prepare me for round two:
- use extremely fine, almost powdered, almond meal
- don't try to whisk egg whites with anything other than an electric whisk
- use more food colouring than required, as the shells will fade in the oven
- try to pipe all of the shells to same size
- white chocolate buttercream is awesome
- enjoy the process and don't worry if they're not perfect - chances are they're still delicious!

Below is the recipe I used for both the macarons and the buttercream, but you can do any flavour combination you like! 

Macaron Recipe (from the MasterChef Australia website):

225g icing sugar
130g almond meal
3 egg whites
60g caster sugar
flavouring (such as vanilla essence), to taste
a few drops of food colouring                 

  Step 1: Preheat oven to 120°C. 

Step 2: Sift icing sugar and almond meal into one bowl. Sift the mixture into a second bowl, then sift ingredients back into the original bowl (almond meal mixture is to be sifted 3 times).

Step 3: In an electric mixer, add 3 egg whites and whisk until doubled in size. While machine is running, slowly add the caster sugar, then whisk until mixture forms firm peaks. Add flavouring to taste, then carefully add food colouring.

Step 4: Fold almond meal mixture into the coloured meringue until the mixture is smooth and glossy, then place mixture into a piping bag. Pipe 4-5cm diameter circles onto a lined baking tray. Leave to rest for 20 minutes until macarons form a skin.

Step 5: Place macarons into the oven, bake for 20 minutes or until macarons can be lifted from the tray. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

White chocolate buttercream filling:

100g unsalted butter at room temperature
100g icing sugar
100g white chocolate

Slowly melt white chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Using electric whisk, cream the butter and icing sugar together, then slowly add melted chocolate. Note: this recipe can be modified to create a better consistency - if it's looking too dry, add some more butter; too wet, add a bit more icing sugar - there's no fine art to it!

Good luck! 
I'd love to know: have you tried to bake macarons? How did they turn out? 
Are there any pearls of wisdom you can pass on to us?

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