For Christmas last year I received a voucher from my in-laws for the Essential Ingredient Cooking School. It’s fair to say that I absolutely lost it when I was looking through the course guide and found a class hosted by Adriano Zumbo entitled ‘Pastry: Meringue to Macaron’. I immediately booked in and have been eagerly awaiting the class since March.
The class covered quite a bit of ground, with demonstrations on making Italian, Swiss and French Meringues as well as the aforementioned macarons (plain and chocolate) and five different fillings.
We started the class with a demonstration of Adriano’s basic macaron recipe (a version of which is available here), before we tackled making the macarons ourselves.
Adriano recommends using an Italian meringue to make the macarons. A French meringue can be used, but it is a drier style meringue which will produce drier macarons. French meringue is also more difficult to work with and is best suited to making stand alone meringues which are baked or dehydrated. Swiss meringue is similar to the Italian meringue but is used for topping tarts (such as lemon meringue pie) and for aerating mousses and buttercreams. Here are some of Adriano’s creations:
The top picture are little animals made from French meringues and under that, lemon tartlettes topped with Swiss meringue.
The basic way to make macarons is to make an Italian meringue by heating a sugar syrup (sugar and water), then combining with egg whites in an electric mixer and beating until thick and cooled. Make a mixture of almond meal and icing sugar (called tant pour tant, literally ‘half and half’), pour some eggwhite on the tant pour tant, then pour the meringue on top. Gently fold together, then pipe the mixture in circles onto trays and bake.
Regular readers will know I have somewhat of a macaron obsession, despite my inability to make decent ones myself. In fact, my macaron failure was one topic of our very first blog post (which also contains a picture of an incredibly sad macaron). I have since had some other (unblogged) failures and definitely need some help.
Adriano was a great teacher and had lots of tips and tricks for macaron success. Nonetheless, he emphasised that macarons are largely based on feel and practice makes perfect. Looks like I have several more dud batches in my future then!
Tips for macaron success
- Egg whites – old egg whites are more watery than new egg whites and therefore aerate better. Egg whites are used in the macaron recipe firstly to make the meringue and secondly, as an addition to the tant pour tant (almond meal and icing mixture). It is best to use old egg whites for the meringue and fresh for the tant pour tant. Age your egg whites by leaving them on the bench for a couple of days. Egg whites should be used at room temperature.
- Use egg white powder as well as egg whites to help achieve a more stable mixture.
- Use pure icing sugar, not icing sugar mixture.
- It’s okay to use almond meal but you can get better results if you process blanched almonds in a food processor yourself, as the powder will be finer.
- When making the tant pour tant (almond meal and icing sugar) you can process the mixture in a food processor to make it finer. It is very important to sift the tant pour tant (ie. both the almond meal and the icing sugar together) prior to using it. Don’t sift each ingredient separately and then combine them.
- It is best to add any food colourings to the sugar syrup, rather than later on to the meringue. This is because colourings ordinarily contain liquid and adding liquid can change the structure of the meringue.
- When making the sugar syrup, the sugar and water should reach between 118C and 121C. It is easier to get an accurate measurement using an electronic thermometer as the mixture is not very deep. If you overheat your mixture, you can add some extra cold water to reduce the heat.
- If you overheat the sugar syrup and still use it, this is what happens:
Yes, I managed to overcook the sugar syrup and ruin the meringue. Basically, if the sugar syrup is too hot, it hardens when it hits the bowl, rather than being incorporated in the meringue. If this happens it is best to start again as your mixture is ruined. We actually baked up this mixture and you can see the results below (if I could describe them in one word, it would be FAIL).
- Use two trays stacked on top of each other – this prevents the bottoms of the macarons from drying out due to direct heat (though I note that Duncan believes that whether you need to double tray depends on your oven).
- Stop whisking the meringue while it is still a little warm, if the mixture is too cold it will hold too much air.
- Gently fold the meringue together with the tant pour tant and the extra eggwhite.
- The mixture should be fairly loose (some have described it as molten lava). If the mixture is too thick, knock the air out of it by slapping the mixture with a spatula.
- When piping, evenly space the macarons. For beginners it is easiest to draw a template of the circles, this will also help make the macaron shells even in size.
Note that the mixture in the picture above is awful and lumpy due to my overcooking of the sugar syrup. In comparison, below are Adriano’s macarons:
- Once you have finished piping, tap underneath the tray a few times to knock out extra air.
- To create ‘feet’ on the macarons, it is important to dry the shell. You can do this in the oven by heating the oven to 200C, then immediately switching it off when you put the macarons in. Wait 10 minutes, then turn the oven back on at 150C and cook for 5-6 minutes. Alternatively, leave the shells on the bench until they have formed a skin and are touch-dry (ie. you can touch them with your finger and the mixture will not stick). Then cook the macarons for 15-18 minutes at 135C.
- Knowing when the macarons are cooked is a matter of feel. To check if your macarons are cooked, pick one up. It should easily come away from the tray and appear to be set when you gently jiggle it.
- If your mixture wasn’t perfect it will be pretty obvious once the macarons are baked:
The top batch was made by another group in the class. The bottom batch was made with the overcooked sugar syrup.
- Cool the macaron shells on their trays before filling.
Thankfully, one batch we made worked perfectly.
Cool and then sandwich with the filling of your choice. This one is raspberry with a shortbread centre:
Here, the back macarons are filled with salted caramel buttercream, the front with chestnut buttercream and passionfruit ganache
We also made choc-mint aero and chocolate with fig and foie gras.
Finally, we got to taste a batch made by Adriano (something I was very excited about given what happened last time I had Adriano’s macarons):
All in all, it was a wonderful day and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The Essential Ingredient Cooking School organises its schedule in the early part of the year so it is unclear whether this class will be available in 2011. However, I note that Adriano offers classes at his Rozelle premises.
We took our creations home to enjoy. Apparently macarons are best served the day after they are made… though I’m not sure they will last that long!
Essential Ingredient Cooking School
Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, South Yarra VIC 3141
Ph: (03) 9827 9047