Castell Macarons

Before I start baking I thoroughly clean my entire kitchen – put all dishes and other items away, then clean all surfaces.

I first use hot water and dishwashing detergent, followed by antibacterial spray and then on my macaron baking bench I wipe over with vinegar.

I also make sure that I am clean. Hair pulled back, headband to catch stray hairs, soap and warm water over my face and arms.

I then get out all my utensils and bowls, as well as my stand mixer and fittings and wipe everything again with vinegar and paper towel.

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Vinegar is a safe cleaning agent and removes traces of oils and fats. Oils and fats kill macaron shells – stops the egg whites from whisking properly and prevents it from holding shape.

Next I measure out all my ingredients by weight. I sift the almond meal and icing sugar and make sure all my ingredients are ready to go – for the shells; I worry about the fillings later.

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Apparently the egg whites should be ‘aged’ – approximately three days old after out of the shells. This can be achieved either by cracking them and leaving in a cling-wrap covered container in your fridge for three days or zapping them on the day at a low wattage in your microwave for 15 to 20 seconds, stirring in between.

I whisk the egg whites slowly first to allow the protein strands to gently begin unravelling. Once a little frothy, I add a teaspoon of vinegar to stabilize the whites. Alternatively, you could add a decent pinch of cream of tartar.

I turn up the stand mixer and add my caster sugar in three lots. I stop it every so often to check the consistency of the whites.

Still soft or can slide around bowl? Put it back on. Whisk until stiff peaks. This means you pull the whisk out and the egg white stands bolt up right. A teeny bend in the white peak is fine.

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Next the sifted and weighed almond meal and pure icing sugar or ‘tant pour tant’ (French for half and half) need to be folded into the egg whites.

This is also a good time to add the food colour. I like Wilson’s gel paste. $5-6 for a teeny tub, but a little goes a long way.

Do not use standard food dye – those bottles of liquid that can be bought at most supermarkets. They are too wet and will ruin your mixture.

Be careful with powders too. Some contain salt, which can also destroy the structure of the egg whites and cause cracked shells. Some powders are also oil-based. Oil and salt are bad news! Plus just a little bit of water causes the colour to run or stain, even once baked.

A good fold scoops down to the bottom of the bowl (usually towards yourself) and then tips the scoop of mixture back onto itself. You then rotate 90 degrees and repeat.

Until…

…the magic number of folds!

This magic number is usually around the 40 mark, but it depends on many factors and so counting alone will not work.

Here is the mixture after twenty folds…

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Here it is after forty-three folds. Perfect!

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You want the mix to drip in a relatively consistent stream of your spoon or spatula. People descrive it like ‘lava’ – because we’ve all seen real lava…

But think of it as kind of gluggy; it flows a bit then plops… You should see a ribbon of mixture from where you last folded it, but this should slowly fade away after 30 to 60 seconds.

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