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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Vanilla macarons with salted caramel buttercream

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Vanilla macarons with salted caramel buttercream.

I didn’t:
-age my egg whites
-use cream of tartar or other stabilizer
-add caster sugar slowly or separately to egg whites
-use a silicon mat

I did:
-bang trays with piped macarons on cupboard
-let them sit and dry out for about half an hour
-bake each tray separately
-sift the almond meal and icing sugar

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For the filling, I made a caramel sauce from white sugar by melting it, alone, in a saucepan. I then added warm cream and melted in some butter and salt.

Once it had cooled, I gently whisked it into some buttercream until I reached the desired consistency and flavour.

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My Ugly ‘Rons

Baked my first batch of macarons today. Followed this recipe, which was very well-written.

One variation I made was adding in 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste prior to folding.

I didn’t have a piping bag or nozzle so used a zip seal bag, which resulted in slightly oval macarons!

I also didn’t give my tray a good bang on the bench before baking,  which I later learnt helps reduce cracking.

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Had my oven on 150 degrees C (fan forced oven but on non-fan setting) for a touch over the recommended time.

Top tray was placed in the upper-mid shelf of my oven. I made the error of putting my second tray in at the same time,  which resulted in some cracking and no feet (the thin bubbly lip/base of macaron). I presume this was because of the oven temp being too low.

Next time I will half bake the top tray then move to a lower shelf,  and then put the second tray where the top tray was.

Top tray baked quote well. No cracks, but feet maybe a little large.  I think next time I will turn oven temp up 5 to 10 degrees. A little lumpy too – perhaps just a fraction more folding before I pipe the ‘rons.

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Filling: standard buttercream icing to start. I then added in a few drips of pink food dye, a couple of tbsp strawberry jam and a handful of white chocolate melted. I fridged the icing before filling.

Taste: my husband’s eyes lit up and a smile crept across his face. Much better than I expected.  Fragile and light, but crisp and chewy. Delish!!