Duncan of Syrup & Tang has been spreading the gospel on the sugary delights of macarons (light almond meringue biscuits sandwiched with sweet flavoured filling) to the ignorant and enlightened alike within the Melbourne blogosphere, and I had not been immune. In my previous post I touched on the challenge of gifting something small but different as celebratory bonbons in place of the usual cellophane wrapped handful of chocolate and lollies bought from the supermarket. Having recalled vague distant memories of macarons due to recent postings about these delights in the local food blogs, I too was struck with the idea that some homebaked ones would make ideal and unique cellophane fillers. Yeah right...how was I to know that the process would be so fraught with the need for fiddly details, requiring prerequisite degrees in both food chemistry and would you believe, meteorology! Luckily Duncan had most accommodatingly provided step-by-step protocols (erm...recipes) for those who wished to try their hand at making some.
I won't detail Duncan's recipe here as it's readily accessible in all its eloquent glory at his own site. Suffice to say that I followed his Italian meringue recipe pretty much to the letter, deciding on a base vanilla flavour provided from scrapings of a split vanilla bean. I confess that my first attempt at baking the macarons was total and humbling failure, resulting in sticky, soft, ugly pock-marked flat wafers that looked nothing like the gloriously smooth-domed wonders that they're meant to be! Well I put that setback down to my optimisation phase, convinced that I'd overmixed all the air out of the batter. My confidence recovered a day or two later for another attempt, this time deciding to divide the blended dry ingredients into exact halves by weight in order to add different flavourings and/or colourings to each. One half with just red liquid food colouring, and the other half-a-batch with some matcha green tea powder plus some extra green from food colouring (for the festive red and green gift-set). I also took extra care not to overmix the batter once the meringue was folded in! Imagine my excitement when after approximately 5 minutes in the oven my macarons started to rise off their 'feet' and to form perfectly smooth domes. Unfortunately, the second red half produced a drier batter and was not as successful although the resultant macarons still rose but their feet puffed out sideways and their domes were quite lumpy. Not quite as picturesque as their green counterparts. Overall though, I was more than pleased with the results from only two attempts. Think I'll now leave home-baked macarons alone for awhile however. By all accounts, continuing with such fallacious confidence and sense of tantalising achievement would be tempting fate!
Festive macarons in seasonal green and red livery
I sandwiched the macarons with a dark chocolate ganache flavoured with Cointreau and a faint hint of chilli, for that 'secret' buzz of something indiscernibly special (grated orange zest and dried chilli flakes were added to the cream for boiling then sieved before adding to blitzed chocolate and the liqueur added when cooled). The flavours in the matcha macarons in particular were heavenly. Feedback from those that received some of these macarons have yielded comments in the vein of, "These are the best cookies! What are they and where did you buy them?" Thank you Syrup & Tang!