Friday, 12 August 2011

Macarons – the fickle boyfriend of the confectionery world

This week I attended Cakes4Fun's inaugural macaroon class. I'd hummed and hah'd about the wisdom of going to London during the riots, but decided that the threat of violence and arson wasn't going to come between me and cake.

For the avoidance of doubt, macaroons here mean little pastel-coloured almond meringues. They are not the coconut haystacks we used to eat in the 70s, nor are they the chocolate and coconut bar of fondant inexplicably popular in Scotland. These are, in truth, macarons. Han has done some research and tells me they should apparently be called macarons a) so that people don't expect a coconut bun with a cherry on top and b) to make them sound posher.

I love macarons (see, I sound posh already!) but they're a rare treat as they are prohibitively expensive. I'd never baked them because I'd heard they were tricky with a 50 per cent failure rate and frankly I can't cope with that kind of rejection. Not from a biscuit. So when Cakes4Fun announced a macaroon course I jumped at the chance to learn from the experts.

The instructor was Lisa, a lovely American lady who is a treasure trove of baking knowledge and a petite ball of energy. If Michael Bublé is reading and he's tired of that Argentinian model and wants more cake in his life, Lisa is the girl for you. (I've done my best, Lisa, the rest is up to you).

We worked in pairs. Excitingly, one of the places on the course had been purchased by a man, a creature rare as hens' teeth at Cakes4Fun. Even more excitingly, he was going to be pairing up with me. He never showed up. Perhaps he’d heard how over-excited I get.

We made two different types of batter using cooked and uncooked sugar. The cooked sugar method – Italian meringue - is more tricky but makes a smooth shiny macaroon that is slightly chewy in the middle. The uncooked sugar method – French meringue – is easier but makes a more brittle macaroon that has a rougher shell. For taste and appearance, the smooth Italian beat his pimply French cousin hands down.

Once the macaroons had been baked in pretty pastel colours, the next step was matchmaking. This is as frustrating as it is in real life. At first glance, the macaroons all look like they’d get on famously, but start pairing them up and you quickly realise that some are too big, too small, too oval or too cracked to make a real go of a steady relationship. But by and large there is the perfect match for every macaroon and that special bond can be cemented with jam, buttercream or ganache.
Lemon, pistachio, chocolate and raspberry.
Note to self: do not get drunk on the train home and let a Scottish family eat all the raspberry ones.
I’ll be honest - some macaroons didn’t bake properly. Some never found their other half. Some were simply not ready to commit. But all was not lost – as Hello! magazine would put it, the forsaken macaroons can find “the happiness of new love” in another dessert, perhaps crushed over ice cream or inside that king of puddings, Eton Mess.

I loved the macaroon course and am certainly going to try them at home, aiming to recreate Lisa’s perfect macaroon with little “feet”. 
In this photo you can see the macaron's "feet". Jeez, some people talk about cakes as if they're human.
I was given Jose Maréchal’s book "Secret of Macarons" for my birthday and am going to try some new flavours, starting with Mr Salted Caramel. I’ve had my eye on him for some time and I think it’s time to make my move.


  1. Great post, I first attempted macaroons (sorry I struggle to be posh but you know the ones I'm talking about!) 6 months ago. 10 or so batches later I can report a 50/50 success rate but I have only be going the French route. Been toying with trying a new recipes as despite the failures I am addicted! It's a complex love/hate relationship I seem to have developed but the success of a pretty box of treats (complete with feet) is so worth it. Oh, and Mr Salted Caramel is divine ;)

  2. nom nom - they look so yummy. i think i need to book a visit to eat some, i mean see you.