I spent a year obsessing over French macarons. If ever a patisserie demanded accuracy in cooking, it’s these – the delicate, crisp shell should give way to slightly chewy almond sponge, then a rich filling. In the oven, the domes should rise but not over-inflate and there should be
a lifting that reveals the 'foot' or underside of the sponge.
My macaron odyssey ended in Paris, with a course given at the Alain Ducasse cookery school. The main thing I took away was to age the egg whites for as long as possible to avoid flat, overly chewy discs. See my tips, on page 152, for nailing the true French version, but if you want to be more slapdash, don’t worry – yours won’t look like the famous Ladurée macarons, but they will taste just as good.
If you can’t wait to age the egg whites,
my advice is to add an extra 45 g/11⁄2 oz/ 1⁄2 cup of ground almonds – the results will be more cakey, but at least they won’t be failed French macarons.
my tips for the über-macaroon experience:
1. Sift the icing sugar with the ground almonds twice.
2. Use old egg white, not fresh – leave it out, covered, overnight or for two days.
3. Fold and mix the batter to the right consistency. Many people describe it as being like lava: wet but as firm as porridge; it will fall and leave a trail when you lift the spatula.
4. Keep the mounds that you pipe small and even. Start from a central point, letting the batter pipe outwards.
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Rhubarb ice cream
Sweat the rhubarb with the sugar and a tiny splash of water in a pan on a medium heat until the mixture is pulpy, about 10–15 minutes. If the fruit isn’t as pink as you’d like, add a drop of food colouring. Pour the stewed rhubarb into a measuring jug – it should give you about 400 ml/14 fl oz/13⁄4 cups. Make it up to 600 ml/20 fl oz/21⁄2 cups with the milk. Purée in a food processor or with a hand blender until smooth.
Break the egg whites into a clean, grease-free container and put them aside to use in the macaroons. Put 3 yolks into another bowl, or straight into a cold saucepan, and stir in the rhubarb mixture slowly. Place the pan over a low heat and stir until the custard has thickened. The custard is ready when you notice a change in consistency on the back of your spoon. Leave to cool completely, then whisk in the cream.
Churn in a machine, or stir-freeze: put the tub in your freezer, then every 30 minutes mash the frozen edges with a fork or hand blender, until smooth and firm.
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas mark 2. Line two flat baking trays with baking parchment, or use silicone mats. Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds into a bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they turn foamy, then add 30 g/1 oz/1⁄4 cup of extra icing sugar. Whip to a stiff and glossy meringue.
Fold the icing sugar and almond mixture into the meringue in two batches, using a spatula or large spoon, and turning the bowl to help bring it all together. Add the vanilla extract and mix the batter more firmly until it leaves a trail that subsides in the mix when you lift the spatula.
Pipe 5 cm/2 in diameter circles onto the baking trays or silicone mats. Once you’ve piped the mounds, let them sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. This forms a skin that lifts in the oven, creating that 'foot'. Bake for 10–13 minutes, until the macaroons do not wobble to the touch.
Remove the macaroons from the oven but leave them on the trays to cool. When the macaroons are completely cold, use a palette knife or a sharp knife to lift them from the baking parchment or mats. It helps if you clean the knife between removing each one. Laborious I know, but I’ve found this to be the best way.
To serve, scoop ice cream between two little shells, sandwich-style.
One of the beauties of the macaroon is its freezeability. You can make them up and pop them back in the freezer for up to a week. They defrost quickly; serve when the ice cream is still firm but the icy edge has gone.