Six years ago I went to Paris with a friend for five amazing days. It was the beginning of my very own love affair with The City of Light. I had been briefly before but it was that visit that took my breath away from the moment I stepped onto the platform at the Gare du Nord. Mention the word Paris and I take on a far away look. Of course it has become even more special as it’s where Mr R proposed one hot August day in 2009 sitting on a bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Back in 2007 the word macaron (or rather macaroon) conjured up visions of a sweet coconut confection found in the cake shops at home. Nice, but nothing special. I had bought at least six guide books to take to Paris, chosen mainly for the eating out section. Never mind the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Bateaux Mouches, I wanted to read about the fabulous restaurants, cafes and markets that the city is famous for. Unfortunately for me our spending money didn’t stretch to sampling much in the way of a a gastronomic feast and my friend didn’t share the same passion for food as I did. She was quite happy to grab a croissant or baguette and spend more time sightseeing! But one treat we did promise ourselves was a trip to Laduree, the fabulous patisserie and salon de the famous for its macarons. Apparently very different from what you you would pick up at a Gregg’s counter ! The window display groaned with a mass of the prettiest little discs of almond sweetmeats of every colour and flavour imaginable. The packaging equally gorgeous. Our afternoon tea was a treat, but . and I still don’t understand why to this day, I ordered an eclair! I was in Laduree and not one macaron passed my lips! Sacre bleu!
The opportunity passed me by and I never got to try one of these little delicacies until last year. Our wedding last year was styled with little nods to Paris here and there. As well as my cupcakes and a cutting cake I wanted macarons. Getting them from Laduree wasn’t an option, but we were able to order some on-line. Sadly, yet again I failed to enjoy as much as a nibble. Caught up in the excitement of the day, eating was low down on my list of priorities.
It wasn’t until we went on our honeymoon to the south of France that I finally got the chance to try my first macaron. Mr R would go to madame’s boulangerie every morning, and along with baguettes, croissants,pain au raisins and pain au chocolat he would bring back a little bag with two macarons. Usually lemon and violet flavour sometimes raspberry if I was lucky. If Laduree were the couture of macarons, then madame’s were definitely off the peg. But it didn’t matter. The wait for my first macaron was well worth it.
For months now I’ve been toying with the idea of making my own. I’d heard that they are notoriously tricky to get right and thought that they were way beyond my baking skills. I made the excuse that I didn’t have an electric hand whisk. But then my mum bought me one. Then it was that I didn’t have the correct piping nozzle. But then I went and bought one. Excuses, excuses, excuses ! Then, two weeks ago I took the bull by the horns. It was now or never and whipped up my first batch….that went straight in the bin! Cracked and brown, they looked nothing like the real thing. But I was not going to give up. Next batch were a whole heap better but still not smooth and shiny, and no sign of that distinctive edge to each shell called “the foot”. I can’t eat 20 macarons ( that’s so not true) so I took them into work where they were deemed delicious. But I still wasn’t happy. I wanted the little fellas to look like the real macoy. I would not rest until this was achieved. One night a few days ago I was wide awake at 3am looking up as much information on how to get it right. There was so much conflicting advice. Age your egg whites. Don’t age your egg whites. Make Italian meringue. Don’t bother with an Italian meringue. Leave to dry out for 10 minutes. Leave to dry out for several hours. Aaaagh…what to do?
In the end I aged my egg whites overnight. Made a straight forward meringue. And this is the important bit. Got the macronage right. This is the process of adding the dry mixture to the meringue. Underwork and its too thick and will be lumpy. Overworked and it will be too runny and spread.I banged the tins to get rid of air bubbles and left them to dry for an hour. Twelve minutes in the oven and out they came…perfect. They even had “feet” ! Talk about being over the moon! Cooled down they were filled with lemon curd and voila..twenty four professional looking macarons.
So, it’s goodbye cupcakes now, and hello macarons. Better go and buy some more eggs. I have a feeling that whisk is going to be busy!