The warm sun was beaming down on my skin and for the first time this year it felt like Spring was around the corner. It was half term and I found myself in Covent Garden, London indulging in one of my favourite past times. People watching.
I absolutely love being in London and I adore pottering around Covent Garden. Most school breaks I find myself there, and with Mr D based there for work it’s a perfect excuse to go down. Off he goes to work and off I go exploring. I can meander around, taking my time to look at rubbish and whilst he usually has the patience of a saint with me, I love not having to worry about him being bored. I’m also pretty sure he enjoys not having to listen to my constant ‘oooh look at that’, ‘oh can we just nip in here?’ ‘i’ve heard of this thing, can we go find it?’ chat.
Anyway, recently I have been on a one woman mission to perfect my French macaron making skills, and as I sat there on my bench encased in a beautiful flowerbed, the hustle and bustle of London sounds filling my ears there it was. Laduree. The matriarch of the macaron.
If you’ve never stepped foot in a Laduree shop, you should. The ambience is French chic at its finest, soft pastel colours adorn the walls, only to be broken by the ornate gold decorations surrounding the shiny glass counters. Their perfectly uniform shapes sit there on display in an array of bright colours which hint at their flavours. At around £15 for a box of six, they’re not the cheapest snack but are a worth it for a special treat. I absolutely love macarons and getting to eat them in Paris last year for my birthday is a special memory for me. I have no shame in admitting I ate the whole box to myself whilst we were there. Mainly because Mr D is allergic to nuts, but if I’m completely honest I’m not sure I’d have shared them even if he wasn’t!
Back to London, there I sat thinking about the hours I’d spent baking macs and to my family and I they taste great. Over the weeks I’d researched and worked on the important bits, the smooth crisp outer shell, the chewy middle, the feet, the perfect size bla bla bla. ‘Ive nailed it’ I thought. But had I? Did I dare go into Laduree and remind myself of what a proper macaron tasted like and allow it to put all my work to shame? I’d not bought a macaron since Paris, how would mine compare? Had I forgotten what a macaron should really taste like and convinced myself mine were great?
Non the less, in to the shop I went, selected two flavours and did a little squee of excitement when I noticed my spot amongst the flower beds hadn’t been taken. I can’t explain to you how content I was sat there in the sunshine watching the world go by. It was the kind of content happiness you feel when you really are enjoying the moment. No life stress, not thinking about work, I had nowhere else I needed to be and I’m the type of person who is perfectly happy and confident in her own company.
I went in for the kill. They were exactly as I remembered. Perfectly shiny and crisp on top with a lovely fluffy yet chewy centre and yes, I allowed myself to think it… ‘just like mine’ But you know what else I thought? Mine are a hell of a lot prettier! Whoever had piped them that day was clearly in a rush as they certainly were not the perfect uniform shape I’d eaten so many times before. They also looked like they’d been bashed about. But anyway… They nail the mix between sweet and tart on the fruit flavours every single time! I’m not so much a fan of the sweet fillings despite having the sweetest tooth in the world. I much prefer the mix between sweet and sour. If they ever bring the passionfruit filling back they did as a special a few years ago then I will happily bankrupt myself to stock them in my freezer for all time.
I’m glad I went and bought some, and actually, I’m glad they weren’t the perfect macs we are so used to seeing! I spend a lot of time looking at recipes online, scrolling through picture-after-picture of perfectly neat and uniform macarons. I had driven myself bonkers being over critical and this little taste test was a lovely little confidence booster actually and made me realise that mine are just as lovely (i’m sure a pastry chef would have something to say but – i aint no chef!). Am i allowed to say it? Obviously i still have the odd disaster but i’m nailing more than i’m failing and MY MACS ARE AWESOME. If the odd cracked or wobbly one is ok by Laduree then its ok by me!
Am I a pro? No. Do my macs still fail? Yes. Do I always know why? No. Had I been way too hard on myself? Absolutely.
These are proper tricky little things to make, but I urge you to try and try again – they are not impossible to make, just tricky and I’m going to share with you a few resources and lessons I have learned along the way.
Firstly. Understand that you PROBABLY WILL NOT get them right on the first go. Or if you do, see if you can repeat it!
Secondly. So many factors can be to blame for them not turning out right. Over/under mixing the egg white, not the right food colouring, almonds too gritty, not letting them dry, batter too wet, oven too hot, oven too cold. You get the point, but with some troubleshooting and some trial and error you will start busting out some perfect macs and I promise you that the satisfaction of nailing them beats the frustration of all those failed attempts.
Macaronage. This is the act of folding the egg white into the dry ingredients and this is the bit you really need to nail as this is where you can make or break the macaron. This process starts off pretty dry but the more you fold the wetter the mixture becomes. Mix too much and you will be spooning out a watery mess, under mix and the batter will be too stiff to form into a macaron shape. It’s almost impossible to explain in words what you should be looking for apart from saying what everyone else says – ‘lava consistency’. It should be runny enough to run off the spatula in a constant lava type ribbon. I found this video a really helpful demonstration and it also details some great advice. When you are mixing, really take note of what it looks and feels like, the more times you try this process the more you will recognise the signs of under/over mixing and learn to stop when you reach that all important ‘lava’ consistency. My top tip here is to stop whisking the egg whites as soon as they reach stiff peaks. Over whipping can result in the batter being too dry and you will never reach the consistency you are after, you will end up folding the batter and it will seem to get thicker and thicker – not good.
Find good almond flour. Here in the UK our supermarkets don’t do almond flour well. It’s expensive and isn’t finely ground. I have been using Tesco products and I can honestly say that if I sieved a 250g bag and only used the super fine ‘macaron quality’ almond flour I’d end up discarding about 175g of the bag which would make macarons a very expensive bake. Note: I don’t actually discard that much because it’s wasteful, I just accept that my macs may not be perfectly smooth on top! Some recipes suggest blitzing it in a food processor, however when I have tried this it’s ruined my batter – the nuts release oils and this has caused my batter to stiffen up. You can find some great products online if you are willing to wait, if not then I find ASDA’s ground almonds (to my surprise) to be the happy medium between texture and price. Obviously sieve to remove the worst of the grit.
You MUST weigh your ingredients! I do not even continue to read a recipe if the ingredients are given in cups. I don’t care what any chef’s claim, it is impossible to accurately measure in cups and for macarons, accurate measuring is a necessity. Converting from cups to g/oz is also a waste of time, just find a recipe which gives you the ingredients by weight.
Be prepared to read! This blog post may seem a little long, but I assure you it’s nothing compared to some I read along the way. This is a great resource which talks about the process of making them and gives a very informative guide for trouble shooting. The recipe I use is from the same website and a link to that can be found here. I am by no means bashing any other recipes, this was about the fourth recipe I had tried and the first one to successfully work – maybe it was more the fact that my technique had improved my this point, however, this is the one I stick to as I know it by heart.
For consistent piping use a template under your baking parchment, you can find them easily on google but I use this free resource by Southern Fatty which you can find here
Finally, be patient, be forgiving and take notes. The more you try the more you will understand the process and will be consistently making good macs!