This recipe takes some patience but if you have a couple of bridesmaids who are dab hands in the kitchen, it’s so worthwhile. Peggy likes to use her own purple raspberry and rose jam for the filling, but you can create your own flavour combinations. This recipe makes approximately 50 macaroons or 100 shells.
INGREDIENTS 200g ground almonds * 200g icing sugar * 200g egg whites * 200g caster sugar * 100ml water * Food colour (optional)
EQUIPMENT Permanent marker pen * Round piping nozzle, 8mm (½in) in diameter (Peggy uses No. 12 from Wilton) * Small heart-shape cookie cutter (optional) * Sugar thermometer * Plastic piping bags
METHOD Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2. Cut sheets of baking parchment to fit a couple of oven trays. Using the fat end of a large round piping nozzle and a small heart-shape cookie cutter as templates, draw circles and hearts on the reverse side of the parchment at even intervals. In a food processor briefly pulse together the ground almonds and icing sugar until mixed well, sift into a large bowl and set aside. To make an Italian meringue, place the egg white in a clean, dry bowl. Reserve one tablespoon of the egg white to mix with the colouring later on. Place the caster sugar in a small saucepan with the water. Dissolve the sugar over a medium heat, then bring the sugar syrup to the boil. Using a sugar thermometer, measure the temperature of the syrup. When it reaches 115°C, slowly whisk the egg whites. Gradually increasing the whisking speed until the eggs are white and frothy. Once the syrup reaches 121°C, slow down the whisking and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a thin steady stream – pour down the side of the bowl so that the syrup doesn’t splash onto the whisk. Once all the syrup has been incorporated, continue whisking quickly until the meringue has cooled to room temperature; this will take about 5-10 minutes.
Adding colour Once the meringue has cooled, add your preferred colouring to the reserved tablespoon of egg white and then whisk into the meringue. Using the rubber spatula, fold the ground almond and sugar mixture into the meringue in three batches. Fold gently but thoroughly to ensure the mix is loose and smooth when piped. The amount you fold in here and the consistency you achieve is crucial; you want the mix to be even and fall easily off the spatula, but not so liquid that it doesn’t keep a good round shape when piped. Place the nozzle into the piping bag. Using a rubber spatula, half fill the piping bag with macaroon mixture.
Piping Use a little of the macaroon mix to secure the sheets of baking parchment in place; smear a small amount of mixture on each corner of the underside of the sheet. Using the circles you have drawn as a guide, pipe small rounds of mixture. To finish piping, stop applying pressure to the bag and flick the nozzle round in a small circular motion as you pull away. This avoids leaving a peak on top of the macaroon. For the hearts, pipe a blob at the top half of the heart and then drag it down to the bottom. Repeat on the other side. If the mixture is the correct consistency, any small trails should sink back to leave a smooth surface.
Drying out Once the macaroons are all piped, gently tap the tray on the work surface to bring any large air bubbles to the surface and pop them with a cocktail stick. Leave the macaroons to dry out a little on the surface; about 15-30 minutes in dry conditions. You should be able to gently touch the surface of the macaroon without your finger sticking.
Baking As soon as the macaroons have a dry skin, place them on the lower shelves in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 135°C/gas mark 1. If your oven bakes from the top, place a tray on the shelf above the macaroons to prevent the tops from browning too much. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, turning the trays halfway through the cooking time. The macaroons are done when the tops are dry. As soon as they are done, remove the tray from the oven and transfer the baking paper, with the macaroons still attached, directly onto a wet tea towel. Leave for a few minutes and then remove the macaroons.
Storage Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days or in the freezer for longer. Sandwich with your chosen filling on the day you want to eat and once filled put in the fridge for one hour before eating – this helps the macaroons to soften and the flavours to develop.
TROUBLESHOOTING Egg whites Separate a few days in advance and leave uncovered in the fridge to allow some of the moisture to evaporate and strengthen the whites. Bring the egg whites to room temperature before using. If in doubt, add a teaspoon of Meri-White to the egg whites to counteract any ‘watery-ness’. Drying It is important to let your macaroons dry on the surface before baking. If you don’t, the tops won’t be smooth and produce a good ‘foot’ on the bottom. Baking Every oven is different, so get to know your own oven and what temperature works best. Generally, a low temperature is important to prevent over-browning of the macaroons and a low shelf for the same reason. Some chefs find the macaroons can bake too quickly on the bottom and use two trays, one on top of the other. If you bake the macaroons for too long, they will lift easily off the paper but be a bit dry and possibly over-brown; to counteract the dryness. place them in an airtight container in the fridge for a day to soften. If they are not baked enough, they will be too soft and not lift off the paper properly; they will also sink back down and develop what look like grease spots on the top.