Much like dreaded dinner party nemesis the soufflé, macarons have earned themselves a bit of a reputation as a difficult beast. Browse your favourite blogs or recipe sites and you’re sure to encounter strict words of warning and reams of advice; how to avoid the shell cracking, how to achieve the perfect raised ‘feet’, the importance of almonds and why ageing your egg whites is crucial. It’s enough to put off even the most intrepid of bakers.
At the end of the summer I joined Mactweets, a ‘virtual Mac Kitchen’ which sets its members a new challenge each month, allowing them to share the highs (and lows) of their attempts at macaron mastery. I’ve made a fair few batches of macarons now, and what I have learnt is this…
Macaron making is not a mysterious art. And it’s not subject to quite as many rules and regulations as you might think. It’s simply a question of understanding your ingredients, of knowing your oven and of practising to make perfect. Too many good blog posts have addressed this issue for me to expand on it in any depth, but if you’re new to macarons, do read Stella from Brave Tart’s brilliant – and refreshing – take on macaron making here.
Whatever your attitude to macarons, if you love to bake then mastery of this sweet treat is a must. And if you want to master macarons, Adriano Zumbo is your man. If Pierre Hermé is the king of macarons, Zumbo is his bolshy younger brother and a strong contender for the crown. Living up to the Willy Wonka tattoo emblazoned across his right bicep, this incredible Sydney-based patissier approaches life like a kid in a candy shop, creating wild and wacky combinations of flavour and texture to wow, shock and confound the expectations of his audience.
Some of his more bonkers concoctions include kalamata olive, pig’s blood and hamburger macarons (that’s three separate flavours mind, although it wouldn’t surprise me if he put them all together), alongside seasonal ranges of more traditional flavour combinations; coffee crème brûlée, raspberry shortbread and salted butter popcorn. While delighting in different tastes and textures, he also experiments with the shape of his macarons, and couple of years back produced a candy cane macaron for Gourmet Traveller magazine, shaped like a shepherd’s crook and filled with minty sweet ganache.
This post is inspired by that recipe. I’d originally planned to make chocolate orange macarons for my Mactweets challenge – I always get a Clementine and a little bag of chocolate coins at the end of my stocking, so the combination is one of my ultimate festive flavours – but when out shopping last weekend I spied the cutest little box of candy canes. Their toothpaste stripes and super sweet, tooth-rotting properties immediately put me in mind of my macaron challenge (macarons are delicious, but tend to be tooth-itchingly sweet), so I promptly set about googling recipes that could incorporate my purchase.
Crushing the candy to make my ganache, I was struck by how sparkly and festive the shards of sugar looked. So rather than shaping my macarons into canes, I’ve gone for a more traditional round, rolling the edges in the crushed candy for added texture and crunch. It works beautifully against the creamy white chocolate and peppermint centre, adding an extra dimension to create a crispy, chewy, sugary mouthful of macaron. I’ve also added a little cinnamon to my shells for festive flavour, and dusted the tops with some edible green glitter.
The result is a super-sweet minty treat, perfect for the season’s festivities. It’s also a great way of using up leftover candy canes if you find you’ve got a glut after Christmas. Whilst finishing off my batch of macarons, I remembered a stash of chocolate coins we haven’t quite managed to get through yet. Dark chocolate and peppermint is a winning combination, so if there’s any chocolate left after our Christmas feasting (who knows, stranger things have happened), I’m going to stir some into ganache for a richer, darker, more chocolaty variation on this recipe.
What flavours make you think of Christmas? What are you hoping to find at the bottom of your stocking? And do you ever have leftover chocolate, sweets and other treats after the big day?
White Chocolate & Peppermint Candy Cane Macarons (adapted from the Gourmet Traveller recipe)
For the macarons
150g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
150g caster sugar
110g egg whites
Few drops red food colouring
For the ganache
100g white chocolate, chopped
20g candy canes (about 2), crushed with a rolling pin plus extra to decorate
75ml double cream
Few drops peppermint essence
40g butter, chopped into pieces
Preheat oven to 140 degrees C. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
Blitz the ground almonds and icing sugar in a blender, then sieve. Combine the caster sugar and 40ml water in a pan, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes. If you have a sugar thermometer (I don’t) it should reach 121 degrees C.
Meanwhile, whisk 55g of egg white with an electric mixture, gradually adding your syrup to both sides of the bowl. Whisk for a further 3 minutes until the mixture is luke warm, then stir into the almond and icing sugar mixture. Add remaining eggwhite and your pinch of cinammon, then fold carefully to combine. Slap excess air out of white mixture with a spatula.
Fill a piping bag with your mixture and pipe small rounds onto your prepared trays, about the size of a two pound coin. Firmly tap the trays on the worksurface to expel excess air, then leave to rest until a skin forms and mixture doesn’t stick to your finger when touched (about an hour). Bake until firm and tops are set (10-12 minutes), then leave to cool on the trays.
For the ganache, put the crushed candy canes in a pan and melt without stirring over a medium-high heat until caramelised (4-5 minutes). Warm the cream in another pan, then add to the caramelized candy canes, shaking the pan until combined. Add the chopped chocolate and peppermint essence, stir until melted, then add the butter. Pop the ganache in the fridge to firm up (about an hour).
When you’re ready to assemble the macarons, fill a piping bag with your ganache. Pipe a ring of ganache onto the flat side of one macaron, then sandwich with another, allowing filling to spill slightly over the edge. Roll your macaron in the remaining crushed candy cane to coat the outside.
If you leave your macarons for one day, the flavours really develop and the contrast of crispy, chewy shell and thick, creamy ganache is gorgeous. They should last up to 2 days in an airtight container.