Not to be confused with coconut macaroons…macarons are a sugary French delicacy, think little domed, almondy meringue biscuits sandwiched together with something sticky and decadent. They are a treat I'd tried in Parisian cafés but never been brave enough to bake before. However with some encouragement from Niamh of Trusted Places, moral support from a whole host of fellow food bloggers (Lizzie, Su-Lin, Krista, Josh, Alice, Helen, Jonathan, Abi, Kang, Tom, Bron, Mark, Mia and Shuna) and expert instruction from our teacher Baldwin, on Saturday the impossible became possible.
We split into four teams, each of which was assigned a different flavour of macaron. My team was tasked with the Foie Gras & Porto variety, a sophisticated flavour combination in chic cement-grey. Another first for me was de-veining the foie gras, a messy job but very satisfying. Rather like walking barefoot in mud and letting it squidge between your toes, we plunged our fingers into the foie, squeezed and pulled it apart, ripping out the veins wherever we found them (much to the revulsion of our vegan videographer!). We then simply whizzed this up in the machine with some porto, butter and cream to make a super-rich and luxurious filling.
We then moved on to the basic recipe for the outer macaron shells, which was identical for all the teams save for the different lurid food colourings.
Basic Macaron recipe
350g icing sugar
250g ground almonds
215g egg whites
150g caster sugar
1) Preheat the oven to 160c. Whisk up the egg whites with a pinch of salt, add the caster sugar and beat until you have a stiff and glossy meringue mixture. Add food colouring of your choice.
2) Sift the almonds and icing sugar through a chinoise to get a fine powder.
3) Mix the dry ingredients with the meringue mixture throroughly. There's none of the usual gentle folding, in fact you're intentionally knocking the air back out of the meringue mixture. We used a plastic spatula to cut and fold the mixture until it was smooth and shiny. It is ready when a cut in the mixture absorbs back in 9-12 seconds.
4) Use a piping bag to pipe macarons onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray. The trick is to let the tip of the piping bag rest on the greaseproof paper at a 45 degree angle and increase the pressure without moving the bag. This makes the macaroons perfectly circular.
5) To get the air bubbles out of the macarons (and therefore stop them cracking open in the oven), drop the trays onto the worktop hard!
6) Let the macarons dry for 15 minutes at room temperature. They are ready to cook when they are just "touch dry".
7) Cook for about 15-20 minutes in the oven.
8) Leave to cool on the tray, then sandwich together with your choice of filling.
It is really up to you and your imagination as to what to fill your macarons with. Some great filling ideas from around the blogosphere can be found. How about chocolate ganache, passion fruit or cardomom, wattle seed and orange? Even Nutella would go down a treat I'm sure.
After almost two hours of slaving in the kitchen, we finally got our just desserts (literally). The foie gras teamed perfectly with the sweet, crunchy and slightly gooey macaron casings, rather as it does with a sticky dessert wine. I also adored the golden-brown salt caramel variety. The raspberry & rosewater were subtle and fragrant, belying their razzle-dazzle-red exterior, and the lime & ginger were zingy and refreshing in a zippy green. After trying one of each flavour, we picked up our doggie bags (haggling/bargaining/fighting for our favourite flavours where necessary) and tottered on our sugar-fuelled way.
L'Atelier des Chefs was the perfect place to pick up a tricky new skill in a relaxed atmosphere. Of course if you're not willing or able to go to all that trouble you can pick up a few macarons from Laduree. However, all that labour comes at a price. And you wouldn't have half as much fun…
I'm back from the wilderness, the arctic tundra to be precise, where I've been spotting polar bears, braving blizzards and, of course, finding all the best places to eat.
First, let me just say that Churchill, Manitoba, Canada is NOT a gourmet destination. With a population of around 900 people and no roads linking it to the rest of the country, Churchill has something of a captive audience. And in polar bear season, when the bears gather near Churchill in readiness to go north for seal hunting as soon as the sea freezes, it's pretty hard to get a table anywhere.
Gypsys is known as the "Place to be in Churchill" and is certainly a favourite with all the tour guides and drivers. It is always packed full of locals and tourists alike, staggering in from the sub-zero temperatures to tuck into something great.
And when the weather's like this....
You need food like this...
Ah yes, the Gypsys Bakery long john. It's a super-sized, super-sweet chocolate eclair. Quite simply the best foodie experience in Churchill. Unless you're a bear of course, in which case a nice bite of ring seal will go down nicely (don't watch if of a nervous / seal loving disposition!).
It was officially Chocolate Week last week, so to celebrate I made a batch of this easy chocolate and peanut "fudge". It's very addictive and I ended up feeding it to my colleagues to stop myself eating the whole box!
Chocolate and Peanut Fudge
200g smooth peanut butter
250g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces (or buy chips)
Two large handfulls of marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can condensed milk
1. Grease and line a 9 x 9 inch baking tin.
2. Mix together the chocolate pieces, marshmallows and condensed milk in a large saucepan. Melt to a smooth, gooey mixture over a low to medium heat - keep stirring and be careful not to burn the chocolate.
3. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla and peanut butter until everything is well combined.
4. Spoon the mixture into the lined tin and spread with a palette knife so the mixture covers the tin evenly.
5. Once the mixture has cooled to room temperature, pop it into the fridge for at least an hour before cutting it into squares.
This will last 10 days in the fridge....if you let it!