My best friends birthday was on Thursday, and as she loves Macaroons, particularly those from Laduree, I decided her cake just had to be decorated with them.
Now I've tried at various points over the past year to bake the perfect macaroon, but success has been elusive. They are currently my baking holy grail, but thus far I haven't even managed to get a recipe that gives consistent results, and I've tried a few.
I'll share with you the most successful recipe at the end, but first I have to have a little rant about Gordon Ramsey. Now, Ramsey is pretty successful over here in Britain, and mostly I like his recipes, but his recipe for Macaroons is just wrong. Not only did the results not look like macaroons (no feet see?) but they didn't taste like anything approximating a macaroon. While my trouble with most recipes was that I'm a perfectionist, and they didn't give me macaroons with crumbling feet and shiny tops, Ramsey's Macaroons tasted like eating cardboard. Perhaps this is the beginning of the fall of the empire...
All this macaroon baking meant the cake supporting them had to be pretty simple and quick to bake. A victoria sponge filled with more raspberries and cream seemed a simple foil for the macaroons, and countered their sweetness nicely.
So finally here is the recipe that (finally) worked for me. Worked so well, in fact, that now I'm getting excited about all the other flavours I can knock out. I based my recipe on one which appeared in The Times newspaper, written by Lucas Hollweg
For the Macaroon shells
200g icing sugar
100g of ground almonds
100g of egg whites (roughly 3 egg whites - but weigh it!)
A few drops of pink food colouring to colour
20g of caster sugar
For the raspberry filling
200g of raspberries, pureed, and the juice strained from them
50g of butter
icing sugar to taste
Blend the icing sugar and almonds in a food processor until fine powder. Sieve into a large mixing bowl.
In a large, very clean bowl (copper is best) whisk the egg whites until they hold their shape. Continue whisking and start gradually adding the caster sugar. Once they are stiff and glossy (a little like shaving foam) whisk in the food colouring until combined.
Now mix a third of the whites into the almonds and fold into a paste (it will be quite thick, but the idea is to make combining the dry ingredients easier to do without loosing all the air. Now gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. You want a well combined, smooth mixture, but not too liquid, it should still be able to form a ribbon on the surface of the mixture.
Fill a piping bag, and pipe into 2cm rounds onto a silicone baking sheet. You can use a spoon but the shape won't be as good. If you macaroons have little nipples on the top use a wet finger to smooth them down to make sure you create a smooth top.
Leave the macaroons to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Little skins will form over the top of the macaroons - DON"T TOUCH!
Now heat your oven to 130oc. When the oven has reached temperature, put a tray of macaroons at a time on the middle shelf, and bake for about 12 -15 minutes. After about 5 minutes you should see the little feet form at the bottom of the macaroons. This is when you know the recipe worked.
Once done remove from the oven and leave to cool on trays. You may want to play around a bit with the time, depending on the temperature of your oven. Remember, the macaroons shouldn't colour, so if they start going golden brown either your oven is too hot, or they've been in too long. Similarly, they aren't meriangue - you want soft insides, neither gooey nor overly crisp.
While they are cooling you can make the buttercream for filling them. Cream the unsalted (!) butter with the strained raspberry puree, then sweeten to taste. Once cool sandwich the macaroons together with a buttercream filling.