Happy New Year everyone – did you have a special celebration this year?
There has been a lot of talk of how awful 2016 has been and there certainly seem to have been many high profile deaths, horrific plane crashes, dreadful wars and unfathomable political changes. For me on a personal level I turned 50 this year and was determined not to let a number envelop my special year. I had fun, I went on fabulous holidays, had amazing adventures shared with family and friends, took time for myself and wanted to make sure 2016 went out with a bang and that we welcomed 2017 wholeheartedly.
So we hosted a dinner for 29 friends, everyone helped out with tables, chairs, crockery, cutlery, food and decorations and we had an amazing time. my job was to provide the central main course but naturally I couldn’t let the evening go by without a sweet centrepiece. My friends were bringing the main desserts, a delicious pecan pie and some poached pears, so I thought a mini macaron tower with flavours inspired by after dinner chocolates would be nice. I went for chocolate orange, mint chocolate, ginger with chocolate filling and finally speculaas with a caramel filling.
If you haven’t heard of speculaas spices its a spice blend I believe originating from Holland. You may have come across it in those little caramelised biscuits served with coffee, and there is also a spread version available in the supermarket now, however I have tried a more authentic version from The Speculaas Spice Company . I made a few of these flavour macarons a few weeks back and whilst delicious, the spices are so flavourful that I think I over did it a bit so this time I reduced the amount of spice and added a bit more caramel in the filling, I think I got the balance just right this time.
I always make macarons with the italian meringue method, I feel it gives a much more stable and reliable base to the mixture, giving me more consistent results. If you want to read my hints and tips on mac making check out my blog post on Macaron Mysteries. I also used Billingtons golden icing sugar for these ones as it has a more caramelly flavour than white icing sugar which compliments the spices well.
This recipe will yield about 40 macarons (80 shells).
- 200g granulated sugar
- 60ml Water
- 75g egg white at room temperature.
- 200g ground almonds
- 200g Billingtons Golden icing sugar
- 2 tsp Speculaas spice mix
- 70g egg white room temperature
- 75g dulce de leche – shop bought is fine!
- 75g white chocolate
First thing with macarons, I find it is much better to have everything laid out ready, all the ingredients weighed, your piping bags ready and baking sheets lined with silicon sheets (thin not thick ones) and ready to go. You will need 4 large baking sheets, and a piping bag with a 1 cm nozzle.
Secondly blitz the almonds in a processor, then sieve into a large bowl with the icing sugar, make sure you have the correct amount of each once sieved, finally sieve in your spices.
Hand whisk them all together to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Weigh out the macaronage egg white into a separate small bowl.
Next make sure the equipment you are going to use for the meringue is completely grease free, the bowl, the whisk and the pan the sugar is heated up in to make the syrup. I wipe all mine over with some white wine vinegar to be doubley sure and the acidity also helps stabilise the meringue.
Warm the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed pan , swirling gently until dissolved. whilst doing this whisk the meringue egg white in a stand mixer on a very slow speed just to loosen it up. Once the sugar is all dissolved turn up the heat and bring the syrup to a boil, at the same time turn up the stand mixer to whisk the egg white on a medium speed. Finally once at a rolling boil turn the mixer right up to get to a firmish peak, you want the syrup to reach soft ball stage, around 112C-114C.
Once you are there remove the syrup from the heat, allow to stop bubbling then very slowly drizzle down the side of the mixing bowl whilst the whisk is still on high.
Be very patient this will take a while, its worth moving around your bowl so one side doesn’t get too hot and if the syrup becomes too thick just warm it up again very slightly. Keep whisking all the time. Once you have added all the sugar syrup keep whisking for about another 7 or 8 minutes until the bowl has cooled to room temperature when you touch the outside. Your meringue should then be really firm and glossy.
Now time to add to the macaronage mixture. Add all of the meringue and the remaining loose egg white to the almond, sugar and spice mixture. Fold in with a spatula.
Keep stirring and mixing until it is all incorporated. This is the trickiest part of macaron making, you need to reach the ribbon stage where the mixture just falls in a ribbon from your spatula, too much mixing and the mixture will be too loose to hold its shape, too little and its grainy and won’t form nice smooth tops. If I’m honest this mix was ever so slightly too stiff so I got some little peaks on mine, but over mixing can cause cracking and the a poor foot so I’d rather it was this way round.
Transfer your mixture to the piping bag and pipe out small blobs evenly across your baking sheet. I use a template under my silicon sheet to help get them even sizes.
Once you have piped a whole sheet you should give them a few sharp taps on the surface, this helps form a good foot and gets rid of the little central peaks too.
Once piped and tapped out leave them to dry out, and turn on the oven to 140C mine is a fan oven.
Drying out helps form the shell top to your macaron, it takes around half an hour depending on how warm and dry your kitchen is, but don’t be scared to leave them for an hour if need be. Test by touching gently with your finger tip, if they stick they aren’t ready!
Once dry they wont stick to your finger, test a few as the outside ones dry before the middle ones!
You are now ready to bake, you need an middle and lower shelf, put your first tray in on the middle shelf and time for 8 minutes. Once the timer is up, move the tray to the lower shelf, I usually turn my tray 180 degrees too. Put the next tray of macs on the middle shelf and time for another 8 minutes. When this time is up remove the lower tray and rotate the second tray down to the lower shelf, put in the next tray of uncooked macs and repeat 8 minutes. Repeat this process for the final tray of macs but put in an empty tray on the final rotation above the last tray to be moved down – does that all make sense?
Your macs are done when they lift easily from the baking sheet, if you find they are a bit sticky pop them back in for a couple of minutes – everyones ovens are slightly different and humidity plays a huge part when cooking macarons.
They cool really quickly, so once cool you can add the filling.
To make the filling simply melt the white chocolate gently in a microwave. I do mine on half power for 1 minute, then 30 second bursts until its all melted. Stir in the dulche de leche and mix well. Allow to cool to a piping consistency.
The secret I find with macs is to match them up so I always lay mine out in pairs that are of a similar size, as despite using a template they are invariably slightly different sizes but as long as they match each other I don’t think it really matters!
Pipe swirls of filling on one half of each pair then gently sandwich together hold the shells by the out side edge and don’t try to press on the centre as its quite fragile, although a few broken ones are good ‘chefs perks’!
I decorated mine with some copper coloured edible metallic paint and a a 2017 for good measure, all ready to add to the others on my tower!
Macs keep for about a week in the fridge but also freeze really well so you can make them ahead of time.
So here is to 2107 – may you reach for your own stars and have fun along the way.