I recently bought Jill Colonna’s Mad about Macarons, figuring that there had to be some basis to the extreme fashionableness of macarons these days. These are most certainly not to be confused with macaroons. I remember the macaroons my mother used to make (erm, that makes it sound like she’s dead or something – she’s decidedly not, but now I don’t live in my parents’ house any more I don’t really keep up with what they’re cooking). These macaroons had no fancy flavours or colours. Just pure almond deliciousness (don’t get me started on coconut macaroons. One word: abomination) , and I would always try to choose the one with the most rice paper. I think that was what made me want to try them in the first place – the fact that they were baked on paper, and it was paper you could eat, and it was delicious.
(just to confuse matters, I photographed these on our French placemats…)
So. Macaroons. Rustic, humble, I-need-to-use-up-egg-whites macaroons. A world away from these Parisian macarons with their jewel colours and fancy fillings. This is absolutely reflected in the ingredients and method for each. I am not even going to write out the recipe for the macarons, firstly because you can find it in the book, secondly because it would take an age, and thirdly (most importantly) because I didn’t really rate them that highly. Suffice it to say that it involved ageing my egg whites in the fridge for four days (talk about the antidote to instant gratification – award another point to the macaroons), sifting various things, beating egg whites to firm peaks only to later use the end of a spatula to press out all the air (um, what?), piping out the macaron shells, leaving to set for half an hour, baking in batches, cooling, piping on ganache, and finally sandwiching two halves together. I might add that you need a perfectly flat baking tray (something I apparently lack), or they slide a bit and become misshapen when they bake. Finding two halves that were similarly misshapen just added another level of complexity.
The macaroons, however… Well, the recipe speaks for itself. I used the recipe from the BBC food website, which called them marunchinos. I like this: it sounds kind of cute, like an odd Italian pet name (“Hello my little marunchino, how is your baking today?” – Henry, take note). It actually is the word for Sephardi macaroons, which apparently are popular at Pesach. I changed it slightly – they say to use almond slivers on the top, but my mother always used whole almonds so of course I did too.
1 egg white
175g ground almonds (freshly ground is best, but you can use pre-ground ones)
125g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp almond extract
whole almonds for the tops
rice paper (optional)
1. Line a baking tray with rice paper or a silicone liner. Preheat the oven to 180C
2. Whisk the egg whites until frothy, then add the almonds, sugar, salt, and extract
3. Mix it all up, then roll into walnut-sized balls and squash flat and put on the baking tray
4. Press an almond into the centre of each macaroon, then bake for around 20 minutes until lightly coloured
Easy as that.
Now, it sounds like I don’t like macarons at all. This is not true. They were very tasty. But, in my mind, they were no more tasty than the macaroons, and considering the former took an evening of sifting and electric whisking and piping and baking in batches and sandwiching, after all of which the recipe suggested I don’t actually eat my creations right away but wait at least 24 hours, but ideally 36, before tucking in (apparently this improves the taste. My opinion after a taste test: no difference), not to mention that afterwards the kitchen looked like I’d tried to find an innovative way to get icing sugar everything and used every piece of baking equipment in the process; while the latter can be whipped up in about 45 minutes and only require a large bowl (yes, I know you’re meant to whip the egg whites until foamy, but if you really can’t be bothered it’s actually not a big deal if you don’t), AND there is no icing sugar so I don’t have to wipe down every surface in the kitchen afterwards. Not to mention I am slightly obsessed with chewy things, and these are practically the definition of the delicious chewiness I so adore. It is most definitely a case of resource/reward.
Having said all that I will give the macarons another go. They do look very impressive, and Henry says he prefers them. I think that the recipe may have been overly complicated. I think if I bake them a little longer they will take on a bit more of the solid chewiness I so adore. I think they would make lovely gifts for people, if I were planning to make a baked gift. But I tend towards thinking that simpler is better, and this comparison has not given me any reason to think otherwise.