Wow, when I read this month’s ‘Daring Baker’ challenge ‘A celebration cookie, square or bar’ all sorts of things came to mind. Looking at the ’12 days of Christmas’ inspiration I was certainly keen to get my baking on and churn out a plethora of fabulous Christmas goodies. It wasn’t too long before the reality of a full-time job, end of school year work commitments and running around with Miss 8 was leaving me time poor and exhausted and my Christmas baking dream soon faded (at least for this month). I was still keen to do something special and as it turned out it was quite an epic effort in the end.
Miss 8 is a fan of macarons and to cut a long story short I had a good supply of almond meal mixed with icing sugar ready to go. I’m not sure if they can be classified as a ‘biscuit’ as such, but if they aren’t I’m not sure what ‘food group’ they belong to! The great things about macarons is the endless variety of flavours possible. Having recently picked up Adriano Zumbo’s “Zumbarons” cookbook I was keen to give a few a go. I knew I had to make something Miss 8 would like, so that narrowed down my options. Then I went with those flavours I thought could best handle a ‘Red, White and Green’ theme …these ARE Christmas Macarons after all.
Our final choice was:
- ‘Sticky Date’ …RED
- ‘Toasted Marshmallow’ …GREEN, and
- ‘Buttered Popcorn’ …WHITE.
Making my mix was a breeze. Based on Italian meringue, I whipped up some egg whites and drizzled in my hot syrup before beating until thick and glossy. A couple of tips here, we can now get fresh egg whites in a 500g carton at the supermarket here in Aus ….fabulous for this sort of thing without the need for using a lot of eggs (with leftover yolks) or defrosting (which incidentally aren’t recommended for whisking). Look for ‘Simply Egg White’ in the dairy section 🙂 . My second tip is to get yourself a candy or cooking thermometer. I got myself a digital one from a ‘Chef’s Toolbox’ party, I haven’t regretted it since using it for roasts, toffees and all sorts of things, great for accuracy. Anyway, moving on….
With my egg whites mixed through my almond meal mixture it was a matter of colouring my macaron mixes (though they recommend colouring the syrup I needed to make multiple colours) and piping away. This is where consistency makes all the difference. My basic uncoloured mix for the popcorn ones was great. The green, not too bad, using a few gel colours it did make it wetter and not as good. The red, hmmm, well getting a vibrant red colour with a few gels and liquid dye was tricky, and the end result not so great. They were flat and sticky. I’ve made macarons with my students and for sure, they can be a very ‘hit and miss’ thing. They asked me once ‘why?’ Let’s face it, get your meringue wrong, have a humid day, use the wrong food colour (or too much) and the consistency just doesn’t work out for the best. The pros certainly have it down to a fine art.
Macarons can be time consuming, certainly you need quite a few trays to leave them sitting out for a while for the surface to dry, and I’ve noticed the pros use a piping guide to make the best use of space and get a consistent size. Tip number 3, definitely use plastic disposable piping bags and try to find a silicone mat or 2 with some circle guides on it ….maybe Santa will get me one?
Then came the fillings. These can vary from something easy like a simple ganache to complex ensembles of creme patissiere, purees and exotic ingredients. Some will need some setting time in order to achieve piping consistency, leave them in the fridge too long though and they’re set. Did I say something about this being a breeze?
I was in the kitchen a few long hours, but I did get some great results. My red macarons were left undecorated with their sticky date filling which incidentally was VERY sweet. I decorated my green ones with some edible gold dust and of course, my buttery popcorn ones were topped with popcorn and were super delish.
If I’d had a bit more energy (time had just run out), with a few toothpicks and a polystyrene cone a macaron tower wasn’t out of the question ….but certainly be inspired to make a ‘tree’ when making your own. Merry Merry Macaronny Christmas everyone 🙂
PS …No recipes listed here, there were 4 in total for the basic macaron and the 3 fillings. I picked up my Zumbarons book for only $16 (at Big W for my Aussie locals). If you’re not from these parts and want a copy and you can’t get hold of one let me know, I’d be happy to help 🙂