Salted caramel macarons
09 November 2017
I’d made macarons a few times over recent years - with mixed success. Each batch would have some good ones and some with cracked shells.
I rather decided it was time to properly master them. After all, it’s all technique, and it was just about really getting the feel for what works and what doesn’t. So I focused in, watched the helpful YouTube videos that showed you how things should look at each stage, attended the ‘science of macarons’ talk at Norwich Forum by Tim Kinnaird, proprietor of ‘Macarons and More’, read every piece of advice and guidance I could get my hands on.
And then I cooked, using Pierre Hermé’s recipe for salted caramel macarons. Because as flavours go, you can’t go far wrong with salted caramel.
And it worked.
Not a single cracked shell. Everything had the proper ‘foot’. Were they absolutely perfect? Not quite. But a lot closer. And this batch of 70 or so complete macarons sold out completely at the Snetterton Fireworks event where they were sold.
So what made the difference?
The principal difference was getting the whipping of the meringue right. When it’s ready, it should flow in very thick ribbons. There’s also the temperature of the oven. My oven is at the fierce end of the scale - I needed to cook the shells at a lower temperature to avoid cracking and any colouration or the shells. And only when I watched macarons being made in a patisserie in Buenos Aires did I appreciate just how hard you can whack the tray with the freshly-piped shells to remove air bubbles and help any residual bumps from the piping to flatten down.
There are other factors I already knew about - use egg whites that have been hanging around in the oven for five days or so - in this case you definitely don’t want the freshest eggs you can get (if that’s not possible for you because you have to make them today, and you have the eggs you have, then add a little cream of tartar or lemon juice to the meringue to achieve the same stability). Leave the piped shells for half an hour or so until a skin has formed. If you’re in a venue where there is high humidity (and therefore the shells don’t form a skin so easily) heat the oven on the lowest heat, then turn it off and put the shells in there to form skins. That’s Tim Kinnaird’s advice from the direct experience of his team. I didn’t have to do this, fortunately.
If none of that makes sense to you, you probably want to follow the step-by-step process below.
Salted caramel macarons
If you see any general conversation about macaron-making, this recipe uses the Italian meringue method.
300g icing sugar
300g ground almonds
110g egg whites (pref. Aged 5 days)
15g coffee extract
15g yellow food colouring
300g caster sugar
75g spring water
110g egg whites
For the salted caramel
300g caster sugar
330g whipping cream
65g salted butter
170g unsalted butter
120g cream cheese
Combine the ground almonds and the icing sugar in a bowl. Pierre Hermé recommends you then blitz these together to make the almonds as finely ground as possible. Feel free, but I didn’t and it was fine - and Tim Kinnaird says that his shop doesn’t do this.
Add the first batch of egg whites to the mix, along with the coffee extract and the yellow food colouring and then set aside.
Then you need to whip up the Italian meringue. Place the second batch of egg white into a mixing bowl ready to be whipped. Then combine the sugar and the water in a pan and place over a medium heat. Measure the progress with a digital thermometer. Hermé advises that when the thermometer reaches 115ºC you should turn the mixer on. The aim is that the egg whites should have reached the exact correct soft peaks stage just as the sugar solution reaches 118ºC. I saw the temperature racing up rather quickly so turned the mixer on at 110ºC. I needn’t have worried because as soon as it got to that stage, the rate of increase suddenly slowed right down. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer from my premature action. The egg whites were still fine when the syrup finally hit the 118ºC mark. The danger is that, if you go beyond the soft peak stage, the meringue will be too stiff when you incorporate the almond paste.
At that point, you drizzle the hot syrup very slowly into the mixing bowl as it is still whipping the egg whites. The mixture should go lovely and glossy, and you keep the mixer going until the mix has come down to 50ºC.
Then you fold the meringue into the almond paste. This is referred to as the ‘macoranage’ and it’s the bit you need to develop judgement for how far to go. Once the two have been mixed together, you work the batter more briskly, folding and working it until the combined batter begins to turn glossy. When you hold up your spatula, it should flow in thick ribbons. Too liquid, your shells will crack. Too stiff, you probably won’t get even shells.
Fill a piping bag with the mixture and pipe onto baking sheets into approximately 3.5cm discs. You can buy printed templates that will show you how wide to pipe the mixture - small circles within larger circles. In theory, you pipe to the smaller circles and then tap the tray and the mixture will spread out to the larger circle’s width, getting you the smooth flat top you’re looking for. Mine didn’t go that far, and they were fine - but then that might be the consequence of that extra couple of minutes whipping.
Once you’ve piped the shells and tapped them to remove the air bubbles, you leave them to sit for 30 minutes until you can touch the tops with your finger and see that there is a skin that has been formed. Once that’s happened, back them in the oven for 12 to 14 minutes. Now, the books will tell you 180ºC for conventional ovens and 160ºC for fan ovens. You will have to test out your own oven’s performance. For my fan oven, 160ºC results in browning of the shells, so I need to go even lower.
When they’re in the oven, Hermé recommends opening the oven door a couple of times during cooking to let the moisture out. It also gives you the chance to just double check how they’re doing in relation to how hot the oven is.
To make the filling, make a dry caramel by putting the sugar in a pan over a medium heat and cooking to a medium brown colour (you might want to try adding 50g sugar at a time). Remember, while you should never stir a wet caramel (sugar mixed with water, as above), you can stir a dry caramel if you want to. While it’s cooking, heat the cream to a boil.
Once the sugar has caramelised, add the salted butter carefully (it may spit at you) and then add the hot whipping cream and stir it all together until the caramel has melted into the liquid. Put it back onto the cooker and heat to 108ºC. Then pour it into a flat pan and allow it to cool slightly. Put a layer of clingfilm on top of the caramel and allow to cool completely, putting it in the fridge to complete the job once it’s cooled sufficiently.
Whisk the unsalted butter and cream cheese together until it becomes light and fluffy and the butter lightens in colour. Then add the caramel half at a time and whisk to incorporate.
Put the filling into a piping bag, and use it to fill the shells. Put them in the fridge for 24 hours (so that the cream partly soaks into the shells, giving that crisp exterior and gooey chewy loveliness) before bringing back to room temperature for serving.
Food waste notes
If you’re using all those egg whites, the question is what to do with the yolks? If you have no way to use them immediately, you can cover them with a little water and keep them covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. Which is all well and good, but you still need a plan for what you’ll use them for, otherwise they’ll sit in your fridge for 3 days before you then finally throw them out.
So how could you use them? Things that use egg yolks in greater quantities than egg whites include: home made custard (either to use as the accompaniment to some lovely dessert, or as the base for your ice cream), mayonnaise - although just one yolk is required for more mayo than you’ll probably use. If you’re making burgers with mince meat, mixing in an egg yolk can help to bind it all together. And an added egg yolk or two to home made pasta will give it a nice richness and great colour. And, if all else fails, make an omelette and add the extra yolks for a nice yellow finish.