It was awhile before I felt ready to talk about it, but I think I'm there now. 2 batches of macarons that actually look like macarons later, and I'm feeling a lot better.
Oh, when I pulled these out of the oven I nearly fell over from shock. I called my mother in a daze, speechless. I could only manage "Macarons... ACTUAL macarons... WORKED".
Now, they were not perfect by any means, but they were macarons, and these sweet, dense, chewy pillows of almond meringue are well worth the HEARTACHE they had previously caused.
The actual process of making the macarons isn't overly complicated, they're just temperamental. I think a large part is knowing your oven. My oven runs cold, and whilst it seems like overkill, I had to cook my shells for an extra 10 minutes more than instructed before the innards of the macarons stopped being liquid (it once took me 2 hours more than prescribed to cook a cake!).
The below recipe is originally from the fabulous Queen of Macarons, Helen of Tartelette, and with further instruction from incredible Audax of Audax Artifax. The extra detail he goes into (in everything!) is unbelievable.
As far as I understand, you need a kitchen scale. These are temperamental at the best of times, and the recipe really is done by weight.
Makes: this should make about 20-25 sandwiched macarons, you just need to get the hang of piping them out consistently.
For the Macarons:
90g eggwhites, aged for 2 days (this is about 3 eggs) *
60g of castor (superfine) sugar
110g almond meal (ground almonds)
200g icing sugar
1/2 tspn cornflour (optional)
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
* if you don't want, or don't have time, to age the eggwhites 2 days, put them in your microwave on lo-mid setting, for about 15 seconds. Audax instructs that this simulates the aging effect. I did mine in two 10 second bursts on power setting 3.
For the Chocolate Buttercream:
This buttercream recipe has been adapted from a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
50g white sugar
30g dark chocolate, finely chopped
65g unsalted butter, at room temperature
(I normally don’t worry too much about using salted butter, but you NEED unsalted for this. It does need to be soft – a knife should run through it with very little resistance.)
For the Macarons:
1. Line an upturned cookie sheet with baking paper/parchment. I've had great success using double stacked trays (2 cookies sheets stacked on top of each other). It allows the bottoms to cook slower, so you get a better result.
2. In a food processor, pulse the almond meal, icing sugar, cocoa powder and cornflour to combine, and get out any lumps. Put the mixture aside. If you don't have a food processor, you could sift the ingredients.
3. In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggwhites till they start to foam, and become bubbly. This doesn't mean till they start to turn white, just bubbly.
4. Gradually add in the castor sugar, beating constantly. Continue to beat until the meringue becomes thick and glossy. Stop beating as soon as the meringue reaches the point where you can upturn the bowl without the mixture falling out. I started beating in 10 second pulses and checking as it approached this point.
5. Add the almond mixture to the meringue, and fold to combine, using no more than 50 strokes. You can work quickly at first, and be a little less careful, to get rid of excess air, but you do not want to deflate the mixture.
Helen says to stop when the mixture "flows like lava", which I love! You are done when any peaks in the mixture flatten out in 30 seconds.
To test this, you can spoon a teaspoon of the mix onto a saucer, and watch. If not quite there, give a couple more strokes and yet again. It is better to have a few too few strokes than too many. Remember that you will be piping the mixture, which will lose a little more air.
6. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a plain tip, and, holding the bag about half an inch above the baking tray, pipe 1.5" (3cm) rounds onto the tray, about 1.5" apart.
7. Preheat the oven to 175C (conventional), and put the macarons aside for30-60 minutes to harden their shells (this is somewhat optional. As I understand, it will yield better results, but I have put mine straight in the oven with no problems whatsoever).
8. Turn the oven down to 160C and bake the macarons for 15 minutes. Once done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. To remove from the sheets, I gently peel back the paper. If you have difficulty, you can run some water under the sheet and quickly remove (so they do not go soggy).
For the Chocolate Buttercream:
1. Prepare a double-boiler – a small saucepan of water, with a medium sized bowl that fits snugly over the top. Quarter fill the saucepan with water and bring to a simmer.
2. Add the egg and sugar to the bowl, and whisk until thick and pale, this will take a few minutes. A hand beater will make this much easier!
3. Place the bowl with the egg and sugar mixture over the saucepan, and continue to beat until you see the mixture start to thicken further, for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate, and continue to whisk over heat for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Once cooled, beat in the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time, until it is all incorporated. You will be left with a thick, rich buttercream. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Either pipe, or spoon, a teaspoon of buttercream between two evenly shaped/sized macaron shells, and gently press together. And voila, macarons!