Friday, 4 January 2013

Salted Caramel Macaroons

Macaroons.  Need I say more?  Served on the lavish tables of Versailles, macaroons are not only the food of Kings and Queens but in my humble opinion, the food of the Gods.  It is no wonder Marie Antoinette is defined by the term, “let them eat cake” considering the delectable luxury in every nibble of these bite sized delights.  I lost my macaroon virginity on the picturesque shores of Lake Annecy at the patisserie attached to the Michelin Star restaurant Auberge Du Pere Bise in Talloires Bay.  Surrounded by unrivalled beauty and biting through the crisp shell to discover the velvety pistachio filling I thought I had died and gone to heaven, and so began my macaroon obsession. 

Outside of London, a good British macaroon is few and far between.  Thus, the burden rested on my shoulders to attempt to recreate my Annecy experience.  I have made macaroons on four occasions with varying success.  My first attempt was definitely a case of beginners luck as my perhaps arrogant second round failed miserably leaving me with irregular and soggy shells.  Having learnt from my past mistakes it is crucial not to over beat the egg white or let the syrup go over 110ºC.  

The recipe below is for salted caramel macaroons which are relatively easy to make but require time, patience and a top secret ingredient, love. 

Makes 50 mini macaroons 
-          200g ground almonds
-         200g icing sugar
-          80ml water
-          200g caster sugar
-          2 x80g egg whites
-          Caramel food colouring or coffee extract mixed with a couple of drops of yellow food dye.
   Salted Caramel Filling:
-         250g icing sugar
-         80ml water
-        120g full fat crème fraiche (reduced fat has too great a water content)
-         200g salted butter, cut into small cubes. 

1.      Sieve together the ground almond and icing sugar.  If some of the almond is too grainy then pop it into a food processor to refine it. 
2.      Stir in 80g of egg white and the food colouring to the icing sugar and almond mixture to create a thick paste (be sure to measure the egg whites to get the exact measurement.  This should be just over 2 large egg whites).
3.      Pour the caster sugar and water into a heavy-based saucepan.  Stir initially so that all the sugar is coated in water but then leave to rest until it reaches 100ºC.
4.      Whisk the second 80g of egg whites until they are stiff with peaks.  When the sugar reaches 110ºC gradually pour a thin trail of the syrup into the egg whites beating continuously.  The mixture should grown in volume and retain the air pockets previously created during the whisking.  If the mixture goes flat and runny restart this process. 
5.      Gently fold a third of the mixture into the almond paste to loosen it, making it more pliable.  In a figure of eight movement, carefully fold the remaining egg white mixture into the paste, trying to retain the air pockets in the meringue.        
6.      On a tray, lined with greaseproof paper, pipe the shell mixture into disks dependent on how large you want your macaroons to be.  I would recommend slightly larger than a 2 pence coin. 
7.      Leave to sit for an hour to dry out the shells. 
8.      Meanwhile, prepare the caramel.  On a low heat bring the icing sugar and water slowly to the boil until it turns a golden brown.  Add the crème fraiche, little by little, stirring thoroughly to stop the caramel from cooking.  Once the temperature reaches 108ºC take it off the heat and add the cubed butter.  Stir until full incorporated.  Pour into a large dish and place in the fridge to cool. 
9.      In a preheated oven of 145ºC (fan oven 125ºC), Gas Mark 1 ½ cook the dried shells for exactly 13 minutes. 
10.  Once cooked slide the greaseproof paper onto a damp surface as this will loosen the shells, preventing them from sticking when taken off. 
11.  Pipe the caramel filling (which should be thick but workable) onto half the shell and sandwich together with the remaining shells.    

To present, I either sprinkle icing sugar and cocoa power or a delicate dusting of edible glitter on top to give them that little something extra.    

Macaroons are a great gift and a stunning teatime treat.

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