Since this post
, I've been tinkering with quite a number of macaron recipes. While generally satisfied with the results certain trusted recipes produce, I wasn't quite happy with the consistency. In particular, recipes based on whipping egg whites (even when the whites were aged for exactly 48 hours) to a stiff foam before adding the TpT (tant pour tant
, or equal parts of ground almonds and confectioners' sugar), seemed too sensitive to variables such as humidity and temperature. Using exactly the same recipe (and hence weight of aged whites) resulted in batters that were sometimes thicker or runnier than usual, and macarons that sometimes had pronounced domes and sometimes had flat, even tops. Seeing as constructing a climate-controlled workroom was not an option, I sought recourse elsewhere.
Specifically, recipes based on Italian meringue, seeing as the loose cannon appeared to be the quality of the egg whites. There are a few ways to make macarons, with the two main ones being macarons au blanc monté
(the aforementioned "macarons with stiff egg whites") and macarons au sucre cuit
("macarons with cooked sugar", aka the Italian meringue method). It may seem a bit more troublesome; Italian meringue is made by cooking a sugar syrup to 118 °C (245 °F), pouring it in a thin, steady stream over stiffly whisked egg whites with the whisk attachment of your stand mixer still whirring, and beating the meringue till very firm and cool to the touch, a task that takes a good 15 minutes but that your long-suffering KitchenAid
will shoulder without complaint. Based on my recent experience, macarons au sucre cuit
have several advantages over macarons au blanc monté
. Besides consistency from batch to batch, there's no need to bother with ageing the egg whites (a practice you may be squeamish about), and you can make up a large quantity of Italian meringue, and divvy it up for use in several consecutive lots of macarons with different flavours (as opposed to doing the same with plain whipped egg whites, an unstable substance which waits for no woman).
The recipe for macarons au sucre cuit
I've been enamored with as of late comes from Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries
by Alain Ducasse and Frédéric Robert, the second in the Grand Livre de Cuisine series
, recently made available in English (for more about the first
in the series, and my compulsive book-buying patterns, see here
). Delivering what in my macaron-making to date are the most delicately delicious macarons - and just as critically, ones that are consistently so
batch after batch (yes, I have a bit of a thing for consistency) - has alone justified the purchase and bookshelf realty in my head. Also, the recipe does not call for powdered egg whites, a hard-to-find ingredient often specified in macaron recipes from other professional books.
Based on Frédéric Robert's master recipe, I recently made two flavours - vanilla and almond, and toasted hazelnut. In turn, these would be part of a composed dessert of 4 different ice cream sandwiches. Pragmatically speaking, the macaron-ice cream pairing represents very efficient use of the whole egg - macarons use lots of egg whites, ice cream lots of egg yolks. But if you've ever tasted a Miss Gla'Gla from here
, you'll need no convincing as to why macarons make the ideal component in an ice cream sandwich. For whatever scientific reason (I'm guessing because sugar is hygroscopic
, and sugar also lowers the freezing point of water, and macarons are crazy-rich in sugar), the macarons never freeze solid even when you assemble the sandwiches way ahead of time and store them in the freezer (which is not the case if you were assembling ahead ice cream sandwiches using sugar cookies or chocolate chip cookies say). Ahead-of-time assembly not only does away with last minute stress, it also does away with the issue of rapidly melting scoops of ice cream.
Below, the flavour combinations, with a soothing palette, all creamy ivory and eggshell beige, in mind: Vanilla Macaron; La Crème Glacée à l’Italienne
(Picture at beginning of this post) The so-called "Italian Ice Cream" comes from The Notebooks of Michel Bras: Desserts
. Despite containing no eggs, this ice cream has a very creamy texture. Made with only four ingredients (milk, cream, sugar and powdered milk), a stark snow white, it's a dairy purist's dream come true. Milk powder not only heightens the natural milk flavour, but serves a structural function - it adds protein a.k.a. large molecules that hinder the formation of ice crystals. By holding crystal size in check, the final texture is thus improved. Naturally, for the best taste, buy the tastiest milk you can find (I like Horizon Organic's Whole Milk
). And no, don't bother with fat-free, 1% or 2%.Vanilla Macaron; Vanilla Ice Cream
Vanilla on vanilla, a real crowd-pleaser (who doesn't adore the flavour of real vanilla?). Classic crème anglaise-based recipe, rich in cream and even richer in egg yolks, generously flecked with vanilla seeds. Hazelnut Macaron; Cocoa Nib Ice Cream
This Cocoa Nib Ice Cream, from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet
, is a magic trick unto itself, replete with pledge, turn and the prestige. Its pale countenance, all innocuous ecru, lulls you, makes you all the more vulnerable to the first taste - clean, full flavour that's instantly identifiable as chocolate, yet not exactly chocolate, like a haunting of chocolate if you will. To think all that's behind the bittersweet deception is cream infused with cocoa nibs! Hazelnut Macaron; Gelato al Tartufo e Miele
Divine truffle honey ice-cream, recipe from Giorgio Locatelli's Made in Italy
. As for the pairing, I was inspired by this signature Truffe blanche et Noisettes macaron
. Chef Locatelli's book may be big (615 pages!) and beautiful, but what sold me was the ice cream and sorbet sub-section of the dessert chapter. It's one of the few books aimed at the home cook in which the recipes do not dumb it down, resembling closely the ice cream and sorbet formulas actually used in restaurant kitchens both in terms of make-up and accuracy (every single ingredient is specified in grammes). By make-up, I mean the use of different sugars like sucrose, invert sugar, dextrose and glucose, as their different sweetening properties and different abilities to alter the freezing point ultimately affect sweetness and texture.
PS: I'll confess to being fairly sniffy about vanilla. If a recipe calls for vanilla seeds, I don't think twice about dipping into my stash of Tahitian or Madagascar Bourbon beans, which I stock up on whenever I travel or through mail order - the general quality of beans available here, even if they have winged it from Tahiti or Madagascar, makes me weep (not tears of joy). Whether it's because they were of an inferior grade to begin with, or have been ruined through improper handling and storage, I wince. Which is why, whenever I run dangerously low on the bean-count, I would much rather turn to this amazing Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla bean paste
than resort to using sub-standard beans. This Nielsen Massey
godsend should be a staple in any avid baker's pantry. While there is nothing to compare with the fragrance and flavour imparted by a freshly split quality bean, still pliant and moist, this bottle of genius has many things going for it - it is dead-consistent from bottle to bottle so you know what you'll get, you can measure precisely how much you need right down to the last drop so there is never any wastage, and the flavour is so good you might even feel guilty (well, just a tad) that it's spooned right out of a jar and ridiculously convenient to use. It can be ordered from this online baker's catalogue
(where you'll no doubt also be tempted by the comprehensive array of pure vanilla extracts). Or, if you reside in Singapore, make a beeline for Shermay's Cooking School
(where you'll no doubt also be distracted by a plethora of other nifty kitchen essentials).