Thursday, November 16, 2006

Macarons au sucre cuit

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).


Blogger Shauna said...

Beautiful, as always, my dear. Just gorgeous.

But seriously — you're not going to share the recipe? Unless I missed something — and I have looked hard — you don't tell us how to make these. Oh sadness, especially for this gluten-free girl. Sigh.

I adore that vanilla bean paste too, and I just came home with another bottle of the vanilla extract. Joy.

8:28 am, November 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am adoring your obsession with the macarons - a perfect project for a perfectionist like you! All the flavor combinations sound just luscious!

9:30 am, November 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ducasse tome in the mail. Awaiting its arrival impatiently. Your gorgeous posts are gradually landing me in debt.

9:43 am, November 16, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

So beautiful... and I'm certain equally delicious.

12:36 pm, November 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, macarons. Someday I really am going to have to try to make a batch for myself... your posts are always so inspiring! And, paired with ice cream... oo, it's just all too good!

1:13 pm, November 16, 2006  
Blogger sooishi said...

Bravo they are really nice!
For my macarons i use a recipe from Stéphane Glacier (great book by the way)
Very simple without the sucre cuit, they are really similar to the Ladurée...
Thank you for the beautiful post
A bientôt

5:03 pm, November 16, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

Hi there, you've certainly stepped it up -- i'm awed. Where do you get your almond flour? Or do you grind almond meal? Been super busy and haven't had much time in the kitchen lately....sigh.

6:01 pm, November 16, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

wow. they looked really delicate. Good work J

7:18 pm, November 16, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

I personally don't have the required patience (nor KitchenAid) to make perfect macarons, batch after batch, sigh.. However, I've recently moved in with my perfectionist bf, who spent ages reading your previous macaron posts and making mental notes. I expect that our kitchen will soon turn into macaron testing and tasting 'factory' thanks to you, dear J:) Not that I mind, of course:)

8:02 pm, November 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first time I made macarons, they failed miserably. The second time they worked perfectly, but since then I haven't been able to recreate them! I have a recipe using an Italian meringue but alas, no sugar thermometer. Yours look absolutely amazing!

8:19 pm, November 16, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

how do you age the whites? in the shell? out? after beating?

11:25 pm, November 16, 2006  
Blogger *fanny* said...

Hi J,
i think i've just fallen in love with the 100% vanilla macarons.
I love the white on white look. They are so 'chic' and pretty.

Anyway, i almost bought Ducasse's book the other day but ended up with JP Wybauw 'Petits chocolats grande expérience'. I didn't regret it until.. i saw this beautifully rounded article and especially the pictures of the now-obsessing vanilla macarons!

- fanny

3:06 am, November 17, 2006  
Blogger Jeanne said...

OMG - those look so perfect! I lack the patience to make macaroons, although they are on my wishlist of "things to make one day". I love your flavour combinations - and what gorgeous photos!

10:06 pm, November 17, 2006  
Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

So hard to photograph white on white -- your photos are stunning! And the macarons sound delicious, too.

12:05 am, November 18, 2006  
Blogger Veron said...

Alice Medrich is the queen of the cocoa nib dessert. I just made her
Cocoa Nib Panna Cotta
and it was absolutely divine.
Your photographs are amazing as usual!

1:28 am, November 18, 2006  
Blogger Krithika said...

How do you do this J ? post after post brilliant pics and write-up.

1:47 am, November 18, 2006  
Blogger Helene said...

Italian meringue macarons are the easiest ones to control and they come out perfect almost all the time. I rarely have cracked ones. I love pairing them with ice cream like you did. Yours look like angels!

10:56 am, November 18, 2006  
Blogger Brilynn said...

I'm so jealous of your macaron making abilities.

12:59 am, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is just exquisite! I wouldn't even dare...quite daunted at the thought of making I will just admire yours :) Your entries are always pure inspiration!

10:40 pm, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They look like pieces of art! I almost wanted to lick these macarons over my computer screen...

6:39 pm, November 21, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

Too beautiful J
Great minds think alike...
The new P.Hermé collection is focused on Vanilla too :O

1:59 am, November 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooh my god, joycelyn. everytime i check out your blog, i feel hungry. and inadequete. more hungry than inadequete. i LOVE macaroons but making them right is such a HUGE pain in the S! will try out your version...

4:31 pm, November 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your blog, I've just had a go at macaroons as well and posted them on They aren't as beautiful as yours but it was my first time.

Would you mind if I put a link for others to come view your blog? Thank You.

10:12 pm, November 23, 2006  
Blogger Steffles said...

J - as usual, your macaroons and photos looked divine. Thanks for the tip on the vanilla extract, I've been searching hard for these babies! :)

5:49 pm, November 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a sucker for macaroons, and these look amazing. Thanks for an image I'll carry with me all day!

9:49 pm, December 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yummie yummie

My Photocommunity

11:20 pm, December 28, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

I cannot agree with you anymore about macarons. I have found that macarons au sucre cuit are more troublesome but the likelihood of it coming out well is much higher. Humid is definitely a killer for macarons.
Love the combination & beautiful platte and pictures.

3:00 pm, July 07, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home