Macarons get a bit of tough rap for being hard to make, but with enough time and a good recipe everyone can master our little French sandwiched friends! If you don’t fancy the combination of lemon and thyme then make the recipe without thyme, but give it a try as the pairing is delicious! I am using lemon extract in place of juice for a punch of flavour without sacrificing the macaron structure. For best results, use a water-based, gel colouring.
Draw round the reverse end of the 1cm piping nozzle to make twenty circles on two sheets of baking parchment, giving you forty circles in total. Make sure you space them out a little. Flip the parchment over and use it to line two large baking sheets.
Put the granulated sugar into a pan with the water over a medium heat. Cook gently until the sugar has dissolved and then turn the
As this bubbles away, put the icing sugar and the ground almonds into a food processor and blitz this to a very fine powder and then set it aside.
Once the sugar mixture has reached about 108–109°C (226–229°F), start to whisk 60g egg whites (half the total amount) in a stand mixer on a low–medium speed. Once the temperature of the sugar mixture reaches 118°C (244°F), remove the pan from the heat, then turn up the stand mixer to a medium–high speed and add the sugar mixture in a steady stream, making sure that the sugar does not touch the whisk. You can also do this with a hand-held electric whisk but it will take longer. This method of making meringue is called Italian meringue, and it makes a very stable meringue that is great for macarons. Some people prefer using a cold method (French) or a warm method (Swiss) to make the meringue. I have tried all three methods and they all work, but an Italian meringue is especially good for a more solid structure.
When you have added all of the sugar mixture to the egg whites, add the lemon extract with the thyme and turn up the speed. Then add the food colouring, bit by bit until it becomes the right colour for you. Make sure it has a slightly stronger colour than you want for your baked macarons, because when you add the icing sugar and almond mixture to the bowl at a later stage the colour will dilute somewhat. Keep mixing the Italian meringue mixture until the bowl is no longer hot and cools to body temperature. Once it reaches body temperature, set this aside.
As the meringue is whisking, mix the blitzed icing sugar and ground almonds with the remaining 60g egg whites in another bowl. Keep stirring this together and it should get quite stiff. Set this aside.
Once the meringue mixture is ready, add half to the almond mixture, mixing well until just combined. Then add another quarter of the meringue mixture and mix well until just combined before repeating with the final quarter.
Now it is time for the macaronage of the mixture. Take a pastry scaper (or a spatula) and press the mixture up against the inside of the bowl a few times, folding the mixture over as you go. Take some of the mixture and then drop it back into the bowl. This process deflates the mixture just enough to reach the right lava-like consistency – they say it takes about forty ‘strokes’ for the process to give you a shiny mixture that holds its shape without being too runny or leaving a pointy top.
To check that the mixture is ready, take some mixture and then drop it back into the bowl – it should sit on the surface of the mixture for about 15–20 seconds before sinking into the mixture.
When the mixture has reached the correct stage, use it to half-fill the piping bag – filling halfway ensures that the mixture does not squidge out of the top when you are piping. Pipe the mixture into the templates on the lined baking sheets. Once you have piped the macarons, bang each tray lightly on the work surface to settle them, and then allow them to rest for 10–15 minutes.
Once the macarons are completely cool, make the buttercream. Put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat it really well, then add the lemon zest and the icing sugar and beat again. If you are using a hand-held electric whisk, then add the icing sugar little by little so that the icing sugar does not fly everywhere, and mix well between additions. Add the cream cheese to the bowl, beating well until smooth. If you find that the buttercream has become too soft, then just pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes or so to firm up.
When the buttercream is ready, use it to half-fill the piping bag and pipe blobs of buttercream onto twenty of the macaron shells, making sure there is enough to come to the edges of the shell when it comes to sandwiching them together. Gently sandwich the shells together and serve. Enjoy!
© Lorraine Pascale, 2017. Images: © Myles New, 2017.