Macaroons have been a favourite British treat for centuries. Their form, shapes and flavours might have changed over the years, but they basically remain a mixture of sugar, ground nuts and egg white.
These colourful specimens come from Harris & Borella’s All About Biscuits (c1900), a commercial handbook for the Victorian/Edwardian baker. Unlike the modern preoccupation with a relatively small number of shapes made from a seemingly standard recipe, this book boasts over fifty different macaroon recipes, many of which can be further varied in terms of both colour and flavour and thereby increasing the variety close to a hundred. I think we are missing out on enjoying so much variety by focusing on inconsequentialities such as getting the perfect ‘foot’ on a plain, round macaron – as if that impacts how it tastes. I plan on returning to this chapter in this book on a regular basis, so stay tuned for more macaroon delights!
These miniature biscuits are just three centimetres in length and about two wide, and the two complimentary flavours are sandwiched together to give a tiny but elegant treat. They aren’t actually sandwiched with anything – their innate stickiness when removed from the baking parchment is enough to join them together, meaning the flavours can be savoured without additional distraction.
There’s nothing stopping you from having a filling, of course – seedless raspberry jam or redcurrant jelly for a burst of sharpness, a white or dark chocolate ganache for richness – but it would be like gilding the lily.
These macaroons get their distinctive form by allowing them to dry a little after piping, then just before baking, cutting through the paper-thin skin that has formed, into the moist mixture beneath. This forces the biscuits to expand in this one place during baking as the egg-white cooks. Whilst each one may vary slightly in the degree to which it expands, there’s much greater uniformity and less likelihood of lop-sidedness. The result is a batch where all the biscuits are much more similar, yet still retaining an organic, freestyle quality. The effect is very striking – much more preferable to the regimented uniformity of the modern, frequently machine-made style – and yet so simple to achieve. The original instructions suggest a sharp knife for this task, but I recommend using a baker’s lame (lah-may) or a single razor blade, in order to get a perfectly clean and sharp incision.
This is, to a large extent, a proportional recipe, so you can scale it up or down to your requirements. It calls for two parts sugar to one part ground almonds, with one egg-white for every 150g of almond/sugar mixture.
100g ground almonds
200g caster sugar
sufficient egg-whites to mix (about 80ml/2 large)
claret food colouring
- Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit your baking sheet, and mark up a grid as below, of dimensions 2cm by 3cm. Turn the parchment over (so your macaroons won’t pick up any marks from the pen/pencil) and lay onto your baking sheet. Have ready two piping bags fitted with a 5mm plain nozzle. If you have disposable bags, you can just snip the end to 5mm.
- Select two mixing bowls, one of which will be used over simmering water. The other bowl will need to be heated with hot water until required.
- Set a pan of water to heat to a simmer.
- Put the sugar and almonds into one of the bowls and gradually whisk in sufficient egg white to make a mixture that will run slightly.
- Put the pan over the simmering water and whisk vigorously, either using a balloon whisk or with an electric whisk until the mixture is just hot enough for a finger to bear.
- Remove the bowl from the heat.
- Empty and dry the second bowl and pour half of the mixture into it.
- Add vanilla flavouring to one mixture, and raspberry flavouring to the other, together with enough colouring to make a rich magenta (the colour will fade a little during baking.
- Pour the mixtures into separate piping bags and pipe oval macaroons 2cm by 3cm in alternate squares in your grid.
- Set aside until a thin sin has formed. The original recipe suggested overnight, but if this is inconvenient, a workaround would be to set your oven to 170°C/150°C Fan for one minute, then turn it off and put the baking sheet into the just-warm oven. Check after 1 hour, and if the skin hasn’t formed, repeat and leave for another hour.
- When ready to bake, remove the baking sheet from the oven and heat it to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
- Using a lame/razor blade, slice through the skin of each macaroon vertially down the centre.
- Bake for ten minutes, turning the baking heet around after five minutes to ensure even colouring.
- Allow to cool on the sheet.
- When cold, wet the work surface and slide the baking parchment onto it. After a few minutes the macaroons should lift off easily and you can sandwich them together with one macaroon of each colour. If you’re using fillings, you might like to join the same colours together. Go wild.