How to make macaroons

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Which London pâtisserie, if any, is willing to give up its macaroon-making secrets?

  • How to make macaroons

    Yauatcha: purveyor of these brightly-coloured fancies

  • How do you make the perfect macaroon? In London, it seems the only thing harder than making them is pinning down someone to teach you how.

    In a surprisingly difficult quest to find that person I first approach legendary Parisian pastry brand Ladurée at Harrods. Intriguingly it doesn’t have a kitchen but a macaroon laboratory… to which outsiders are not welcome. With its large, old-fashioned macaroons filled with heavy butter cream, French bakery Paul seems the next logical step. Yet despite being happy to chat, Paul’s people won’t extend a welcoming hand to a journalist wanting to see its chefs at work. Finally, I approach Soho tearoom Yauatcha. If Ladurée is the classic choice, Yauatcha is on the cutting edge of the macaroon revolution, creating a fusion between Chinese dim sum and European pâtisserie. At last the answer comes back – ‘Yes’ – and I’m in.

    Yauatcha’s pastry chef Stephane Sucheta is taking the macaroon into the twenty-first century with vivid colours and Asian-influenced flavours. He’s been a pastry chef for 24 years and worked for Pierre Hermé, often dubbed the King of Macaroons. When I arrive, Sucheta tells me we’re going to make neon tangerine-coloured kumquat macaroons, a typically offbeat creation. A pristine white shirt is proffered, surely an invitation to make a mess.

    Method man

    The basic macaroon formula isn’t hard. There is only one recipe for the biscuit: fine almond powder, icing sugar, beaten egg whites, caster sugar and food colouring. Sounds simple but, as Sucheta explains, macaroons are tricky; he regularly throws away whole batches if they’re less than perfect.

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    In the macaroon lab

    There are two methods: the French (easier) and Italian (for the pros). Both are similar, except that the Italian method first heats the sugar in water while the French uses plain caster sugar.

    Even though the Italian method is harder work, it makes the mixture more stable, which chefs prefer. If you ever attempt it and want to know when the sugar and water mixture is hot enough, put a tiny spoonful in cold water and it should soon solidify enough to be rolled into a transparent little ball.

    The rest of the preparation is deceptively easy. The egg whites, food colouring and sugar are beaten till fluffy by an industrial mixing machine and then the almonds and icing sugar are added. Stirring the fluorescent batter proves a challenge so I’m told to whip myself up into a rage by imagining I’m beating an ex-boyfriend. It does the trick. The batter should be mixed until it is shiny and smooth, a sign that the sugar is melting.

    The intensity of the colours and the pristine kitchen make the process feel a little like a science experiment, which partially explains why this kitchen – like Ladurée’s – is called a lab. (Sucheta even refers to himself as a ‘sweet scientist’.) The next stage in the experiment is to pour the dough into bulbous piping bags and gently squeeze it out in perfect little pairs of circles.

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    Perfect little circles

    Once the tray is filled with orange blobs they are ready for the oven, or what Sucheta calls the ‘good luck part’ where everything can go wrong. Take them out too early and they will collapse, too late and the colour will be lost. He says that, unlike with cakes, you can’t disguise an imperfect macaroon. Here, for once, the style is the substance. They go into the oven at 150C. When the first batch rises I feel like a proud mother. But they soon stop and sit like the squat ugly sisters of the beauties displayed in the cabinet nearby.

    Helping hand from history

    It seems extraordinary that it’s possible to draw a direct line between our half-cocked modern neon creations, and the magical macaroons that first originated from an Italian monastery in 1792. These were more like today’s amaretti biscuits, with a crisp shell and soft middle, the name coming from the Italian word for paste: ‘maccarone’. During the French Revolution, two Carmelite nuns seeking refuge in Nancy in northern France baked and sold macaroons to pay for their housing. They became known as the ‘Macaroon sisters’ and their slogan was: ‘Almonds are good for girls who do not eat meat.’ No doubt they also made a life of chastity a little sweeter.

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    Smart cookie: Sonya's first tray of macaroons

    Fabulous fillings

    My twenty-first century efforts have fallen a little flat, so Sucheta whips out some he’s made earlier to cheer us up. We move on to the next stage: the fillings. ‘This is the really creative part,’ Sucheta enthuses. He has created 17 flavours, from coconut pistachio cinnamon (all in one tasty morsel) to decadent gold-leaf encrusted Champagne. ‘I want each one to be an experience, for the new taste to transport them somewhere,’ says Sucheta. He feels that dessert chefs must work hard to invigorate lethargic taste buds, and prides himself on delicate, refreshing tastes instead of settling for satisfying sugary expectations. His dedication is clear from the standards he sets, but it is underlined when – after being asked which is his favourite – he scoffs and asks how he’s supposed to choose between his ‘children’.The final stage is to sandwich the meringues together. For the kumquat macaroon filling we use a marmalade made from fresh kumquats and butter. The result smells divine. It’s difficult to resist sampling it straight from the bowl, but I get on with piping dollops of filling on to each macaroon then putting their hats on. Tasting is still some way away because, even after all this, they need to settle in the fridge.

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    Yauatcha has 17 different flavours of fillings

    Luckily again, Sucheta has some ready to be eaten. The first bite is truly sublime: a crisp, rich, fudgy, slightly tart, satisfying mouthful. Three bites later and it’s all gone.

    Macaroon-making is undoubtedly a delicate and volatile process, and getting the fine balance between colour, flavour and texture was not
    as easy as it seemed. Despite their attempts to keep me out, the macaroon mafia shouldn’t have worried. I may have learnt the basics, but I’m still a rank amateur, on the outside happily staring in.

    Bake them

    The French method (slightly easier)…

    1.

    Mix 100g of ground almonds and 100g of icing sugar.

    2.

    Choose some food colouring and add a liberal amount to 50g of fresh egg whites. Add 130g of caster sugar, and beat until mixture stiffens.

    3.

    Add the almond/icing sugar mix and stir until you get a shiny and smooth texture.

    4.

    Pour the dough into a piping bag.

    5.

    Squeeze out evenly sized blobs of mixture onto a baking tray covered in parchment paper.

    6.

    Preheat the oven to 150C then pop them in. In the first few minutes they should rise, but watch carefully. There is no precise baking time; it takes practice to judge when they are firm enough (roughly 15 minutes).

    7.

    When ready, take them out and leave them to cool.

    8.

    Decide on your filling. Jam, chocolate ganache, butter cream and lemon curd are good options.

    9.

    Pour the filling into a piping bag and squeeze out small dollops onto one biscuit and then attach its matching hat to complete the sandwich.

    10.

    Set in the fridge before eating.

    Buy them

    No time for baking? Purchase the best macaroons from:Ladurée, Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Rd, SW1X 7XL (3155 0111/ www.laduree.fr/en). Knightsbridge tube; 71-72 Burlington Arcade, W1J 0QX (7492 9155). Green Park or Piccadilly Circus tube.Pierre Hermé, 13 Lowndes St, SW1X 9EX (7730 3663/www.pierreherme.com). Knightsbridge tube. Selfridges & Co, 400 Oxford St, W1U 1AT. Bond Street tube.

Users say

18 comments
Carole
Carole

Thanks for your macaroon recipe - after failing with several other recipes, yours worked perfectly. I have to make 400 as favours for my daughter's wedding. Any suggestions for fillings please?

Bulabalabibi
Bulabalabibi

I'm getting married soon and I'm having a lilac themed reception and plan on having lilac macarons- however, the pastry chef has informed me that he can only do lilac for batches of 90+ macarons (I'm only after 20 as there will be other colored ones). I was under the impression that macarons can be ANY color, is he just trying to make things difficult for me? Many Thanks

Sarah
Sarah

You can also buy them from Cakey Bakey Time in Hertfordshire. Lovely.

Kate Lane
Kate Lane

Can anyone tell me how to cook a macaroon in an AGA? My hot oven is equivalent to about a gas mark 6 but can be brought down to about 4 with the use of a cold shelf, the bottom (cool) oven is where I would cook an ordinary meringue, the equivalent to about gas mark 1 1/2 I suppose. I've tried Nigella's lovely recipe for the old fashioned English almond macaroons which calls for gas mark 3 by cooking them in the top (hot) oven but not very successfully as they burn so easily. Any ideas anyone, I'm dying to try making these little morsels that I've enjoyed on so many trips to France.

victoria
victoria

20 atempts later - Harriet thank god for you! all is well now and mine look like the picture!

Baroque&Roll
Baroque&Roll

tried the recipe in above article and although (as someone else said) the shape has changed dramatically when cooking. Will try even neater blobs next time. The taste of the macaroons is divine and with a pistachio butter cream, they are wonderful! Will try the above recipes too as im becoming a little obsessed about baking

jen
jen

i love macaroons but as i tried making it the first time how come it went out of shape? can anyone tell me please? we piped it out nicely but then it went all funny and doesnt loook good. thanks

Jennyb
Jennyb

Tried both the recipe with the article & the one posted by Harriet above in the comments - Harriet, thank you! you saved my sanity after the recipe with this article failed. They may not be perfect but for my first attempt i'm rather proud, and i think they are good enough for mum's birthday tomorrow!

sioux
sioux

oh... Paul's macaroons are amaaazing........ i walk for ages to get there just to buy one! just wish they had more flavours, so will def try Yauatcha!

B.M.P.
B.M.P.

Harriet's recipe (in the first post) is a good one that actually works - it was the third one I had tried and the first to actually work, even down to the illusive 'frilly feet'? It makes a dozen medium-sized macaroons.

Harriet
Harriet

The above recipe is, in my opinion (and as someone who was also obsessed, by unsuccessful for a long time, with macarons) wrong, and very complicated. I've tried many recipes but the foolproof. simple on with consistently excellent results is this: 110g icing sugar 60g ground almonds (sift these together after whizzing down to a fine powder in a food processor) Then beat up 60g egg whites (usually 2 eggs' worth) with 40g caster sugar and a LITTLE bit of food colouring (a tiny dot of the gel stuff is much better and more intense than the liquid stuff), untill you have a firm, shiny meringue. Fold this gently, a third at a time, into the almond mixture. DON'T overmix; when it's just incorporated part the mixture with your spoon - it should slowly flow back together like 'molten lava' might. (If you can picture such a thing) Then pipe circles by holding your piping bag still and squeezing it a bit to form a neat blob. When your baking sheet is filled, hold it firmly and rap it down on the worktop to pop any air bubbles. Leave out to rest for 15 minutes then bake at 170C for 10 minutes roughly. They should have formed those frilly 'feet' and come easily off the baking sheet. Cool, fill and feel smug and people swoon over your prowess at making these illusive french fancies! Bon courage!

B Malta
B Malta

I was on holiday in London last December, discovered Yauatcha on the 1 st day and was hooked. Amazing macaroons and the chef succeded in ‘I want each one to be an experience, for the new taste to transport them somewhere,’ !!!! see you on our next visit :) in the meantime I will try baking own tonight .....

claire white
claire white

wow!! sounds complicated but i really want to try this.. i am in love with ladauree mcaroons and would love to have had that experience.. Fornum and mason do some good ones too and they are only £1 each mini macaroon....

Bea
Bea

Thanks Sophie..I wish I could..I live in Canada..and i don't have the resources to Go to London or Paris..Maybe one day I will master the Macas..or make some extra money for my trip.. Thanks and Take care...Bea

Sophie
Sophie

You should come to our macaroon class at L'atelier des Chefs !!! It's in greater London. Sophie !

Bea
Bea

Hi..I'm OBSSESED WITH MACAROONS...I had tried several recipes..and still..I don't have macarrons to be proud of..anyhow..I'll try again after reading your whole enthusiastic article...who knows you bring LUCK to me with my macaroons!!??? Thanks..