Monday, 28 January 2013

Raspberry and lemon thyme macarons

I think that after the last few recipes that I have written for this blog, it’s about time that I did a bit of baking again. Although I have really focussed on savoury food recently, baking is how I got into cooking in the first place and still is a real passion of mine. I just love the happiness that a cake or other baked good creates in people. Even those like me without a real sweet tooth often can’t resist a slice!

I bit off a little more than I could chew with this recipe though. I had been wanting to have a go at making macarons for quite a while, but being relatively out of practice and slightly blase about how tricky they might be, I found them a real challenge. In hindsight this is really no surprise; the immaculate macarons that appear in patisseries are perfected and laboured over for years before getting right - what sort of chance was I going to have on my first go!? My first effort was far from perfect, with the finished macarons a little cracked on top instead of that lovely flat glossy look. But practice makes perfect, and I will definitely try again.

For the base of this recipe I turned to Felicity Cloake’s ever useful Guardian column. It was reassuring to find that she also had problems with her efforts, and I was intimidated by the amount of flack that she received from the macaron police in the comment section. But as a guide or introduction to a dish I find columns like hers very helpful, and from there you can change ingredients to suit what you are making. 

Her original recipe is posted on the Guardian website here: 

Instead of the chocolate flavouring used by Felicity, I went for something a little different. I love using raspberries in desserts, especially where anything meringue based is concerned. A meringue topped with whipped cream and stewed raspberries is often the perfect end to a summery meal. To incorporate them in this recipe I thought that dehydrating them in a low oven and them powdering them would work. This would intensify the flavour of the berry, and at the same time remove the chances of liquid getting into the macaron mixture and destabilising the finished result. Lemon thyme works really well with berries in sweet dishes, and I left the leaves whole so that the odd leaf could be seen on the surface (back off you macaron purists!)... 

Despite the imperfections they went down a storm and were quickly devoured. Surely that’s what baking is really all about.

Makes about 20


125g raspberries 
2 tbsp lemon thyme, leaves picked and left whole
130g ground almonds
170g icing sugar
150g egg whites
120g caster sugar
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

150ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 vanilla pod

125g raspberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 lemon, juice only

The night before baking, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and scatter 125g of the raspberries on top. Put into a low oven heated to 60-70ºC and leave overnight. In the morning the raspberries should be completely dried out. Tip the raspberries into a small food processor or coffee grinder and blitz until you have a fine powder. Add the thyme leaves and set aside.

Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof parchment. Using a pencil, draw 3cm circles a couple of centimeters apart (I used the top of a squash bottle for this). This will really help with the piping later. Set aside until needed later.

Sieve the almonds, icing sugar and raspberry powder together into a bowl and set aside.

Weigh out the egg whites and pour into a large bowl. Using an electric whisk, mix the egg whites until they reach soft peaks then slowly add the caster sugar, a little at a time. Whisk on a high power until the meringue goes shiny and thick and forms stiff peaks. To test this, you should be able to tip the bowl upside-down without the contents tipping out. 

Fold in the icing sugar, almonds, lemon thyme and raspberry to the meringue, then mix well to knock out a little of the air. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag and carefully pipe inside the circle templates on the baking sheet. Try to keep the piped macarons as flat as possible, you don’t want little peaks rising from them. Once all the circles have been filled, drop the baking tray onto the surface from about 6” a couple of times, which will help knock the bubbles out. Leave to rest for between 45mins - 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 170ºC (Fan).

After the macarons have rested and formed a skin, carefully place in the oven for 17 minutes. Open the oven door a couple of times during this cooking time to help the steam escape. Once cooked, slide the macarons on the greaseproof paper onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely. 

While the macarons are cooling make the filling. Put the remaining raspberries, the lemon juice and caster sugar into a small saucepan and cook on a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and a lot of the juices have escaped from the raspberries. Sieve the mixture into a bowl, pushing down on the raspberries with a spoon to get all of the liquid. 

Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and bubble away on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until it thickens and forms a syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and place in a medium bowl with the double cream and icing sugar. Whisk until soft peaks form, then fold in the cooled raspberry syrup.  Spoon into a piping bag.

Gently peel the cooled macaron halves from the baking sheet with a palette knife. Pipe a little of the filling mixture onto one half and sandwich carefully with the other. They will be quite crunchy if eaten straight away, but will become very soft, light and chewy if put in the fridge for a couple of hours. Devour at will.

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