Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mmmm ...Macaroons!

Each year I set myself a series of goals and at least one culinary challenge - this year it was to make the perfect macaroon. Why? Well when I was young, I used to visit a bakery, Mortons, with my beloved 'Nan' every morning when I stayed with her, where she bought her freshly baked daily loaf. It smelled delicious, was still warm and wrapped in tissue paper. I was allowed to choose a cake - any cake. I could have chosen a chocolate eclair, a cream horn or a strawberry tart but I always chose a macaroon.
They sat nestled on rice paper and I was intrigued that you could eat this too and each one had an almond placed on top...or sometimes a pretty pink iced circle. They were my absolute favourite and you don't really see this old fashioned little gem anymore.
I searched for a recipe - many have coconut in - but  I wanted to recreate the one from my childhood.

I found out that the first macaroons were almond meringue cookies similar to today’s amaretti, with a crisp crust and a soft interior. They were made from egg whites and almond paste (a combination of equal parts of ground blanched almonds and sugar, mixed with egg whites. The name of the cookie comes from the Italian word for paste, maccarone (mah-kah-ROW-nay), and is also the word for pasta/macaroni and dumplings.

While origins can be murky, some culinary historians claim that that macaroons can be traced to an Italian monastery—where they were modeled after the monks’ belly buttons!  Macaroons came to France in 1533 with the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II. Two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, seeking asylum in the town of Nancy during the French Revolution paid for their housing by baking and selling the macaroon cookies, and thus became known as the “Macaroon Sisters.
Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it has no flour or leavening (the agent that raises and lightens a baked good, like yeast, baking powder and baking soda—instead, macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be enjoyed during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet.

All very fascinating. My first batch didn't taste almondy enough and I left them in the oven a little longer than I should. A week later I tried again - this time they were better but again slightly overdone.
Today -- third time lucky --I baked the perfect batch of chewy, almondy perfect macaroons!
I cant understand why I waited so long to bake my childhood favourite - all those macaroon-less  years wasted!
Here's the recipe. 120 G Ground Almonds; 2 Egg whites: 150 G Castor Sugar. Raw almonds to decorate.
Beat egg whites till foamy. Add a half of the mixture to half of your ground almonds. Add the sugar and other half of ground almonds and half of the remaining egg whites ( you will have some of your egg whites left over). the mixture will be wet and a bit sticky but mould into little balls, brush with water and place an almond on the top of each. Bake for 15/16 mins on 200C. Dust with icing sugar if you like. Enjoy! Enjoy!

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