GBBO week 2 – biscuit week!

Biscuit is quite an umbrella term, and gets into grey areas on the edges. Shortbread, florentines, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, pinwheels, classic roll out iced biscuits – all clearly biscuits. I’ve opted to continue the challenge by both hitting the grey area and by breaking out one of my Very Intimidating cookbooks.

I love macarons. Love them. Happily have a little box of them from Ladurée for my birthday instead of cake. They’re little bites of delicate, pure happiness. I’ve never, ever made them though. Naturally then, the book I pull my recipe from is Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, which is truly a tome in terms of both content and sheer size. This thing takes up serious real estate on my worktop.

After a read through the ingredients (one of which is a whole other recipe from the not terribly well-named “basics” section at the back) I break out every ramekin and small bowl I have. As can be expected, there’s a lot of very specific weights and divided weights going on. I can say without doubt that this is the first time I’ve ever weighed out exactly 63 grams of egg yolk.

First up is the French buttercream to fill them with, largely because it’s happy for a few days in the fridge and there’s no way I’m ever getting to use a piping bag uninterrupted with a tiny taste tester around.

Whisk eggs and sugar together, then heat milk and sugar in a pan. Add A to B, whisking like a demon to avoid creating the world’s sweetest scrambled egg. Into stand mixer, because whisking this until it’s cold is a level of upper body strength I absolutely do not possess. In with lots of butter.

The whole process, minus the making things cold, is really like making hollandaise. I added some really nice posh Hazelnut praline from a jar, and filling done. It can live in the fridge for 5 days, or in the fridge for a few weeks.

The macarons are basically ground almonds, egg, and sugar. Such a simple thing to say, but a bit of a faff to make. Putting ground almonds through a food processor and then a sieve was not the most fun I’ve had all week and seemed like a needless step at the time, but now that I’ve eaten the spoils I can see why it matters. Having teeny little almond nibs in the meringue would really spoil the melty effect.

Egg whites are whisked up, then a deep breath is taken as 120C sugar syrup is tipped in on top to create a luxurious and incredibly pillowy (and sticky) meringue. Almondy bits and meringue are combined, vanilla added and…

These were supposed to be 2.5 inches, and mine were slightly smaller – I still ended up with four trays worth instead of 2-and-three-quarters. Next time, half the recipe.

My piping wasn’t as even as it needs to be, but I have become a hellava lot more confident with a piping bag over the last couple of months, which makes me really happy. I also piped far, far too much mixture for each, but I had a little panic at the sheer volume of goo in my mixing bowl – two large piping bags worth in the end!

So, end result? Not awesome to look at, but pretty tasty and not horrendous for a first attempt. I’ve no idea how someone on Bake Off just “knocks out” a couple of dozen of these as a showstopper decoration. Next time, less mixture per macaron. More staring in the oven door – these go from pale and underdone to brown and overdone in mere seconds. On some, my feet were too big and on others not big enough, largely a combination of my last two points. There was also no mention of leaving the macarons to stand before going in the oven, but thanks to Google I decided to put in this step as it seems the key to not having your bake crack. For all their imperfections, I only had one crack and that was entirely down to moving my hand with the piping bag when I was making it.

The French buttercream filling was far too rich for me, even in small amounts. It felt like the sugar and butter ratios were too far in favour of fat – shocking, as I’m a massive fan of the power of fat when it comes to baking and cooking. I’ll also branch out into flavours. The vanilla was lovely, but I feel they need to be a little more exciting.

The big trick from the book is to freeze them afterwards, which was a totally new idea for me. Apparently that’s how they go from little meringues with bite to the lovely chewy macarons that people queue around the block for. It totally works!

To be continued!

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