Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A Doll's Macarons

Macarons have been floating around the interwubs for a while now, haven't they? My own macarons have been nearly a year in the making - I first decided to try baking my own a year ago, when I was back in Sydney for the summer.Those plans soon got shelved after I came back to London, and two new flatmates moved in. They were stereotypically bad housemates - filthy, inconsiderate, noisy, and really bad cooks (sweetcorn in EVERYTHING! Argghhhhh!). Things got so bad that I pretty much locked myself in my room when I knew they were home, only emerging to run to the loo or grab a hurried bite. I hated having awkward, forced conversations with them, and hated cooking anything when I knew they were home, or would be coming home soon, because I didn't want them to mess up my dishes, or get dust over my newly iced cupcakes.
But that filthy fool and his shrill harridan of a wife finally moved out last month, and since then, I have been baking and cooking with renewed vigour, making up for lost time. Now that we've cleaned the kitchen, I'm finally ready to invest some time and energy into attempting macarons.

I should thank Henrik Ibsen for first sparking my interest in these fragile jewel-toned delights. We had to  study A Doll's House way back when in sixth-form drama class (a whole decade ago!). His 'childish' protagonist Nora had a predilection for 'macaroons'. Our class of rather naive young ladies were told by our drama teachers that Ibsen meant those biscuity, coconuty things  - which, for some reason, struck me as very odd, more so than anything else about that play, or even that class. Sure, macaroons are sweet, and when done correctly, are tasty enough that I could eat more than one. But I just didn't understand why Nora Helmer would be obsessed with these brown, rather plain biscuits, over any other kind of pastry, or anything else, for that matter. Isn't it funny when one tiny, almost insignificant point like that leads to you not understanding the play at all?

A few months later (way after we had finished A Doll's House and moved on to some other play), I saw a photograph of some macarons, and realised that these had to be what Ibsen meant, and the play finally fell into place for me. It made sense to me that macarons - those rainbow-hued, light as air confections with their almost hidden, sweet centre) would be Nora's secret little indulgence, but my teachers hadn't really bothered about what they were, they could have been any kind of biscuits, for all they cared - which initially ruined my understanding of the whole play. sum up, some teachers are crap. (I'm restraining myself from having a rant about teachers, since this post is supposed to be about baking and not about school.)
Well, anyway, this post is supposed to be about my macarons, not school or bad housemates. I got the recipe for the macaron shells from this Serious Eats article, although I may try some other recipes in future. The filling was a simple lime and lemon curd, with the sourness of the curd helping to offset the intense sugary burst of the shells.

Lime-Lemon Curd
4 egg yolks
1 heaped tsp cornflour
3 limes, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
some zest
150 gm unsalted butter
250 gm caster sugar

- Melt butter in a double boiler (you can make one by popping a glass bowl over a pot of water), then mix in zest, juices, sugar and cornflour, and stir till sugar has dissolved.
- Beat egg yolks lightly, then sieve into mixture.
- Stir for 7-9 minutes, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove from heat, pour into a sterilised jar and let it cool down. It will thicken even more as it cools down, and you can then keep it in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

These are the very first macarons I've ever made, so I must confess I was a little nervous prior to starting them. I'd read all the horror stories about 'feet' not appearing, too many air bubbles in shells, and everything else that can and will go wrong when preparing these delicate things. So I was surprised when I achieved the much-craved for 'feet', although my piping skills do leave much to be desired. I got bored with carefully piping out tiny little circles, so the last couple of batches I did consisted of huge discs - some of them were almost 2 inches across!

Lookswise, they probably need quite a lot of surgery before I can produce anything resembling the Crayola-coloured confections of Laduree et al. However, I was pretty happy with how they tasted. The shells were crispy on the outside, leading to a soft, sweet inner bit, and the sourness of the curd helped balance the sweetness of the shells. I'll be attempting more macarons soon (we'll need to finish up our current batch first) and I'll even attempt to add some colouring to them next time. 


  1. OK, now I want to go off and bake some!!! Looks yummy!

  2. Thanks! They take a bit of work, but they're worth it :)

  3. They look lovely! No wonder they are so expensive. They take time and care and love to make.

  4. Thanks Ai! It's true, I do appreciate why they cost so much, now that I've tried to make my own

  5. The real reason we all want you home is so we can chain you up and make you bake macaroons.

  6. Dammit, i thought you only wanted me for my looks!