Sunday, 1 March 2015

Earl Grey Macarons with Blackberry Preserve Filling (with Fouad Makadsi)






It is time to revisit the ways of the elusive macaron. These delicious French cookies come in tens of thousands of flavours and colours. Light, airy, crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside almond-meringues with a creamy or jammy filling sandwiched in the middle. Macarons are not only tasty but beautiful and luxurious. The catch is that they are challenging to make. There are several steps where conditions must be just so or else they won't work. It usually takes cooks and chefs alike a few tries before they can make the perfect macaron. I'm no exception. I'm sharing this recipe as well as the experience. This was my second time making macarons. My first try I made banana passionfruit macarons which made an exquisite combination but there were a couple of flaws in the execution.  

The main problem with my first batch of macarons was that I didn't have a fine enough texture on the ground almonds and it caused little bumps all over the surface of the cookies. I had obtained ground almonds from a bulk store and ran them through a sieve twice, but that wasn't enough. This time around I was joined by my friend and fellow food blogger Fouad Makadsi, and we thought maybe if we used a flour sifter we would end up with a finer product. Unfortunately that wasn't enough either. So next time I try to make macarons I'm not going to use the ground almonds from bulk and will try to get my hands on some finely ground almond flour. It just seems to be harder to find. Wish me luck.

Everything with the actual recipe itself is fine so I'm happy to share it on the blog. As I mentioned, I was accompanied by Fouad for this experiment. He had never tried his hand at macarons before so this was a first for him. We thought it would be fun if I made a flavour and he made a flavour. He came up with rose water-cardamom macarons with a pistachio mascarpone filling. They were fantastic! I'll be sure to add a link to his blog when he posts the recipe. I chose Earl Grey macarons with a blackberry preserve filling. I've seen Earl Grey macarons recipes floating around social media and the web and I was really intrigued by the idea. To go along with the British black tea motif I thought jam would make a great filling. Kind of an ode to tea time. Blackberries struck me as the perfect accompaniment and I was right. 

To get the right flavour, real Earl Grey tea leaves are used in the recipe. In most of the examples I had seen on the web there were visible flecks of tea leaves in the macarons and I thought that looked great. I tried to replicate that but missed the mark. If you try this recipe and want little flecks of tea leaves in your macarons then I recommend using a sharp knife to give the leaves a fine chop. I used a mortar and pestle which essentially pulverized the leaves into a powder making them mostly invisible in the end result. That was a little disappointing but the right flavour was there. That's your call. If you'd prefer to have little to no flecks in your macarons then by all means use a mortar and pestle. You'll need about 1 teaspoon of chopped or ground tea leaves. Conveniently enough, a standard tea bag contains this amount. If you're like me, however, you'll know that the best tea flavour comes from loose tea sold in bulk. I drink tea almost every day and there is a loose tea store on my street that I frequent. I went there to get some Earl Grey for this recipe and ended up with a variety that had black tea leaves infused with the oil of bergamot (a citrus fruit from Italy) and cornflower petals. It worked fantastic for this recipe. 


   


I'm going to take you through this process step by step to help you produce some amazing macarons of your own. Please don't be discouraged if you haven't made these several times before and they don't turn out perfect. As I mentioned, macarons are moderately challenging to make. If you have fun and learn in the process that's what really counts. Perfect or not, the end result is just a bonus. 


Ingredients

1 cup powdered sugar (or icing sugar)
3/4 cup finely ground almond flour
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves, finely chopped
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of fine salt
Food colouring (optional)

1 pint fresh blackberries
1 cup white sugar
Juice from 1/4 lemon


Let's start with the filling. I recommend you make this first because by the end of the cooking time it will be piping hot and you want it to cool down adequately before piping onto your macaron shells. This part is super easy and only takes 3 ingredients. It makes a small batch of basic blackberry preserve, but you will end up some excess leftover. It will store in your fridge for a good 3 weeks and you can use it any way you would any jam. Enjoy!

Wash and drain one pint of fresh blackberries. Add them to a saucepan over medium heat.


 


Swirl the pan now and again as the heat slowly starts to break down the blackberries. They will blister and release some of their juices.






After about 4 minutes add 1 cup of white sugar. Stir to dissolve. 






Let the berries stew for another 7 to 10 minutes. The sugar will help to extract most of the liquid from the berries and then it will begin to thicken and reduce. If at any time the boiling seems out of control, reduce the heat.







Use a potato masher to pulverize the berries until you're left with a jammy texture.






Your hot jam should look something like this.






Remove from the heat and squeeze the juice from 1/4 of a fresh lemon into the preserve. Filter the juice through your hand to catch any seeds.






Stir in the lemon juice, transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely. Immediately add hot water and dish soap to your saucepan and allow it to soak. This will maximize cleaning efficiency later. 

Now on with the dry ingredients for the macarons.

Pass your almond flour through a fine sieve, then do the same for the powdered sugar. Just to be safe, I would recommend passing them through a sieve a second time. For perfect macarons it is imperative that the almonds and sugar be a very fine powder. 


 

As I mentioned before, we tried using a flour sifter. I'm sure a flour sifter would work if you have the right product to begin with. The ground almonds we got in bulk are just no good for this. 





Add the finely chopped tea leaves to the almond and powdered sugar mixture. Then whisk to incorporate throughout. Set aside.






In a very clean and dry glass, copper or stainless steel bowl add your egg whites. They must be room temperature. If you forgot to take your eggs out before you can simply submerge them in warm water for about 8 minutes and they will become room temperature. Use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites until foamy. While continuing to beat, add the cream of tartar and salt to the egg whites. Then slowly add in 1/4 cup of white sugar in 3 or 4 installments.






Continue beating until you have soft, white peaks. Add the food colouring at this stage and continue to beat the eggs. You can adjust with more food colouring if you wish as you keeping beating. You can make these any colour you like but I recommend a pale shade of purple. It will go well with the blackberry preserve in the middle. Food colouring is entirely optional however. Earl Grey is a flavour where you can get away with a non coloured version and your macarons will still look great in their natural blonde colour. It would still look nice with the preserve and the flecks of chopped tea leaves will be decoration enough. That's up to you.

In a perfect world you would have access to powdered colouring. I've never used it but apparently it's the best and I can understand why. Gel colours are also great because they are very concentrated in pigment so a little goes a long way and it won't water down the consistency of the egg whites. In a pinch you can use liquid colouring, but you are limited to a modest amount. Frankly, I think macarons look best in pale pastels anyway. 



 


Adjust if necessary and when you're happy with the colour keep beating the egg white mixture until you get stiff peaks. This process takes a few minutes so be patient. Be careful as not to overwhip the egg whites or they will separate and ruin your macarons.  






Now for the most important and intimidating step, I'm not going to lie. The folding of the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture, or the macaronage. Add the almond flour mixture to the egg whites in 3 separate installments. Folding the ingredients together between each addition. Folding is different from mixing. Use a rubber spatula to scrape around the sides of the bowl and then scoop down the middle in a constant up and down motion. This is a gentle way of mixing that doesn't knock all of the air out of the egg whites. The folding technique is not the challenging part. It's knowing when to stop. 







If they're not folded enough your macarons will crack when baking. If they're folded too much then they will spread out instead of rise in the oven. While folding, you will lose some of the air that you whipped into the egg whites to get stiff peaks, but just enough will still be trapped inside. The macaron batter is ready when it is smooth, velvety and remains thick but drips from the spatula when held upside down. The best description would be the consistency of molten lava.  






Fill a pastry bag with the macaron batter. Cut the end so you have about a half inch hole or you can use a piping tip with a circular hole that size. I find placing the piping bag in a tall glass helps to keep it in place while you're filling it. Then roll the sides back up, twist and you're good to go. If you don't have any piping bags you can use a zip top bag instead. 







On a cooking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper, pipe out your macarons shapes evenly apart. The size of your macarons revolves entirely on how big you make them. Just do your best to make even shapes and sizes. I admit, I have not honed the skillful art of the piping bag. So don't feel bad if you haven't either. Do not use any butter, oil or fat of any kind.






If your macarons have any peaks from the flick of the nozzle you can lightly wet your finger and gently press them down. Then you want to gently bang the cooking sheet against a hard, flat surface a couple of times on each side. This will force out any pockets of air that would otherwise misshapen your cookies as they bake. 






Then leave them somewhere dry and draft-free for 20-30 minutes. This is an imperative step that you mustn't skip. It lets the macarons dry out slightly and get a tacky. This will create the perfect crispy outer layer. You will know they are ready when the batter doesn't stick to your finger when touched. 

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 300 F/149 C. 



 


Place your macarons in the middle of your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes. While baking the macarons should rise and create ridges along the bottom (referred to as feet), the trademark sign of a perfect macaron. Do not let them brown in the oven. Remove the macarons when finished and let them cool for about a minute.






Then carefully transfer the macarons shells to a wire rack to cool completely. If they stick to the silicone or parchment paper then they are slightly undercooked. 





Once cooled you can start assembling your macarons! 






Fill a piping bag or a zip top bag with your cooled blackberry preserve and pipe out a bit in the center of half your macarons on the flat side.  Leave a small perimeter around the outside.





Then top each one with another macaron shell to make a lil' sandwich. By gently pressing down with the top half it should evenly spread the filling to the edge of the cookie. 





Now you have assembled a delicious batch of homemade macarons!




So to be clear, I know these aren't perfect, but I think they turned out better than my first batch and I was really proud of those. So there's that. Aside from the slightly pimply exterior they looked beautiful. I was really happy with the dusty lilac colour and how it went with the blackberry preserve. If I could do it again I absolutely would have used a knife to finely chop the tea instead of grinding them. Go figure, if my almonds had been finer and my tea leaves been coarser I would have been a lot happier with their appearance. My piping bag skills still aren't anything to write home about but, again, I showed an improvement from the last time. 

The Earl Grey tea flavour is subtle but definitely present. I really enjoyed it. It paired well with the sweet and slightly tart blackberry preserve. It really does take your senses to tea time with jam and cookies. I love when food has the ability to take your imagination to places and events like that. This was my first time both making and eating macarons with a fruit jam filling and it was better than I had anticipated. 





My macarons went visually well together with Fouad's. His macarons were smaller and a shade of pink that looked good next to the bluish-purple of mine. Mine had a dark, shiny middles and his had light, creamy middles. I thought they were great. I really enjoyed Fouad's macarons too. Really impressed as well since this was his very first shot at making them. It's definitely a cookie for someone who likes cardamom, but if you are one of those people (and I am) then you would love them. My all-time favourite dessert is tira misu and the mascarpone filling in his macarons reminded me of that. Truly delicious. 



  

We took a bunch of great photos. I'll have more to add to this post in the near future. 






It was great to finally cook with Fouad! We had been planning this for months and we made a good team so we'll be joining forces again in the future. We both have our sights set on perfecting these things so you can expect more macarons from the blog as the future unfolds. 

So please check back soon. When Fouad gets a chance to update his blog with his macarons post I'll add a link to it here. He also took some fantastic photos from our day of macaron making so I'll share some of those as well.

I hope you liked this recipe! I encourage you to test your skills with it. Macarons are a wonderful treat for yourself and make an exceptional gift. As I've warned, they lean towards the more difficult end of the scale for the average homecook but I believe in you and wish you good luck! :)

Until we meet again. Have a great week!


B  

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