It’s often said that we learn something new every day. Whether it’s an entirely new fact that we had no knowledge of before, or a simple “life hack” that makes tasks simpler, better and faster (sorry Standard Bank), what we learn goes a long way and often makes a huge difference to everyday life. What do I mean? Well, last week and this week thus far, I can safely say that I have learned the following:
1) There are pros and cons to absolutely everything. For example, living alone. Pro: it’s epic. Con: opening jars. (I realised this after half an hour – no exaggeration – of trying to open one). It was like a scene from a Liam Neeson movie and the struggle was real. (For the first 29 minutes and 45 seconds I wasn’t Liam, but rather one of his feeble screen opponents. Crisis. In the final 15 however, I brought it home for a strong finish!)
2) There are some people in this world who just never want to see others do well. Sometimes it’s the girl at varsity who gives you the wrong information so that you’ll never do better than her in a test, or the guy at the gym who ups his speed on the treadmill EVERY. SINGLE. TIME that you do. (Easy Bruce Fordyce, this isn’t a race. But for the record, if it were, it’d be late for you). Sadly, this is usually because they are threatened by the talent and greatness of others, or simply envy their courage to want more for themselves. (But like T.I says, “Never mind what haters say, ignore ‘em ‘til they fade away.” Ha. Shout out to Carmen, who knows T.I better than T.I knows T.I).
And finally,the crux of this post as a whole…
3) Macaroons aren’t the devil. Yes, you heard right. Contrary to popular belief, they’re actually not that difficult. BEHOLD… my majestic Mac-Hacks!
First things first, Macaroons are the unicorn of baking. You see them mostly in pictures but seldom in real life, they are also rare, and for some, they will always remain a mythical creature of the Patisserie world. Mac-Daddy’s are also like animals and small children… they can smell fear. So harden up bitches, it’s about to get real…
I have always been one that loves a challenge and usually, I rise above. But for me, the word “Macaroon” used to trigger flashbacks of despair, denial and defeat. The first time I attempted them (almost 2 years ago), they turned out cracked, flat, misshapen, and not at all what they were supposed to be. I hung my head in utter humiliation. They were a bigger flop than Mariah Carey in “Glitter” (harsh, but fair). How could I, the baker (who had never failed anything before) have fallen short? I vowed never to speak of it again, swore off the demon cookies and decided that they were better left to the French.
Today, I was like Eminem in 8-Mile and more importantly, in his smash hit, “Lose yourself.” I had one shot, one opportunity. My palms were sweaty, knees were weak and arms were heavy. I had to crack these Macaroons, even if they killed me. It was time to bring out the big guns…
There are five things that Italians are good for… Pizza, romance, the Mona Lisa, Robert De Niro and their meringue. I decided to try the Italian-meringue method of making Macaroons, as opposed to the standard one I tried last time (mostly because I’m still traumatized). This involves beating egg whites and making a sugar syrup that gets incorporated whilst the egg whites are at soft peak stage. From past experience, I can tell you that should you not do this, your egg whites will be more unstable than Lindsay Lohan (yes, I just went there). Unstable egg whites are a Macaroon death wish and unless you wish to waste the sacred entity that is almond flour, don’t do this to yourself.
Macaroons can be any flavour you choose and again, taking it back to T.I, “you can have whatever you like.” I elected to make chocolate, espresso and hazelnut Macaroons filled with a decadent milk chocolate, Nutella and whipped cream ganache. You can’t actually taste the espresso, it’s simply there to enhance the chocolate flavour but if you want to taste the coffee in the Macaroons, add two more teaspoons. The edible gold dust is symbolic of me giving myself a gold star on the forehead for finally nailing the one thing that had me stumped. At the beginning of this post I mentioned tips for flawless Macaroons… These shall henceforth be known as “Mac-Hacks.”
Mac-Hack #1: Invest in a Macaroon sheet (these are silicone mats with circles on them that will help you pipe even circles. Some call this cheating, I call this competitive advantage…)
Mac-Hack #2: For goodness sake, make the Italian-meringue.
Mac-Hack #3: After piping circles, bang (yes bang) the baking sheet with the Macaroon sheet on several times on your kitchen counter to release trapped air. This ensures an even bake.
Mac-Hack #4: Leave the Macaroons to develop a skin (half an hour). Trust me it’s worth it. This will help them to keep their shape.
Mac-Hack #5: Bake at 150 degrees centigrade for no cracks in the surface.
Mac-Hack #6: Whilst baking, open the oven after 8 minutes and again after 10 minutes to release steam (this also prevents cracking and helps the Macaroons crisp up).
This one’s for Olivia who loves Macaroons more than Kanye loves Kanye, for Jeans who taught me that it’s okay not to get everything right the first time and for Jen who keeps me laughing both at her and also at myself (even if it often means I’m left temporarily deaf in one ear from the sheer loudness of everything about her).
The moral of this post isn’t only that Macaroons are easier than you think and that I reference Hip Hop more than a white-chocolate girl should… It’s that we really do learn something new every day. Sometimes it’s about life or inconsequential things and sometimes it’s really about ourselves. This post is about proving that everything that beats us can eventually be beaten. So what if it took me 29 minutes and 45 seconds to open a jar and 2 attempts to crack Macaroons. I did it, didn’t I?
Yours in Baking, Bitching and Macaroon Magic, (Because “xoxo” was too mainstream and because I have finally conquered the mythical Mac-Daddy!)
The mother of all Macaroons
For the Macaroons:
150g almond flour
150g icing sugar
110g egg white (divided into two separate bowls of 55g each)
15ml ready-made espresso
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150g castor sugar
For the ganache filling:
100g milk chocolate
50g whipped cream
20g butter at room temperature (softened)
For the Macaroons:
- In a large mixing bowl, sieve the almond flour, icing sugar and cocoa together. Mix well.
- On top of the almond mix, add 55g of egg white, vanilla and espresso. Do not mix.
- Put remaining egg whites into a glass bowl.
- Make a sugar syrup with castor sugar and water in a saucepan on the stove. Start beating the egg whites whilst the syrup is cooking. Stop when the egg whites reach soft peak stage. When syrup reaches 115 degrees Celsius on a sugar thermometer, remove pan from heat.
- With the electric mixer on, pour a thin, steady stream of syrup into the egg whites and beat until the mixture cools down.
- Gently fold the meringue into the almond mix in three lots.
- Pipe 1 inch circles onto Macaroon sheet or baking paper.
- Bang the baking sheet down onto the kitchen counter several times to get trapped air out of the mixture.
- Leave to form a skin for 30 minutes before baking. Whilst waiting, preheat oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
- Bake for 11 minutes, opening the oven door briefly and then closing it after 8 minutes and then again at 10 minutes to release steam.
- Remove from oven and leave to cool completely.
For the ganache filling:
- Finely chop chocolate and place in a glass bowl.
- Bring cream to the boil on stove and pour over chocolate.
- Leave to sit for three minutes and then stir to ensure that the chocolate is melted.
- Place bowl in the fridge to thicken the cream and chocolate mixture.
- Add Nutella and room temperature butter and beat with an electric mixer.
- Pair up Macaroons in similar sized partnerships and fill a piping bag with the ganache. Pipe small round in the center of one of every Macaroon pair before sandwiching together.
- Decorate with edible gold dust or leave as is.
- Keep refrigerated in an airtight container.
Health Hack: Mercedes Benz says that “The best knows no alternative.” (Sorry, I’m not sorry.)