Recipes: Chocolate Macarons with Prune Ganache

Chocolate Macarons are meant to be the hardest type to make, so perhaps this was a little ambitious for my first proper attempt at Macarons ... but I made them for Mother's Day.

I've always thought that Macarons were difficult, but my great friend Elaine made beautiful Turron Macarons, assured me that they were easy as well as delicious, and inspired me to give them a go.

A few quick notes about eggs. I used half 'real' fresh egg white, and topped them up with some pasteurized egg whites I'd bought - a cartons of whites sounds like a good idea, but it's not; the whites do not rise as well as the whites from eggs you crack yourself, they were an odd texture, and I'd never buy these again. Also, this is a recipe that works better with egg whites towards the end of their shelf life, rather than super-fresh eggs. Egg sizes vary so much, so I assume that a white weighs about 40 g (they freeze well, and this is a handy way of estimating how many you've frozen).

Turn the oven on to 320 F / 160 C. The temperature of an oven is important - mine has no relation to the temperature claimed on the dial, so I use an oven thermometer. The macarons that I cooked on the lower shelves and so left in a little longer worked best for me - so I'm tempted to try cooking them at 300 F /150 C next time.

First, take baking trays and line with baking parchment: one side is smoother than the other, and will be the 'upper' side which comes into contact with the dough when baking. Draw circles on the underside to guide you later when making the macarons (if you draw them on the upper surface, they might leave a line on the cooked biscuit).

I made these in various sizes, though the smaller ones came out better - about the size of a dollar coin.

Take a cup of whole prunes - I use Prunes d'Agen - and roughly chop them. Place in a bowl with a cup of liquid; if you can do this earlier in the day, the prunes re-hydrate better. Some people use Armagnac, but half my friends are in AA so I tend to avoid alcohol when cooking. Water seems too boring, so to add an extra dimension I used a cup of iced tea made using the Troisgros recipe (I make it weak; if you make it strong then use half tea, half water).

I've always used a hand whisk, so getting a mixer (even if it was the cheapest one in the store) was an exciting new departure for me.

I put in 1 cup of egg whites, weighing 240 g - ie 6 egg whites. Plus 1/4 tsp of salt.

Then I set the machine in full speed to start whisking ....

When the whites were beginning to rise and hold their shape - you can see the lines in their surface from the whisk - I added:

1 cup / 200 g of white caster sugar.

Keep blending on a medium speed.

[I want to do my eco-hippie thing and say that bleached sugar is really bad, but ... it works better for meringues which are meant to be white.]

When it's blended, turn off mixer and let mix sit.

Take a bowl and a metal sieve (plastic mesh ones are too fine), and sift into it:

2 1/2 cups or 300 g of icing or powder sugar

1 1/2 cups or 150 g of ground almonds or almond flour (several transatlantic conversations have confirmed that it is the same thing)

1/2 cup or 60 g of cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate which is sweetened) - more if you want the macarons to be very dark.

Mix the ingredients together in the bowl, until they are well blended.

Turn the mixer onto a low setting and with a ladle add the dry mix to the egg and sugar mix.

When it's fully incorporated, and you have a brown uniform mixture ... turn the mixer off. Be careful not to over-mix or all the air comes out, but also don't worry too much about it being over-light.

Put the mixture into an icing bag, a little at a time - it depends on how you like to use the bag, but I find it works best when it's half full. I admit that this is where I went wrong - I didn't have a large nozzle (with an opening ideally about the size of a dime), so used a smaller one, and pushed too much air out of the meringue mixture ...

Squeeze mix onto baking tray, keeping within the circles, and making the biscuits as high as you can without them collapsing.

Then leave the biscuits on the tray to dry for about 30 minutes so that they form a 'shell' surface - the amount of time depends on the size of the biscuit of course, so larger ones take a little longer. The surface should have 'dropped' so that it looks smooth, but is also 'touch dry' so that it does not leave finger marks if you touch it. Don't be tempted to think 'the drier the better' and leave them for hours though ...

Small macarons will take 8 to 10 minutes; large ones 15 to 20 minutes. It's better to slightly over-cook them rather than under-cook them ... and ideally you want both a 'foot' - the little lip seen in the photo - and for the bottom to have cooked through. The bottom not cooking through ... you can bluff by covering with the ganache.

These are the larger ones I made ... pretty, but the shape was better with the smaller ones.

Whilst the macaron biscuits are cooling - which takes 10 minutes - I whisked up a paste to hold them together. A nice rose or raspberry jam would work too, but we love prunes.

The better the chocolate, the less you have to do to it ... I use dark chocolate chunks.

Take about one cup of chunks, or one bar broken into pieces, pop into a bowl and microwave until it's soft - I did one minute on medium, stirred, then one more minute.

I could go on about bain maries and other ways of melting chocolate, but life is complicated enough, and so why add complications to baking ... it's really that easy.

By this point the bowl of chopped prunes should have absorbed the liquid. Give them a good stir. If there is too much liquid, just drain a bit off.

I like the texture of the prunes to come through, but if you prefer them smooth then just whiz it through with a blender.

Add the prunes to the melted chocolate, and stir in. The mixture should have enough movement to spread easily, but if you're worried that it seems to liquid you can always melt a bit more chocolate and add it.

Turn a biscuit upside down - note that the underside is cooked - and scoop a spoon full of the prune ganache onto it. You can spread it with a spatula, or just sandwich the second biscuit to it and allow it to spread naturally - I tried both methods, and there is little to chose between them.

You can eat them straight away, but macarons are meant to be better if you can pop them in the fridge overnight as this allows the flavors to meld.

Ladurée macarons in Paris are amazing, but the ones sold in London have been frozen and defrosted. I have not tried to freeze these yet, but if it's good enough for them ...

Et voila! Macarons. Not perfect - it was a first attempt - but not as difficult as some people make them out to be.

As you can see, the proportions worked better with the smaller ones. These are easier to make, fit into the mouth in one bite without making a mess and so I'll be sticking to smaller sizes in future. I used no 'trick' - they're really very easy to make.

Update - they went down very well, and it took a little convincing before people believed that I had made them myself.

Copyright © 2009 Dorothy King

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