Divin Assembly

When you think about it, French patisserie is just complicated versions of very simple foods. A millefeuille is just pastry layers with cream in between. Macarons are just biscuits. Brioche is just a rich buttery bread. So you shouldn’t be put off making French patisserie at home. If you can make biscuits, you can probably have a go at making macarons. Sure, you might not get it right the first time, as I frequently don’t, but it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy. One or two bits of French patisserie is a very useful thing to have in your culinary repertoire, and if you start getting something consistently right, you’ll feel great about your culinary abilities.

The Divin I made with a friend at the weekend was no different; it is basically a glorified raspberry Victoria sponge. A Divin has two cakes, with raspberries, a raspberry jelly, and a cream in between. Writing such a simple description is mildly depressing, given the afternoon we spent cooking and morning trudging around London looking for ingredients, just to make a glorified Victoria sponge, but that’s what it is.


So how is it different from a raspberry Victoria sponge? Firstly, the cake isn’t a sponge. It’s made from ground almonds and egg whites, not unlike a macaron, and piped into shape on a baking tray instead of poured into a mold. You have to whisk, fold, and sift, rather different than just putting all the ingredients into the Kenwood, as I do with sponge cake. Perhaps even more complicated is the cream, a nougat crème mousseline, which is a thick egg-based cream combined with a nougat cream. Finally the raspberry jelly is made from a raspberry coulis. “Fussy” doesn’t begin to describe the four page recipe we were working from.

All these differences add up to an increased difficulty. Get one or two things a little wrong, and you’ve not got quite the dessert you set out to make. Unfortunately this is what happened to us. Perpetually afraid of cooking the eggs in a sauce, I didn’t thicken it quite enough, and even after some time in the fridge, it just didn’t have the right texture. We hopefully spooned it on to the cake, thinking that the cream might just be thick enough for the raspberries to hold as a dam, but sadly not. After trying to top with raspberry jelly, disaster struck, and cream started flooding out.

Divin Cream

The Divin we made was still great though. The thinner cream meant eating it out of a bowl- not unlike a trifle, actually- but that was hardly a problem. All of the flavours worked really well together, and the rich cream absorbed by the sponge. After using this as pudding one evening, we had seconds for breakfast the next morning, with tea the next afternoon, and there was still some to leave behind as I headed back to Oxford. But not for long, as shortly after I left, “I ate it all, no regrets” was the text I received.

So have a go at some more advanced cooking once in a while. It’s a great social activity, will help improve your cooking, and even if it doesn’t turn out quite the way you wanted, you’ll still have food to be excited about.

The Divin


Giant Macarons with Raspberries and Peach Cream

Macarons are very fashionable at the moment in the world of cooking. Their fame started in Paris, when famous patisseries like Pierre Hermé and Ladurée began producing these small, coin-sized, delicate almond biscuits, which were sandwiched together with a cream filling. These patisseries could show their culinary creativity through macarons, with flavours like passionfruit and dark chocolate, jasmine and green tea, and even some savoury ones like curry or beetroot and horseradish. The colours produced were bright and contrasting. Soon most patisseries began making them, their popularity perhaps aided by the fact they are lighter and healthier than many patisserie treats. You can find them in a good number of Oxford patisseries, like Gatineau in Summertown, or Chateau Gateau on St. Clements.

So what are macarons? Not to be confused with the coconut-chocolate biscuit that is the English macaroon, these biscuits are made from a very light and airy dough made up of almond flour and egg whites. There’s not a lot of flavour from the biscuits themselves, so usually they are filled with a butter cream of some sort. The filling is piped in the night before, which allows the biscuit to absorb a little, creating a softer, smoother texture. Often they are just eaten as a snack, but they can be made into giant macarons, and used as the base for patisserie items, like the raspberry and peach creme dessert presented here.

Creativity and taste aside, another lure of macarons is that they are quite tricky to make, despite the ingredients being relatively simple. Macarons have their characteristic ‘pieds’, or ‘feet’, a mythical part of the cooking process, caused by a combination of egg white rising, and surface tension of the dough. Particularly important is to get the macarons to have perfectly formed feet- if you don’t get the feet, or the feet aren’t even all the way around, you lose marks for presentation. I don’t really know how to shape the formation of these feet, but they seem to define whether or not you have done a good job. I feel like macarons react to confidence- if you are scared of things going wrong when you are baking them, things are more likely to go wrong- perhaps not unlike all French patisserie, though.

However, I think macarons can definitely be made well, domestically. You’ll need a bit of kit- piping bag, nozzle, pastry scraper (and an electric mixer helps)- but once you have these, the recipe is that not that complicated (a bit like making a cake or biscuits), it’s just a little fiddly. The piping particularly can be difficult if you don’t have a lot of experience with a piping bag, as I don’t. But I would recommend just having a go at them, even if they don’t go right from a presentation standpoint, the result will still be delicious, and with a bit of practice, you’ll make prettier pastries. And when they do go right- like solving problems in science- it makes it all worthwhile, and only motivates you to do more cooking.

Just baked macarons. Notice the feet- the ruffled bases- on the bottom of the macarons.

Giant Macarons with Raspberries and Peach Cream

Recipe for macarons taken from Mad about Macarons. You could easily substitute the peach liqueur for another flavouring, like passionfruit, orange, or blackcurrant, just by adding the appropriate liqueur. You could probably get 6 portions of patisserie-style giant macarons here. Measurements should be as exact as possible.

150g egg whites (aged 4-5 days)
100g caster sugar
180g ground almonds
270g icing sugar
Pink food colouring
300g raspberries
200ml double cream
3tbsp peach liqueur

Macaron dough piped onto a baking sheet. My piping skills clearly need some work.

1. Make the macaron dough. Whisk the egg whites until firm peaks, gradually adding the sugar as you do so. Put in enough food colouring until you get a rich pink (note the almond colour will take some of this away). Sift the almonds into a large bowl, add the icing sugar, then fold in the whipped egg whites.
2. Work and pipe the dough. With a pastry scraper (or spatula if you don’t have one), work the dough to press out some of the oxygen from the whites. Scrape the mixture into a piping bag with a plain nozzle (1cm around tip). Line two baking trays with baking sheets, then pipe your macarons onto the sheet.
3. Cook the macarons. Preheat the oven to 160ºC, and bake for around 15 minutes. There is quite a fine point when they are done, so get to know your oven and adjust cooking times slightly if necessary. Leave to cool on the sheet, then slowly (as they are delicate) peel them off.
4. Make the desert. Whip the cream until firm peaks, then incorporate the peach liqueur (or add more to taste). Assemble the dessert as shown above.