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.