Tuesday, 12 October 2010

CHOCOLATE MACAROONS

Did I mention my love of almonds? Oh, and chocolate too? Here two favourite ingredients combine to create deliciously rich, chewy macaroons. I have been meaning to make these ever since a friend brought a plate of them to my Macmillan coffee morning last month, at which all the guests immediately fell upon them, eschewing my chocolate brownies, forgotten cookies and M&S Battenberg cake. In the photograph, the espresso maker is a reminder of how well these biscuits go with a mug of good, strong coffee.

With the arrival on our shores in recent years of French macaroon maker, Laduree, macaroons have gone from the bakery staple of large discs cooked on rice paper, with a lurid cherry or whole almond plonked in the middle, to elegant oversized petit fours. Each year, Laduree creates a new flavour. My favourites are salted caramel, liquorice (an all-black macaroon), rose and pistachio.

These macaroons are rather rustic in shape and flavour compared to their soignee Gallic cousins, but they are no less delicious. I like the randomness of their shape, though I did try quite hard to make them roughly the same size. I would serve these as a pudding at a supper party, sandwiched together with whipped cream, but a chocolate ganache would be lovely too. The recipe is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's (with some additional tips from The Ottolenghi Cookbook) and I admit I was surprised to see it credited to him: it seems somewhat out of character.

Makes 24 (12 pairs)
125g icing sugar
3 tbsp cocoa
165g ground almonds
3 egg whites
55g caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract


For the chocolate ganache
100g plain chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100ml double cream

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Line two baking sheets with parchment. For those who strive for same-size biscuits, dip a 4.5cm circular biscuit cutter or small glass into flour, and use it to mark out 24 circles on the parchment set about 3cm apart

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, and whisk in the almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Stir half the almond mixture into the egg whites, then add the rest, along with the vanilla, and fold until just combined.

Transfer the mixture to a plastic bag and cut a 1cm hole in the bottom. Ottolenghi tip No. 1: secure the baking parchment to the tray with a small amount of mixture under each corner. Pipe on to the baking sheets using the flour circles as your guide. If you feel life is too short to make your own piping bag, place neat dollops of mixture on the sheet (about a teaspoonful and a half). Tap the sheets hard on a worktop to eliminate air bubbles. Ottolenghi tip No.2: Leave the macaroons for 15 mins before cooking to allow them to set slightly - this will prevent them spreading while cooking.


Bake until the macaroons feel slightly firm, about 12 minutes. Ottolenghi tip No. 3: They are done when they come away from the baking sheet easily with a palette knife. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then transfer on the parchment to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan until barely simmering, pour this over the chocolate, leave to stand for two minutes, then stir until the mix is smooth and cool. Spread some ganache on to half the macaroons and sandwich together with the remaining ones. Refrigerate, covered, until you're ready to serve.

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