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Monday, 14 October 2013

Last Course: Chocolate Macaroon Kit by Sainsbury's

Macaroons have become quite popular in recent years. Rarely have I attended a fan convention without finding dozens of stands inexplicably selling cupcakes, macaroons and other assorted fancies. Thusfar, while I've attempted various kinds of cake, I haven't made any smaller, lighter sugar-packed treats... Which is just weird, for me...

Since I tend to be fairly lazy in the kitchen, I'm a big fan of ready-mixes like Wright's flours and things like this kit by Sainsbury's (though I should mention at this point that a Delia Smith Christmas cake kit from 2011 2010 was 'unearthed' from the Stygian depths of my cupboards this last weekend, so make of that what you will!) as they remove the necessity for lots of careful measuring and a good portion of the mixing. The instructions tend to be minimalistic and optimistic, but they're certainly sufficient, and any mistakes made the first time round can easily be fixed on future attempts.

This kit was picked up by my girlfriend before she went home for the summer, but we only got round to making our macaroons this last weekend.

Ingredients:
  • 1 Sachet Macaroon Mix
  • 1 Sachet Icing Mix
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 50g Butter
  • 1tbsp Milk
Preparation Time: about 45-50 minutes... Longer if whisking by hand

Tools Required:
  • Piping Bag (included in kit, but it's only a basic, paper one... use your own if you prefer)
  • 2 Small/Medium Mixing Bowls
  • Whisk (one of the electric variety may be preferable - there be meringue-making involved in this recipe!)
  • Spoon
  • Baking Tray
  • Greaseproof Paper
The Process:
As with the Salted Caramel Cupcake Kit, the instructions are pretty good - on one side of the box, there's a simplified version with diagrams, on the other is a set of concise, step-by-step text instructions... But what the hell, why not write them out in my own way..? And with my own experiences of the process added to spice things up!

To begin with, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Bear in mind that the instructions reckon on producing twenty four macaroons (12 sandwiches, that is), starting with a 3cm diameter blob of mix, so it needs to be a fairly large baking tray. My oven isn't exactly massive, but I'd have thought it was about average... and yet I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to fit 24 blobs of the macaroon mix onto one of my baking trays... I probably should have used more than one, just to make it easier.

Separate the whites from the two eggs into one of the bowls (disposing of the yolks - they're not needed), then beat with a hand- or electric whisk. We tried using a hand blender for this, and I can confidently report that, unless you have a more whisk-like attachment to replace the usual blade, a hand blender is a terrible idea for making meringue - I ended up with a surface layer of light froth and a rather vile, bubbly white liquid underneath... and used a whole box of eggs in determining that whisking by hand was the only viable option until I get myself a proper electric whisk. Doing it by hand is incredibly tiring (as previously mentioned), and it took the two of us a good 15-20 minutes to do the 3 minutes of whisking listed in the simplified instructions. The end result should be stiff, and able to form good, stable peaks.

The instruction for adding the macaroon mix isn't the clearest: 'with a spoon, slowly fold the mix into the egg white'. For clarity, I'd recommend adding the mix a little at a time, folding it in thoroughly before adding more. It has to be done slowly to avoid ruining the meringue... It is just bubbly egg white, after all - burst all the bubbles and your mixture will be useless.

Once all the macaroon mixture is folded in, decant all of it into a piping bag and chop off the end. The one provided is basically made of thick, coated paper and isn't exactly easy to use unless you're an expert in origami - the paper won't always fold the way you'd want it to once the mixture is in there, and you're trying to squeeze it out the end. Squeeze out the mixture onto the lined baking tray, aiming to get something like 24 evenly-sized, well-spaced blobs. It was around this point I started wondering if the meringue was quite ready when I started folding in the mix, or if perhaps I'd gone too quickly. The completed mix was still very bubbly, but it was also extremely fluid, spreading out on the tray so that a 3cm blob (as recommended in the instructions) rapidly became 5cm.

Note that it's not necessary to preheat the oven for this recipe - you only turn the oven on once you're ready to use it because, initially at least, it needs to be cold, warming up slowly. With the baking tray in the oven, set the heat to 50C, and leave it for about 20 minutes, then increase the temperature to about 150C for 15 minutes more.

Once baked, take the macaroons out and allow them to cool fully before removing them from the grease proof paper. Here, again, we found our macaroons were possibly not quite right. Not only had they basically merged into one giant conjoined macaroon, they'd stuck fast to the tray lining all around the edges and were still rather gummy in the centres. We managed to create something like 19 blobs, and a good few of them didn't really want to separate from the grease proof paper. Whether they could have done with a little longer in the oven, or whether it was another sign that my mixing wasn't quite up to scratch, I'm not sure...

The icing is a simple case of mixing 50g of butter (which should come out of the fridge early enough that it's nice and soft for mixing) with a tablespoon of milk and the entire contents of the icing mix sachet. The butter should be mixed around a bit before anything else is added, to ensure it's smooth and easy to stir. The end result should be a nice, smooth paste, which is then spooned onto one macaroon and sandwiched with another.

Lastly, collect the macaroons onto a tray or plate and refrigerate until you're ready to eat them. Which will probably be immediately so try to restrain yourself for... I dunno, maybe half an hour or so?

The Results:
This humble blog has a long history of producing things that are gloriously cock-eyed or, as I prefer to put it, "lovingly hand-made", and these macaroons are no exception. Attempting to separate them from the grease proof paper led to much breakage and crumbling, but we managed to make nine whole macaroons... Some may have been reconstructed with pieces, using the icing as a convenient 'glue', some may have been seasoned with small strips of grease proof paper, but all were edible.

I really do think that either more whisking or the use of an electric whisk would improve the look of them... and/or possibly a touch more caution when folding in the macaroon mix... but, while broad and flat, the macaroons were quite light, if rather sticky. The icing tasted strangely buttery, but not unpleasantly so. It's entirely possible that leaving the box in my cupboard for a couple of months left the icing mix in less than optimum condition but, let's be honest, it's just sugar and cocoa powder. Perhaps, next time I make some of these, I'll use some extra to give it a more bitter and punchy chocolate flavour.
Neither small, nor perfectly formed... and three fewer than Sainsbury's reckoned

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