Pistachio Macarons. From a technical perspective, they are nowhere near perfect. They are not Pierre Herme, they are not Ladurée. They are simply homemade with love. So it's ok. (Repeat to self 10 times).
My hankering for macarons started up a couple of weeks ago. I caught up for coffee with my friend Markii in Prahran, a day after that infamous macaron article was published in Epicure. The article wasn't great, but it really made us want some macarons. (Click here for reactions to the article and a much more interesting insight into the state of Melbourne's macarons). The only place nearby we could think of that would sell them was Fuji Mart, but sadly they were all out that day. Feeling deflated, and with only cabbage dressing, salted mackerel, frozen takoyaki and miso paste to console us, we gave up and headed home. Incidentally, Fuji Mart sells a cute range of Japanese-style French cakes - red bean layer cake, green tea crème caramel, that sort of thing - which are well worth checking out.
Markii, a physio student, offered to come over exactly one week later to help my mum with her exercises. Without practice consistent and exercise, improvement is slow. (I learned this when I had physio for my back pain last year). As with physio, as with macaron-baking. I offered to make a batch of macarons as a thank-you gift. Pistachio macarons, from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess. Macarons aren't an easy procedure, but Nigella's recipe is simple enough, and the picture is pretty, yet comfortingly ramshackle, with a few cracks across the top.
Now, if you're interested in making a Pierre-worthy macaron at home, I suggest you look at a serious guide, like The Roux Brothers' Patisserie book, or better yet, Duncan's blog. (Perhaps one day there will be classes offered in Melbourne.) What follows here is simply a record of the steps I took to make these imperfect beauties.
I started by blanching some already-shelled pistachios. I don't recommend shelling pistachios by hand in any great quantity unless you want your fingers ripped to shreds. To blanch: I placed the nuts in cold water, brought it to the boil for one minute, drained them, rubbed them in a clean tea towel, then slipped off the bits of skin that remained. I don't think blanching is strictly necessary; I've made them once before, with unblanched pistachios, to no huge detrimental effect. However, I highly recommend you give it a go. They look beautifully vibrant and green, and smell incredible! Just like a tarte au citron, I kid you not. I couldn't stop smelling them. Mmm. Next, I whizzed the pistachios to a fine dust with some icing sugar (golden unrefined, thank-you), and whipped up some egg whites to stiff peaks.
The Mixing and Piping
The next stage is to fold the nut-dust into the meringue (check out my flat whisk, especially bought for folding-in purposes), and pipe out small rounds. You have to let them sit for 10 minutes to form a skin before baking.
And here are the finished products. Even though some were cracked, some excitingly came out with a nice smooth top. (Just like a real macaron!) Some had smooth bases, and a few of the bases broke as I tried to pry the macarons from the paper. My hint is to let them cool a bit to firm up before trying to move them.
Above we have the filling, a pistachio buttercream. The quantities in the book make more than double the amount of buttercream you will need, so you should halve it. It contains more of that nut-dust, creamed with butter. Impatiently, I didn't wait for the butter to soften sufficiently before making the dessert, so I just added a couple of teaspoons of boiled water to get it to the right consistency. And you do want the buttercream to be quite soft, as the biscuits are incredibly fragile. I actually squished a couple as I was icing them. Whoops.
Hehe... mushy broken macarons. Cook's treat!
I made and iced these the night before, and let them sit out overnight. If you were keeping them for longer, I suppose they'd have to be kept in the fridge, but I doubt they'd last that long.
Clockwise from top left: Macaron with a perfect latte made by my brother's girlfriend on our home espresso machine; 3 macarons on a cake plate; Gooey, sweet and crunchy; Homemade and rustic, about an inch in diameter.
Good god, I love these macarons. I'm not usually a fan of the super-sweet, (and believe me, these are super-sweet), but I can wolf these down. They have a delightful fragrance and crunch from the ground pistachios, and are exceedingly delicate. I love their muted green colour, and think they make a gorgeously impressive afternoon tea or petit four. Their sweetness makes them the perfect accompaniment for a strong, hot espresso.