The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Cupcakes may seem to be the flavour of the moment but us foodies are always on the hunt for the next best thing, we are it seems a people intent on the next sensation, pundits, food enthusiasts and bloggers alike have all wondered what this sensation might be. More than a few have suggested that French-style macaroons (called macarons in France) might supplant the cupcake. This may or may not come to pass, but the basic premise of the French macaroon is a delectable patisserie item.
When I was a child any reference to macaroons meant a cookie made primarily of coconut, which I by the way hated. However European macaroons are based on either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites. The texture can run from chewy, crunchy or a combination of the two. Frequently, two macaroons are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam, which can cause the cookies to become more chewy.
These delectable French cookies are notoriously hard to master. Have a tootle around various food blogs, cookery websites and you will see many an attempt to find the perfect technique. Which one is right? Which captures the perfect essence of macaroons? The answer is all of them and none of them. Macaroons are highly subjective, the subject of passionate debate in the food world. Do what works for you and you should be happy with the end result.
We had a lot of scope with this challenge, we could choose our own fillings, our own flavourings, our own colourings but we just had to stick to the method laid out by our hosts.
I’d just had a large bag of cobnuts delivered and thought this to be a great opportunity to get using them. Kentish cobnuts are a type of hazelnut. Most of the hazelnuts grown in Britain are of the named variety Kentish Cob, which was introduced in the early 19th century. Cobnuts are marketed fresh, not dried like most other nuts such as walnuts and almonds and consequently they can usually only be bought when in season, typically from about the middle of August through to October, although stored nuts may be kept until Christmas. At the beginning of the season the husks are green and the kernels particularly juicy. Nuts harvested later on have brown shells and husks, and the full flavour of the kernel has developed.
The cobnuts grow in a papery husk, and then are contained within a relatively hard shell. As you can see my cobnuts were late season and had taken on that lovely ‘nut’ brown colouring.
Trust me peeling and shelling hundreds of these is hard work, but the taste, well that makes up for it. They are delicious.
I was slightly daunted by this challenge, although not overly complex they are a precision timing event. The last time I made macarons I didn’t cook them long enough and they turned out too chewy and sticky. I was determined this wouldn’t happen this time around so I baked them for perhaps slightly too long instead as they turned a darkish shade of hazel brown but they had the desired texture and I rather like the colour, even though it is unconventional to let macarons brown.
I had intended to use half cobnuts to half ground almonds as per the Daring Bakers note that as almonds are drier than other nuts and help again with that all-important texture. However I didn’t have any almonds to hand and I wasn’t putting off the baking for another day so I could go shopping. All cobnuts it was and with no ill effects at all.
Cobnut macarons instantly lead me onto thinking of chocolate fillings and of course what could be better than Nutella? A hazlenut chocolate spread, but a home made version – perfect right? The recipe for the nutella comes from The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts (Sherry Yard) and is I have to say even better than shop bought Nutella.
The macarons went down a storm, slightly crunchy on sinking your teeth into the cookie, but yielding a chewiness and creamy centre. They were devoured within the day.
Thank you Daring Bakers for the challenge, it was most enjoyable