Flavours seemingly at odds with each other can often make for a sublimely perfect marriage. Salt and sweet is one such partnership. Despite the oxymoron, salted caramel has become the flavour of the moment.
Like so many other culinary and gastronomical pleasures, we have the French to thank for salted caramel. Arguably a signature from Brittany; it is here in the north-west peninsula of France, where individual salted caramel treats are bountiful and the source for much inspiration. Take the world-famous pâtisserier de Pierre Hermé. Pierre Hermé is thought to be the masterful creator of the macaron au caramel de sel.
It has been said that the salted caramel macaron is the favoured flavour of the irrepressible Nigella Lawson; notwithstanding, yours truly. If you are in our around Melbourne, for a wondrous experience of the salted macaron at its absolute finest, be sure to visit luxbite. Unless of course you are in Paris and can call into Pierre Hermé.
140g almond meal
140g pure icing sugar
140g castor sugar
100g egg white
3 tblsp water
brown and yellow food colouring
Line two baking trays with two layers of baking paper or a silicon baking mat. Prepare all the ingredients by measuring them out and setting them aside ready for use. Split the egg whites into two batches placing 50g in a clean small bowl and 50g in a very clean mixing bowl.
Blitz the almond meal and icing sugar together in a food processor for a few minutes until it resembles a fine powder. Sift the mixture over a clean large mixing bowl, discarding any lumps of icing sugar or almond meal that do not pass through the sieve. Set the dry ingredients aside.
La meringue italienne.
Whisk the first half of the egg whites in the mixing bowl until firm peaks form. Leave the egg whites in the mixer for the moment. Place the castor sugar and water in a small saucepan and place it over medium heat. Use a food thermometer to measure the temperature of the sugar syrup – when it reaches 118°C, remove it from the heat. Turn the speed of the mixer to slow and very gently and carefully, pour the sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl incorporating the syrup into the egg whites. Turn the speed of the mixer to high and continue to beat for a around 10 minutes. The steam from the sugar syrup will evaporate away and the temperature of the meringue will reduce, at which point the bowl should be near room temperature. If it is not, continue beating until the the bowl cools. Stop the mixer and lift the whisk out. The meringue should be shiny, glossy and form a stable peak on the whisk.
Tant pour tant & Macaronage
Use a spatula to incorporate the remaining egg whites in to the dry ingredients to make a smooth paste. Add the food colouring and ensure it is blended well and evenly.
Fold a third of the meringue into the almond paste. Then add the remaining meringue using a folding motion to ensue the mixture is evenly incorporated. The resulting mixture should be smooth, glossy and ooze like ‘lava’.
Fill a piping bag (with a size 11 nozzle) with the macaron mixture and pipe approximately 4cm sized macarons onto the baking trays.
Macarons must be allowed to dry their outer shell before baking in the oven – this is the step that gives them their crisp, smooth outer shell. Drying time is difficult to accurately predict, but should take a minimum of 30 minutes. The temperature of the room and more importantly, the humidity have considerable impact on drying times. The more humid, the longer the drying time. Indeed, if the weather or the room is too humid, the shells will not dry and will significantly impact on the macaron.
You can test for a dry shell by very gently brushing the tip of your finger across the side of one shell – your finger should wipe away clean and leave the shell intact. Once this point is reached, they are ready of the oven. Pre-heat a fan forced oven to 150C. When the oven thermometer has reached 150C, wait another 5 minutes before opening the door.
Place the trays in the oven quickly, so as to not leave the door open too long, reducing the temperature of the oven. Bake the macarons for 14 minutes. Remove the trays from the oven and leave the macaron’s to cool slightly on the oven tray. The macaron’s should slide on the baking paper and be ready for filling.
Take a few minutes to match the sizes and turn half the shells on their top.
Caramel de Sel
150g castor sugar
75g salted butter, diced into small cubes and chillled
Over a slow heat, gently melt the sugar in a small saucepan, taking care not to let it burn. When the sugar has reached a rich caramel colour and all the crystals have disolved completely, remove the saucepan from the heat. Pour the cream in to the melted sugar, taking great care with the inevitable splutter as the cream hits the heat. Stir quickly.
Add a small cube of butter, mixing well to enusre an even texture. Continue adding a cube of butter after the previous has disolved completely until all the butter is incorporated. Pour the caramel into a bowl and set it aside until it has cooled completely.
When the caramel de sel has cooled completely, spoon it into a piping bag with a small piping nozzle. Pipe the caramel onto half the shells, taking it no further than two thirds of the shell.
Place the remaining half of the shell on top and very gently squeeze the two shells together unit the caramel moves to the edge.
Macarons can store in a dry container and in the fridge for about 5 days. They can also be frozen for up to three months. Allow them to thaw in the fridge before serving.