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Wednesday 31 October 2012

Sluttishly Sweet: Day of the Dead Macarons

Until last night, I’d never made macarons before, and I’d read a fair few horror stories that made me believe I might not be capable. Would they crack? Would my ‘feet’ be up to scratch? How long should I perform the fabled ‘macaronage’? But I really wanted to have a go, so I gathered my ingredients, crossed my fingers, and took the plunge.

Fear not, readers! Making the macaron shells was actually pretty painless. I followed Jill Colonna’s excellent – and foolproof – basic macaron recipe from her book, Mad About Macarons. Here’s Jill’s wonderfully straightforward recipe, with some of my tips and tricks added in for good measure…

Basic macarons (makes about 80 normal-sized shells)

You’ll need:
  • 150ml egg whites (you’ll probably need 4 large eggs)
  • 270g icing sugar
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 100g caster sugar
Make it!

    No idea why there's only three at the end
  1. Before you start, cut enough parchment paper to fit on your baking trays. You’ll need it to lie absolutely flat (no curled corners), and each tray needs TWO sheets. Use the bottom sheets to draw 3cm diameter circles, spaced about 2cm apart. I just drew round a two-pence piece using a black Sharpie. Lay another sheet of plain parchment over the top. The circles should shine through, and you can use them as your guide to get evenly-sized macaron shells. 
  2. Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds into a large bowl. 
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites, adding in the caster sugar gradually until you’ve got a soft-peaked meringue consistency. Use an electric whisk or you’ll lose an arm.
  4. Add the beaten egg whites to the dry ingredients and mix well. No need for gradual folding here – go for it.
  5. It’s time for macaronage. You can use a pastry scraper for this, or just use muscle power and your spatula. Go hell for leather, pushing down on the mixture back and forth. A bowl with a relatively flat bottom is obviously a bonus here. Macaronage shouldn’t last more than five minutes (thank god, it’s hard work!) – stop when the mixture forms a smooth ribbon when you lift the spatula or scraper out of the bowl. As a general rule, your arm will feel like its capable of throwing a shot put further than Jessica Ennis.
  6. Using a piping bag and small round nozzle, pipe your macaron mixture onto the parchment. Once you’ve finished, drop your baking tray on to the work surface twice to bang out the air bubbles. 
  7. I was sceptical at this point
  8. Leave the macaron discs to set for at least half an hour. Remember to heat your oven to 160°C (325°F) while you’re waiting. I’d recommend having a cup of tea, but humidity will bugger up your macarons (French patisserie chefs won’t even run a tap while making macarons), so pour yourself a gin and tonic instead. The shells will feel hard to the touch when they’re ready to go in the oven. 
  9. You’ll need to bake one tray at a time, in the centre of the oven, but they only take 10 minutes so it’s no great hardship. Check on them after 8 minutes, and gently touch the top of one shell. If it wobbles, cook for a further 2-4 minutes. 
  10. Once they’re done, gently slide the parchment off the tray and on to a wire cooling rack.
  11. Repeat until all your tray-loads are baked.
The end result? No cracks, nice ‘feet’, no faffing about with boiling hot sugar syrup – I’ve definitely found my go-to macaron recipe here.

In the spirit of Day of the Dead, I set about turning them into Mexican sugar skulls. Out came a selection of icing pens and some cake sprinkles, and off I went. Designing the skulls was all kinds of happy – you’ll see from the photo that they’re far from perfect, but they are fun and colourful. There are infinite sugar skull patterns and colours you can play about with.

Quite sinister
I then filled and assembled my macarons (obviously the underside shells are just plain white). I used a teaspoon of good quality shop-bought seedless raspberry jam for the filling, but I might attempt a ganache next time. I just spooned some on and sandwiched my shells together, but you could pipe it on for extra neatness.

If I were to do this again, I’d try to shape my macaron shells like skulls. However, I’ll be eating them (all) tomorrow to celebrate Day of the Dead, and feeling pretty damned pleased with my first attempt at macarons!


  1. Wow! I love this idea! I've used Jill's book before & they always come out perfectly but I've never thought to decorate them like this. I know what I'll be doing at the weekend!

  2. I was really impressed with how simple and straightforward Jill's basic recipe was. I'm looking forward to trying some of her fancier ones now! Please do post us a pic on our Facebook page if you try my Day of the Dead designs at the weekend, Jen!

  3. That's excellent reasoning for gin 'n' tonic. I like it.


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