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Macaroon master or disaster? It’s a tough call

Macaroon master or disaster? It’s a tough call

With just two weeks to go before Valentine’s Day, the pressure to impress my hard-to-please other half is mounting.

Flowers are too cliché, chocolates boring and a romantic meal in a restaurant invariably turns into a who-will-kiss-first-before-desert battle of the sickening couples contest.

So, despite my inability to boil an egg without setting the kitchen on fire, I decided to give a gift with a more personal touch and booked myself into the L’atelier des Chefs cookery school in London, England, for their Marvellous Macaroons class.

New York columnist Simon Doonan recently named the biscuity treat the ultimate gay food, so what could be better for my foodie man?

However, after discovering to my horror that my fellow classmates were either yummy mummies, trainee chefs or auditioning for the next season of The Great British Bake-Off, I wondered whether there was another class around the corner for cookery special needs students like myself.

As I struggled to tie my disposable polythene apron, staring glassy-eyed at the chef as he explained how to get your egg whites ‘nice and peaky’, I edged towards the nearest exit, only to find my way blocked by a pair of rotund housewives clutching a bowl and spatula, eager to begin.

No escape now, I thought. After all, on paper, a macaroon is nothing more than egg and sugar. How hard could it be?

Well, as I was to discover, there’s a reason why these meringue-based cookies are a delicacy and both a cook’s dream and nightmare.

Like all great art forms, making the perfect macaroon is a balancing act of making sure the meringue mixture has neither too much air in it or too little and that they are left to set in a cool, dry room.

It’s harder than it sounds so for macaroon virgins, I’ll take you through it nice and slowly.

Whisk the egg whites, then add 150g caster sugar and a food coloring of your choice. I chose pink, obviously.

Keep on whisking until you have a stiff and glossy meringue mixture then use a blender to mix the icing sugar with the almond powder.

Sieve this mixture into a bowl to make sure you have a very fine, lump-free powder.

Use a spatula to fold the mixture until it is smooth and shiny.

Then comes the fun part – piping. After messily scooping all the sticky meringue into the conical plastic bag, I set about squeezing it onto a baking tray.

I might not be able to whisk an egg but this I can do. Finally, my moment to shine.

But rather than producing the culinary equivalent of Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the misshapen blob which I managed to squirt out looked more like a bright pink dog turd than a delicious delicacy.

Oh well, it’s the differences that make us beautiful, I reminded myself.

So I soldiered on, plastering the tray with about 16 deformed splats, ignoring the infinitely patient chef’s instructions to make identical shapes in the interests of making an eye-catching final product.

I told myself, this is art darling, screw the establishment!

With my batch of Francis Bacon-inspired macaroons piped out and ready to go, I joined the rest of the wannabe Nigellas and Delias to make the all-important fillings – lime and fresh ginger, peanut butter and raspberry, chocolate and honeyed ganache and salted butter caramel.

After making sure my babies had grown a skin, gently touching the tops of the macaroons to ensure they were no longer sticky, I sent them off to the birthing chamber, or oven, and crossed my fingers that, like the ugly duckling, they would be reborn beautiful and appetizing.

Around 15 minutes later, they emerged, still looking like Frankenstein’s little monsters, but piping hot and smelling like heaven.

Spreading some filling on one side and making a macaroon sandwich, I felt strangely proud of my ‘unique’ creations.

While I may not be a macaroon master, it was certainly not a disaster and there was plenty of fun to be had along the way.

And best of all, you get to eat whatever you cook at the end.

Mmmm delish, I thought, as I set about filling my box with other people’s more aesthetically pleasing products like a greedy macaroon cuckoo.

Well, why not? It may be what’s inside that counts but no-one wants to eat the elephant man.

L’atelier des Chefs hold regular cooking classes, where you can make everything from a quick lunch to three course meals.

And this Valentine’s Day the school will be holding special romantically themed classes, which include a free glass of prosecco on arrival.

Below is the recipe to make chocolate macaroons.

For the macaroon:

Icing sugar 205g

Ground almonds 140g

Unsweetened cocoa powder 15g

Caster sugar 90g

Egg white(s) 130g

For the ganache:

Double cream 20cl

Dark chocolate 200g

Honey 50g

For the macaroon shells:

Whisk together the egg whites and the caster sugar. Whisk until you have a stiff and glossy meringue mixture.

Pass the icing sugar, cocoa powder and the ground almonds through a sieve and make sure that you have a very fine, lump-free powder.

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the meringue mixture. Use a spatula to cut and fold the mixture until is smooth, shiny and ribbon-like.

Fill a piping bag with the macaroon mix and pipe the macaroons onto a lined baking tray. Leave the macaroons to dry slightly for 15minutes at room temperature and then bake for 15-20minutes.

For the ganache:

Place the cream and the honey in a pan and bring to the boil. Once at boiling point pour over the chocolate and whisk together. Leave to cool in the fridge for at least an hour.

Fill half of the macaroons with the honeyed ganache, top with a second macaroon shell and serve with a dusting of cocoa powder.