In spite of loving Ladurée’s delectably jewel-coloured macaroons, it had never crossed my mind to attempt to emulate them at home until yesterday. But flicking through my trusty Ottolenghi cookbook with the aim of finding something suitably small and sweet to take along to a dinner, the lime and basil macaroon recipe jumped out at me. They seemed unusual and pretty enough to make an interesting contribution to the meal, but tiny enough not to overwhelm or impose. An enormous part of the appeal was the fact that I hadn’t promised to take anything, which removed pretty much all of the pressure when constructing the delicate morsels; if they went horribly wrong, I could just eat the mess at home and no-one would be any the wiser.
As it happened, they were fairly straightforward. I made the filling first: a simple buttercream with plenty of lime zest and juice beaten in, along with some finely chopped basil leaves. The biscuit mix was also quick and easy, especially with the help of an electric whisk: egg whites and caster sugar are whisked into a meringue mix, which is then folded into icing sugar and ground almonds, along with more lime zest and chopped basil. The only fiddly bit is creating similar-sized blobs of the mixture on the baking parchment-lined tray (I don’t get on well with piping bags, probably due to lack of practice, but a teaspoon did the job). After a 15-minute rest, they go into the oven for about 12 minutes (they needed 16 in my oven) before cooling, filling, and leaving to firm up.
I’d have to say, cautiously, that my first foray into macaroon-making was fairly successful… they seemed to go down well, even at the end of a long meal of many, many boozy courses. I particularly liked how zingy the buttercream filling was – it contained enough lime juice to make combining the ingredients a job for a powerful mixer (or a strong beating arm). Ottolenghi’s recipe gives you more buttercream than you need, so I’ve made a second half-batch of macaroons today. Somehow, this seems more acceptable than just eating the buttercream from the bowl.
Lime and basil macaroons (adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
110g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
2 free-range egg whites
40 caster sugar
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped
finely grated zest of 1 lime
For the buttercream filling:
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
45g icing sugar
juice and finely grated zest of 1 lime
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped
1. Make the filling first: beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and light. Beat in the lime juice and zest and the chopped basil until well mixed – it’ll seem like a lot of juice, but if you keep mixing it will go into the butter eventually. Cover the mixture with cling film and leave in a cool place (not in the fridge).
2. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Sieve the icing sugar and almonds together into a large, clean mixing bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and caster sugar together until you have a nice firm (but not dry) meringue. Fold this mixture gently into the icing sugar/almond mixture, a third at a time; make sure each batch is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next one. Continue until it’s all added and the mixture is smooth and glossy, then fold in the basil and lime zest.
4. Take a couple of large baking sheets, putting tiny blobs of the macaroon mixture here and there to stick down a piece of baking parchment on each tray. (Depending on the size of your trays and the efficiency of your oven, you’ll probably need to bake several batches of the macaroon.)
5. You can use a piping bag to create two-pound-coin-sized discs of the mixture on the baking parchment, but it’s easy enough to do this with a teaspoon. Try to keep the discs as uniform as possible; you’ll need to pair them up once they’re baked, which is far, far easier if you do this bit carefully. Leave plenty of space between the blobs to avoid unsightly merging in the oven.
6. Tap the underside of each tray once it’s covered with macaroon blobs – this will smooth them out and help them to spread. Leave the trays out, uncovered, for 15 minutes before baking.
7. Bake each tray of macaroons in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, but they might take a little longer (they took 16 minutes in my oven, for what it’s worth). They’re ready when they come off the paper easily with a palette knife, but don’t lift them off the paper altogether when they’re still warm, as this seems to make them collapse. Leave the biscuits to cool down completely.
8. Pair the macaroons up, and sandwich the pairs together with a blob of buttercream filling (squeeze them together as gently as possible). Leave them at room temperature to set. You can chill them to speed this up, but let them come to room temperature before serving.