Macaroon adventures

2009-10-10 00:00

EVERY night after supper I take a short break from reality with an ever-changing cast of talking animals, opinionated children and, at the moment, young detectives. It’s highly recommended.

One of the bonuses of having children is reading their books — sometimes again. How many adults take time out each day to page slowly through a lavishly illustrated book, read a soothing rhyme or follow the gentle unfolding of a harmless mystery?

It could just be a sign of how cooked my brain is, but I’m not the only one. Last year I listened to a podcast on children’s literature, which carried an insert on adults who choose to read it for their own pleasure. “I want to read books that make the world more magical, not less,” said journalist Anne Strainchamps of Wisconsin Public Radio. “In children’s books the world is full of possibility.”

Sometimes the possibilities are sad or bad, but mostly they are life-affirming. A story in the hands of a writer like Michael Morpurgo, Britain’s Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005, or Ann Philippa Pearce, author of the 1958 classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden, can be gripping, moving and mind-expanding all in one small package of contentment.

And so we come to macaroons.

Macaroons? These chewy biscuits, made with egg whites, sugar and coconut or ground nuts, languished in the retro cupboard for a long time, but in recent years have found favour with magazine food writers. My daughter and I came to them via the slightly less elevated pages of Enid Blyton’s books.

Food plays a big part in the adventures of her plucky characters. There are lots of picnics involving sandwiches, orangeade, potted meat, fruit cake — and macaroons.

“What are they?” asked my daughter.

I remembered thinking long ago that they sounded like the most exciting option in the picnic basket, but had only a vague memory of ever eating them, so, in the spirit of adventure, we decided to make some.

Nigella Lawson features three different kinds of macaroons in her baking best-seller, How To Be a Domestic Goddess.

We tried the coconut ones first because they were described as English macaroons, and thus more likely to be what the Famous Five ate, but they were way too “coconutty” and got a lukewarm response all round.

The pistachio version sounded more interesting, so I made them too (by this time my co-chef had lost interest), although it’s unlikely that they were ever in Blyton’s mind.

They were soft, sweet and slightly chewy with a nutty undertone, and my reading companion declared them “delicious!”. A feast fit for a pre-bedtime adventure.

For the macaroons

75g pistachios

125g icing sugar

2 large egg whites

15g caster sugar

For the buttercream

55g pistachios

250g icing sugar

125g unsalted butter, softened

2 baking sheets, lined

Preheat the oven to 180°C

METHOD

Grind the pistachios in a food processor with the icing sugar (this stops them turning into an oily mess) until fine.

Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, but not dry, sprinkle the caster sugar over and whisk until very stiff. Fold the whites into the pistachio-sugar dust, and combine gently. Pipe small rounds on to the lined baking sheet, using a plainone-centimetre nozzle. Let them sit for about 10 minutes to form a skin. Then place in the oven and cook for about 10-12 minutes; they should be set, but not dried out.

Remove from the oven and cool, still on their sheets.

For the filling, grind the nuts and the icing sugar in the processor as before; then cream the butter and continue creaming as you add the nut dust.

Make sure you have a well-combined soft buttercream, then sandwich together.

Lawson says this makes 20 “sandwiches” but I only managed 11.

(From How To Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.)

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