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Friday, 6 May 2011

Lime & Basil Macaroons

With a chocolate hazelnut variation.

These macaroons come from Ottolenghi, one of my all time favourite cookbooks – see previous post.

One of the most important things about Passover for me is the sense of nostalgia and tradition that comes with the bringing out of the kosher for Passover crockery, the accoutrements for the seder, and the seder itself.  They just aren’t the same without our silly jokes, actions, arguing over page numbers and awful singing (all to different tunes, different words, different speeds).  Tradition can of course be a bad thing; sometimes its easier for things to stay the same even though they aren’t particularly good, then to try something new.  In this respect I am of course referring to traditional Passover cookies.  This year I made the radical decision to do away with the traditional altogether, no coconut pyramids, and no standard macaroons. These had been an integral part of our family’s Passover (and im sure everyone elses) since records began.  They just aren’t that nice.  When I found the recipes for Florentines and French-style macaroons in Ottolenghi I knew what had to be done.  There was a mini Passover cookies revolution, and Evelyn Rose went back on the shelf (not that anyone objected, change isn’t as scary as most people think).  Those macaroons, 2 delicate meringue-like disks, sandwiched together with just the perfect amount of filling, quite possibly the best things ever.

This is how my love of real macaroons began (or should I say, macarons).  About a year and half ago when I was unemployed and things were pretty bleak I would cheer myself up with trips to the Royal Academy.  Anish Kapoor was on and I would pretend that I was the kind of elegant Londoner who went to art galleries in the middle of the day: I would wear pearls, matching clothes and everything. Window shopping in Burlington arcade added to the fantasy until one day I forgot that I was completely skint and I went into Ladurée and bought some macaroons. And they are the best in the world for good reason.

In Ottolenghi’s introduction to macaroons, they refer to Ladurée as being the ultimate in macaroon gastronomy, and these versions are seen as a more home-made version.  I read somewhere that Laduree let the macaroons sit for 2 days after being made before they will sell them, and mine too tasted much better with every day after they were made.  It is however, pretty hard to resist eating them all in a few sittings, or putting them in pretty little boxes to give as smug gifts to friends and grandparents.

A word on piping: Most of the time when I see the word ‘pipe’ in relation to cooking I tend to ignore it completely, or replace it with ‘blob haphazardly with a spoon’ in this case however, I really think it is necessary.  What is so wonderful about these macaroons is how perfect they look, and how amazing they taste, it would be a shame to diminish them by making the shapes all wonky.  And from a practical point, they need to fit together in neat little sandwiches, so some uniformity in their size and shape is a good thing.  Once you get the hang of it, piping the mixture is actually much easier and quicker than spooning it.  My medium of choice is a ziplock bag with a little corner snipped off (obviously, don’t cut anything until the mixture is in the bag).  When filling the bag fold the top half down completely so that the outside stays clean and no drips of mixture are wasted.

Makes about 20 time: about 1hr ¼ (including resting and baking) difficulty 3.5/5 taste 5/5

2 egg whites (60g)
110g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
40g caster sugar
zest of 1 lime
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped

For the buttercream filling (enough for about 2 batches):
100g unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature
45g icing sugar
zest of 1 lime, and juice
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped

1.   Sift the icing sugar and almonds into a clean, dry bowl.
2.   Whisk the egg whites and caster sugar until they have formed a thick, aerated meringue, firm but not too dry.  If you have one, whisk them in a stainless steel bowl, for some magical reason it is much easier than in a regular bowl.  The whisking will take about 15 minutes using a hand-held electric whisk.
3.   Take a third of the meringue and fold it gently into the almond/sugar mix.  Once incorporated, add another third and continue until all of the meringue has been added and the mix is smooth and glossy.  At this stage fold in the lime zest and basil.
4.   Take a sheet of baking parchment (or silicone paper – I highly recommend, see previous note) and glue it to a baking sheet with a tiny amount of the macaroon mix.  Pipe the macaroon mix onto the lined tray using a piping bag into uniform shallow disks, about the size of a £2 coin.  To assist you, you could draw little circles on the paper first.
5.   Once all the macaroons are piped hold the tray firmly and tap the underside hard.  This should help to spread out and smooth out the biscuits.  Use a wet finger to poke down any pointy bits. Leave the macaroons out uncovered for at least 25 minutes before baking (use this time to preheat the oven, to 170 degrees - 160 w/fan).
6.   To bake, place the macaroons in the oven and leave for 12 minutes, although they may take a little longer, depending on your oven (mine took about 14).  The macaroons are ready when they come freely off the paper when lifted gently with a palette knife (if you are using the silicone paper, you can just use a finger).  Whatever you do don’t over bake them, they should be light and delicate.  Leave them aside to cool down completely before you fill them.
7.   To make the buttercream filling, beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and light.  Add the lime juice, zest and basil and mix until incorporated.  Cover the buttercream with cling film and leave in a cool place (not the fridge).
8.   To assemble the macaroons, use a small spoon or piping bag to place a pea-sized amount of filling on the flat size of half the biscuits.  Sandwich together with another half, pressing gently.  Try to make sure you match the macaroons in size and shape.  Leave them to set, either at room temperature or in the fridge.  Do not serve them straight from the fridge, allow them to come back to room temperature.

Chocolate and Hazelnut variation

2 egg whites
110g icing sugar
50g ground hazelnuts (or almonds)
10g cocoa, as good quality as you can find (sift this in with the ground nuts and icing sugar)
40g caster sugar

for the chocolate ganache (or just use nutella)
65g dark chocolate
15g unsalted butter or margarine
50ml double cream
2 tsp dark rum

I wish I had taken better photos...


  1. These are bloody delicious. Thank you for bringing them into my life. They have very quickly become a favourite although I think they are too special to make often

  2. Thank you so much Suz! I am thinking about the next flavour combination though, possibly salty peanut and caramel? Or orange blossom?