I think it’s fair to say that to attempt to make catering-sized amounts of anything is always going to be a challenge.
When I ask anyone who works in the food industry about how to get around the challenge of producing tasty treats on a large scale they always tell me that timing is important, organisation essential, and help irreplaceable. If I’d tried to make going on for 130 macarons myself I would have had to allocate a whopping chunk of time and an even bigger amount of patience to complete the task, and given how well I know a batch can seemingly completely unexpectedly go utterly wrong, I was well aware that the final number would have to be closer to 200 to allow for spoilage, breakage, and other problems. I also knew that using my Mum’s larger kitchen and workspaces would make everything a whole lot easier, and the fact that she wanted to help turned out to be a godsend.
We had, in theory, enough ingredients for 5 or 6 batches. We had four baking trays, two ovens, and all the requisite colourings and flavourings that were required – my sister had asked for blue and cream macarons – so after a large vat of coffee, we started work.
The recipe says to blitz the almonds and icing sugar together in a food processor and then passing through a sieve to get a smooth mixture but after recent practices, I had introduced the extra step of running the ground nuts through a spice grinder first – far fewer chunky pieces left in the sieve and an altogether finer mix. This also added a few minutes extra prep onto the production time – something which can ultimately add hours to a day in the kitchen.
But we worked together weighing, measuring, sieving, and folding the ingredients until our first batch was ready to be piped. The baking trays were lined, the piping bag prepared, we were ready to go. I filled the piping bag (we opted for Mum’s traditional one rather than disposable ones – the older one was bigger and easier to fill) and confidently began piping the first discs of our mission. Which promptly slopped across the parchment and ran into each-other, creating a series of blue pools and splodges. Hmmmmm…..
The second tray looked a bit better but the mixture was far too thin and I was (I have to admit) fairly disheartened – if the second or third batch had gone a bit wrong I wouldn’t have minded so much but the knowledge that we would probably only get four or five usable macarons from the first batch was slightly depressing. As well as the mix being too thin, I got the impression that my piping nozzle was a bit wide so we found a slightly smaller one to use for the next attempts – the recipe says to use a 1cm nozzle. However, sweeping any gloomy thoughts aside, I tapped the trays on the worktop (vital to help form a decent ‘foot’ on the baked macaron) and left them to rest for 20 or so minutes.
As I was weighing out the next set of ingredients we suddenly noticed we’d totally overlooked a rather important aspect of the production line – baking trays. The macarons have to rest before baking – this forms a slight skin which is key to the success of the bake and the shiny, smooth top of the finished product. So while the first batch rested we couldn’t do much more than weigh out the icing sugar and almonds. This was going to slow things down considerably. Thankfully, Mum lives within walking distance of the town-centre so she rushed off to get four more trays while I put the now-rested first batch into the oven to bake. It wasn’t a total disaster but, as predicted, we got a measly three or four usable pairs of macaron shells to start our pile.
Armed with new baking trays, we soon found our stride and had a good few hours working together. The second and third batches were much more successful and the whole task looked as if it would indeed be achievable in time for the wedding (which was the following weekend). Using the smaller nozzle was paying off and we were pleased to find a second piping bag which meant we could clean and dry one whilst using the other. We’d even got the perfect blue that had been asked for.
I was, however, slightly worried at the concept of making cream-coloured macarons – every attempt I’d made at paler colours always looked, well, a bit anaemic and unappetizing and I’d tried several times to persuade my sister that a rich yellow was the shade she wanted. She didn’t. She wanted cream and that was that.
So we decided to try adding literally three drops of yellow food colouring to the mix and seeing what we got.
And thankfully, it turned out to be the perfect pale cream that was required.
That was lucky.
But the fifth batch were hilariously thin and refused to come off the parchment.
And the sixth batch (back to the blue) went a strange green-turquoise colour in the oven.
By mid-evening (we’d started at about 11.00am) we’d had enough for the day and carefully packed the fruits of our labour into Tupperware boxes and put them in the freezer – you can freeze the un-filled shells for a couple of months and they defrost quickly and perfectly, very handy if you’re making a large number.
The next day we thought we’d bash out a couple of extra batches for luck and, either through cockiness or under-whisked eggs (or both) we had some very flat, very delicate and sticky macarons to try and wrestle off the baking parchment. Oh well.
Our final count of usable, roughly matched pairs was 188, with nearly equal numbers of cream and blue. Mum said she would try and do a few more over the coming week to bulk up numbers – there wasn’t a chance for me to make more, nor did I fancy trying to transport them – and I would return the day before the wedding to fill them and then take them to the venue for assembly.
The clock was ticking….