"In a minute, we’re all going to inhale some icing sugar and pretend we’re on The Great British Bake Off,” says Rachel Hanretty, 25, owner of Mademoiselle Macaron on Edinburgh’s Grindlay Street.
I’m at her new macaron-making evening class. Behind the glass counter are regimented rows of this sweet treat in Care Bear bright shades.
There’s fleur d’orange flavour, chocolate, orange, rose, pistachio, and, er, ready salted crisp, Hendrick’s Gin and Scottish whammy.
To be honest, whatever the variety, I’ve never been a huge fan. I prefer something heftier. Macarons (not to be confused with coconut macaroons) are just unsatisfying fluff to me. Two bites and they’re gone.
“Yeah, but you’re the only one in the world who feels like that,” says the friend who’s accompanied me to this session. Fair point.
Before the three-hour-long class kicks off, Hanretty, who studied French in Paris and macaron making at the Alain Ducasse Cooking School before “ditching my sanity, home and boyfriend to open this place”, and has encyclopaedic knowledge of this cake/biscuit, fills us in on its provenance.
She says they can be traced back as early as the 1500s, when Catherine de’ Medici married the French dauphin Henry II of France.
Apparently, this Italian princess insisted on taking her pastry chef with her, thus bringing macarons, or at least a version of them (made with Italian pâte d’amande) to France. According to the foodie bible that is the Larousse Gastronomique, a more ascetic version of the macaron popped up again in the late 1700s, made by nuns in Nancy during the French Revolution. They gifted them to the poor, which is ironic considering the price of these pretty treats now (around £14 for six in Ladurée, just £1.20 each in Mademoiselle Macaron). That could be down to the price of one of their main ingredients – almonds (“They’ve just gone up from £90 a kg to £100 a kg over the course of a week,” says Hanretty. “I blame vegans!”).
Fast forward to the invention of food colouring and the advent of Parisian patisserie Ladurée, which opened in the mid-19th century, and we have something more familiar. They became painfully hip around seven years ago, and the kerfuffle never really died down. In contrast, whatever happened to the whoopie pie and cronut?
Mademoiselle Macaron has been doing a roaring trade since it opened in May 2014, so much so that Hanretty now supplies Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols, has a potential book deal in the pipeline and a planned expansion of her petite premises.
They make 3,000 macarons a week, using 500 eggs. Like meringue, it’s mainly egg white that creates the domed shell that’s part of a signature macaron.
It has to be whipped until it’s so thick that a spatula can stand up in it. Hanretty demonstrates this with one that’s been stained bright blue ever since she had to make macarons to match the shade of bridesmaids’ dresses. Then the icing sugar, caster sugar and ground almonds are added.
In our class, Hanretty demonstrates every step, before we try it for ourselves in teams of two (my posse make pistachio flavour).
I don’t want to disclose all of Mademoiselle Macaron’s trade secrets. However, over the course of three hours, I’m privy to some top tips that may be of benefit to those who want to give it a whirl.
1 The flavour of a macaron is in the filling, not the shell (we add pistachio extract, as well as freshly ground nuts to our butter and sugar-based filling).
2 Powdered food colouring works better than gel or liquid, as it doesn’t sink and create an ombré effect when they’re cooking in the oven.
3 On a muggy day, use a dehumidifier while baking or don’t make macarons as the weather may result in weird grease spots on your cakes. Same goes for using elderly or damp icing sugar. Apparently Elmlea cream doesn’t work for making fillings.
4 They erupt in the oven if they get wet. One of ours looked like an exploded frog, possibly because a bead of sweat (or a single tear) had landed on it earlier.
5 The Italian version of a French macaron involves pouring hot sugar syrup into eggs, and sounds a bit more of a faff.
6 Once the shells have been piped onto a baking tray, they need 30 minutes or more to develop a “skin” before they can go in the oven. If you don’t do this, it’s exploded frogs.
7 It’s harder to cook them in gas ovens as the heat isn’t so easily distributed. Just bake one tray at a time if you’ve got one of these.
I am very proud of the assorted fancies (about £20 worth) that I leave this class with. I think I do like macarons (but I don’t ever want to try a ready salted crisp version).
• Macaron Making Classes at Mademoiselle Macaron (22 Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, tel: 0131-228 4059) are £49.50, 6pm-9pm. The next evenings are 8 and 15 October, 5 and 19 November and 3 December.