Macaroons

Say the word ‘macaroon’, and most people will think of the elegant French macaron – meringue-like in texture, sandwiched with some delicately flavoured cream, brightly (or pastel) coloured. I have fond memories of a trip to Ladurée in Paris one morning for macarons and a hot chocolate. Macarons have a reputation for being difficult to make and therefore signify both French elegance and skill. By contrast, the Scottish macaroon is less elegant and more homespun, a staple of sweet shops and popular with children. They are usually made into bars and are made of fondant covered in chocolate and coconut. This is a classic of Scottish confectionary, extraordinarily sweet (much like tablet). I enjoyed eating them bit by bit, breaking off a chunk here and there for an occasional treat. I was intrigued to learn from Sue Lawrence’s A Cook’s Tour of Scotland that macaroons were originally made with leftover potato.

English macaroons are a different thing altogether. I’ve had macaroons before, most often coconut ones, but discovered a recipe for an almond version in Jane Brocket’s book Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer. This cookbook was a gift from a friend and is a wonderful treat as it provides recipes for food found in children’s literature. It focuses largely on literature from the so-called ‘golden age’ of children’s fiction, including lots of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, E. Nesbit and a few non-UK writers such as L. M. Montgomery and Louise May Alcott. It’s a delightful book, aimed largely at nostalgic adult readers and prompts you to re-read the classics and enjoy them with your favourite treats. The recipe for ‘Fresh and Gooey Macaroons’ was inspired by an Enid Blyton book which I don’t think I’ve ever read and describes them as perfect for elevensies.

I assumed that their texture would be similar to their French counterparts, but that they would perhaps be slightly bigger and less delicate. I was very wrong. Rather than being meringue-like in texture, they were much chewier. There is a relatively small amount of ground almonds and sugar for the quantity of whipped egg white, meaning that the egg white provides the glue rather than structural heft. What emerged was exactly what the recipe title suggests – chewy and gooey in the middle, slightly crisp on the outside. They were also really craggy. This added to the feeling of nostalgia – rather than being perfect products from a French patisserie, or commercially produced confections in a Scottish sweet shop, they were exactly the things you could imagine that Blyton’s characters would devour from a home kitchen or local bakery.

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