I don’t know about you, Ogglers, but I have very fond memories of instant cake mixes. You know the ones – those colourful boxes in the cookery aisle, where just adding water and baking will get you a tray of piping fresh cookies or cupcakes. Sometimes I’d make them with Ma or Granny Hog – Scooby Doo Cookies with lurid green icing, or Betty Crocker Chocolate Cakes, smothered in rich pre-made goo.
For people who are afraid of messing up – or kids who don’t know any better – these mixes are a godsend. Virtually home-made products, with very little fuss (or washing up).
Of course they have their downsides – you can’t be sure exactly what’s gone in it, or cater things more to your tastes. But unlike store-baked goodies, they’ll still fill your house with those lovely aromas, and give you at least a minimal sense of achievement.
These days I’ve had enough practice to not fear baking most things from scratch. After all, as Granny Hog always says, if you’re able to read you can bake. In recent months I’ve even invented a few little recipes of my own. But there are some things I’m still afraid of… things that need a little more precision and mastery than I’m used to.
One of those things is French-style Macaroons.
Look at most recipes for these fancy gems, and you’ll see they’re not quite as straightforward as Delia Smith’s super-quick All-In-One Sponge (to use my simplest example). There are thermometers involved. Exact temperatures required. Egg whites to negotiate.
As a result, despite the fact that I very much like to eat them, I’ve steered well clear of making them.
Until, that is, I encountered an exciting development: an Instant Macaroon Mix from an online company called Squires Kitchen.
According to the packet, all I needed was an oven, piping equipment, and hot water. Soon professional style macaroons would be mine.
This was a step above Scooby Doo cookies. I got me a box and got to work.
I’ll admit I was rather dubious at first. The powder in the packet smelt ever so slightly vinegary and it was hard to see how the simple addition of hot water could make them that much better. Still, I was hardly a Macaroon expert, so I put my doubts aside and carried on.
After a long beating (of the mixture, not myself), I added a spot of pink dye to half my batch, having grand plans of the vibrant Gatineau-style variety. A generous sprinkle of colouring later and they were only a pale pastel pink. Fine for my needs as it happened, but it did make me wonder just how much added colour the shop-bought ones contain…
Anyway, mixture now thoroughly mixed, I was ready to get down to bidness: piping out halves on a baking tray.
I’d been given a piping kit for my birthday, and this was the first chance I’d had to use it. Things started a little bit shakily, but soon my circles were coming out lovely. And you know what? It was FUN. Not If-I-Laugh-Any-Harder-I’ll-Wet-Myself fun, but Wow-These-Look-Almost-Like-Macaroons fun. The I’m-Achieving-Something kind.
It was also pretty relaxing – but something I probably couldn’t do if too stressed anyway (you need to be in a focused frame of mind).
Again, when I was done, the dubious thoughts returned. My circles looked kind of anaemic, kind of small (I’d done them in one-inch rounds, as advised), and kind of… well, sloppy. But I bunged them in the oven and hoped for the best.
15 minutes later they were ready and the Hog House was filled with the scent of cooked almonds. To my astonishment, they were starting to look professional. They had puffed up a bit in the heat and were smoother; soft but lightly crisp to touch.
After they’d cooled, the Man and I carefully peeled them from their greaseproof paper, and I got to work on a super-quick buttercream icing (50g icing sugar, 25g softened butter, wham, bam, thank you ma’am).
In not very long I had 25 mini macaroons. And they were beautiful. Those ones at the top of this post? I MADE THOSE. Well, kind of…
Better yet, they were also delicious. Very almondy, very moist, and very rich. They had the perfect texture – hearty and thick while still being light – but were also pretty sweet. As a result, even though 25 miniatures didn’t seem like much, we couldn’t eat more than two or three in one sitting.
My only minor reservation is that, at £7.99 for a box (excluding shipping), they sure aren’t the cheapest of ready mixes. If you had the know-how, you could probably rustle them up from scratch for less. On the other hand, they are much cheaper than buying a box of 25 from somwhere like Gatineau…
It all depends what you want from your macaroons really.
Me, I like achievement. And tastiness. And success. So until someone convinces me that making these beauties from scratch would be easy and just as nice, this certainly ain’t a bad way for a Hog to go on…