We have a long history in our family with Saint Nicholas of Bari. My Spanish grandmother and one of her sisters were very devout toward this saint and what he represented. Saint Nicholas was born Greek in what today is a part of modern, south Turkey. He was the only son of a wealthy Christian couple and had been doubting whether to follow his father’s footsteps in the family business or to follow his “calling” in the Church. His uncle was already Bishop of Myra; and when the plague claimed the lives of his mother and father, Nicholas went in search of his uncle.
Saint Nicholas is known for giving up all of his worldly possessions to the poor and for secretly giving gifts and coins to those in need. After his uncle’s death, the Church elected Saint Nicholas as the next Bishop of Myra. He was persecuted for his faith, exiled and imprisoned. But throughout his life, he helped numerous people with money and gifts, protected the innocent, and fought for justice.
Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD. Since the 5th Century, Saint Nicholas has been known as the “wonderworker” and he is revered on the anniversary of his death, as is the custom with all saints. In the 1100s, French nuns started giving gifts to needy children, on the saint’s feast day, December 6th, in representation of Saint Nicholas’ selfless generosity. Soon this became a tradition and spread throughout Europe, creating little by little the figure of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, Papa Noel in Spain and France, and Father Christmas in other places…
In the Netherlands, “he” arrives on a steamboat from Spain with his moorish helper, Zwarte Piet. He hands out edible treats and gifts to the children, who are eagerly awaiting his arrival. I love the Dutch traditions surrounding Sinterklaas and the illusion it creates for children and adults alike. So, in memory of my grandmother and to celebrate this great person, Saint Nicholas, who later became the symbol of generosity, protection and gift giving, we partake in the traditions every year, giving each other small tokens of appreciation, accompanied by a poem.. and in this year’s case, a few delightful macarons!
I have to warn you: these macarons are time-consuming to decorate. But they are delicious and a delight to make and present to family, friends and guests!
SNOWFLAKE MACARONS, WITH RASPBERRY MASCARPONE GANACHE
Ingredients, Shells (makes about 30)
- 75g egg whites, aged overnight
- 40g fine caster sugar
- 90g ground almonds
- 125g icing sugar
- green food colouring
Prepare your baking sheets and cut parchment paper to fit. Set aside.
Measure out all of your ingredients. Sift the ground almonds and icing sugar together, making sure you discard any large pieces of ground almonds. If there are many, weigh them and add more ground almonds for the same amount. Sift these also.
In a clean bowl (no oil, water, or specks of any residue), beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the caster sugar and beat until glossy peaks form. You know they are ready if you can turn the bowl upside down and nothing falls out. However, do not overbeat or your macaron shells will be dry and crack. Add the food colouring.
With a spatula, fold in the almond mixture. Work the mixture (macaronnage) from bottom up, until you achieve a smooth texture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula. Do not over mix, though! If the mixture is too liquid, the macarons will come out flat and without pieds (feet) that make a macaron what they are. If the mixture is not blended enough, or dry, the shells will crack.
Transfer the mixture to a piping bag. If you’re using disposable bags, cut the tip straight across. Pipe desired width circles onto the parchment sheets.
Let sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature. This stage is called crouter. You should be able to touch the macarons after about 20 minutes and they will not stick to your fingers. This step produces the pieds.
(For the green macarons, nothing needs to be added; for the natural macarons, I sprinkled silver and gold edible dust over the raw shells.)
Preheat oven to 160C (fan setting). Bake shells for 10-12 minutes. Test after about 5 minutes. If you’re using more than one baking sheet, rotate their positions in the oven, so all shells bake evenly. You will know they are ready, when they do not wiggle to the touch. But do not overbake, or they can crack and burn. Allow to cool completely before filling with the ganache and decorating with the icing.
RASPBERRY MASCARPONE GANACHE
- 250g mascarpone cheese
- 125g fresh raspberries, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons of raw honey or caster sugar (optional, if desired)
- 250g icing sugar
- 1 egg white, slightly beaten
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- green food colouring
Mix all of the ingredients with a fork or hand whisk until blended. Transfer half to a piping bag (this will be your white icing). To the other half, add some green food colouring and mix well. Transfer this remaining half to another piping bag (this will be your green icing). For my icing piping bags, I used the smallest round tip (for the green on white) that I have from Wilton, Number 2. However, I would suggest going even smaller, if you can.