Sarah Ebner is chief editor at Family Times Travel a blog written by all members of the family and one of our BiB finalist Travel blogs. Sarah and her daughter Jess went along to Carlton Towers to learn how to make macarons, yes that’s how they are spelt and pronounced, find out more about their fabulous experience and of the courses available for children and young adults this summer.
Macaroons are my daughter’s favourite treat, so when we were offered the chance to actually make them, I knew we had to say yes. We learnt an awful lot – not least that we had always been calling them by the wrong name (they’re macarons, not macaroons…).
The workshop was part of Cooks, the Carlton School of Food which is based at the astonishing Carlton Towers near Selby in Yorkshire. Cooks is a new venture and set in the original kitchens of Carlton Towers, the ancestral home of the Duke of Norfolk. It is a Grade 1 listed estate which began construction in 1614 and an incredible setting – with 250 acres of parkland.
The idea is that Cooks is not a cookery school as such, as that sounds rather too serious and specific. Instead you can come here and learn how to make anything from macarons to fish as well as find out how to grow, photograph or write about food.
The kitchens themselves are fantastic, newly refurbished and with a real Downton Abbey/Upstairs Downstairs feel about them. They still have the original signs on the doors (for the pantry, pastry room etc) and you can even see a table from 1614 in one of the rooms.
Our course was called “Perfect the Macaron” and was run by Elaine Lemm, who was lovely and bubbly. The first thing she told us was that macarons are French, reputedly brought to France by Catherine de Medici, and that they are pronounced mah-kah-ron, not roon. She was quite emphatic that macaroons are small cakes made with egg white and coconut, and I did not want to argue with her! Mind you, after making the video we realised we had reverted to calling them macaroons throughout (old habits die hard).
Cooks classes are available for up to 12 guests and prices for non-residential guests start from £70 for half-day courses and £170 for full day courses. You can stay over at Carlton Towers the night before too, which is quite an experience.
The day began at around 10am and we met in the Housekeeper’s sitting room (yes, it was very Downton!). While waiting to start, we chatted, had some tea and cake, and also discovered some remarkable memorabilia just thrown into a cupboard – a haul of Christmas cards sent by the Queen and Prince Charles and Princess Diana to Lord and Lady Gerald, who live at Carlton Towers.
We headed for the beautifully equipped kitchen by 10.30 and Elaine gave us a talk about macarons, from their history to how you make them. I have to say that she was absolutely brilliant – clear, funny and informative, the perfect person to lead a group.
Every person present had their own workstation and was given a recipe for basic macarons. We were also given our own ingredients (we were spoilt because they were already weighed and measured). So we had little cups of icing sugar, ground almonds, eggs, salt, caster sugar.
I love to bake, but tend not to do things which are fiddly or complicated. Macarons are both! They even involve piping, which is something I very rarely do. I just about managed it.
You can see how we made the macarons in the video by Jessica (above). They need a steady lowish temperature to cook properly, as they burn if it’s too high and don’t cook through if it’s too low. Elaine recommends 140C (no fan).
We learnt that sieving is vital to make the macarons light (including sieving the ground almonds), and that it’s advised to tap a baking sheet a few times before putting it in the oven, in order to break any air bubbles. Before baking your macarons, you need to leave them for about 20 minutes to dry out as this makes the surface of the macaron smooth and shiny (who knew? Right?).
The macarons are baked in the preheated oven, but after around 7 minutes, you open the door to release any steam, before closing it again and baking for another 7 or 8 minutes. They’re cooked when they’re firm and slightly risen.
We learnt such a lot from making the macarons and it was such fun too. I actually made chocolate ones, so incorporated cocoa powder with the icing sugar right at the start, while my companions made all sorts of different colours – adding a food colouring paste to the egg whites.
We also made the most incredible fillings, ranging from chocolate ganache (mine, of course) to cherry brandy and cream.
I have to say that they were absolutely delicious.
Elaine’s top tips for perfect macarons:
- Use a Moule Macaron – a special mat which has spaces for you to pipe the mixture into. I thought these were a genius invention!
- Use food colouring paste, not liquid for coloured macarons. Liquid alters the texture.
- Weigh and measure all ingredients before starting and always sieve.
- Egg whites should be at room temperature and the whisk and bowl should be completely clean and grease free.
- After baking, wait until the macarons are completely cold before you slide them off the mat (otherwise they will stick).
Cooks is running a selection of junior classes throughout July and August, priced from £30 per child and including a light lunch. Children from the age of eight can take part in Pasta Fun, Tea Time Treats and baking bread, while young adults (15+) can learn useful skills from cooking curry to freezing food the right way, in a class entitled “Leaving Home”.
For more information contact Cooks on 01405 861 662 or Nicola@carltontowers.co.uk
Sarah Ebner and her daughter, Jess, took part in the Macaron making course at Carlton Towers on a complimentary basis. All their opinions, however, are their own.
Sarah and Jess write a family travel blog, Family Travel Times, about where they go and what they do.