We are super excited about today’s post because it is about our first time making French macarons and Swiss Meringue Buttercream. We have been wanting to make macarons for ages because they are just so pretty and delicious! We weren’t able to make them until now because they require almond meal, which for some reason, we couldn’t find for at any store in a 20-mile radius, except for one expired bag at Whole Foods (for $14). Finally, we found some at a Fresh Market, the second time we visited. Technically, you can just grind blanched almonds, but we wanted to use professionally ground for the best texture. We used Bob’s Red Mill brand, and it was worth the cost because our macarons had perfect texture!
Supposedly, macarons are really finicky. They can crack, not develop those ruffled little “feet,” have rough tops, etc. This recipe uses an Italian meringue in it- you beat a hot sugar syrup into egg whites. Some recipes use a French meringue, which involves beating sugar into egg whites. Even though they are made using the Italian method, they are still called French macarons! Anyway, though, the Italian method supposedly creates a slightly more dependable cookie than the French one. Since they are kind of expensive cookies to make, we were super happy when ours came out of the oven looking like this (ignore the fact that they are a little brown- we left the first tray in a minute too long):
Yay! So, next up was what to fill them with. Since the shells are pretty sweet on their own, we decided to go with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It’s a little less sweet, and the kind of frosting you would find on a wedding cake. You can flavor it with pretty much anything from lemon zest to strawberry to chocolate, but we chose vanilla bean. Again, some people have trouble with this type of frosting, but by using somewhat firm butter and following the recipe to the letter, we were fine. If yours gets kind of curdled or soupy, keep beating it, and it will eventually smooth out. It has a very light texture, and is super smooth and easy to pipe.
Once filling them, we knew that we had reached macaron perfection! Yes, they definitely require a good amount of work, but they are pretty fun to make and super delicious. We will definitely be making them again with some more adventurous flavors!
Makes 25-30 sandwich cookies
Recipe from Annie’s Eats, originally from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook (on our wish list!)
212 grams almond meal (or finely ground blanched almonds)
212 grams confectioners’ or powdered sugar
82 and 90 grams egg whites, divided
236 grams granulated sugar, plus a pinch
158 grams water
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal and powdered sugar. Whisk together to blend and break up any lumps. If your powdered sugar is really lumpy, we would recommend sifting it. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 82 grams of the egg whites. Blend the egg whites into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed. It will be thick and paste-like.
Combine the granulated sugar (minus the pinch) and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat with a candy thermometer clipped to the side, which will make a syrup. When the temperature is around 200˚ F, combine the 90 grams of egg whites with a pinch of sugar. Begin whipping on medium-low speed. Continue whipping the whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. If you get soft peaks before the syrup reaches the target temperature, reduce the speed to low to keep the whites moving.
Once the syrup reaches 248˚ F, remove it from the heat. Increase the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the meringue until stiff, glossy peaks form. You just made Italian meringue! If you like, you can add color at this point. Use powdered or gel food coloring.
Add one third of the meringue mixture to the bowl with the almond mixture. Fold in gently until the mixture is smooth. A bit at a time, gently fold in the remaining meringue until the batter is smooth and runs in thick ribbons off of the spatula. You may not need all of the meringue- we used most of it, but there was a little meringue left.
Add the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip with about a ½-inch opening. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about ½-inch above the surface of the pan. Steadily pipe rounds about 1¼- to 1½-inches in diameter. The batter may create small peaks immediately after piping, but they will smooth themselves away after a minute or two, if your batter is the right texture. If it is too thin, your shells will spread out a little more.
Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325˚ F. Bake for 8-12 minutes, until the tops are smooth and set and “feet” have formed around the bottom. Watch them carefully so they don’t brown too much. Let the shells cool briefly on the baking sheet, about a couple of minutes, and then peel away from the parchment. They should come away easily. Transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining batter, replacing the parchment paper with each batch. Before putting each new tray into the oven, bring it back up to 350˚ F. Once the shells are baked and cooled, match them up in pairs by size and sandwich with your filling. Store in an airtight container.
Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 5 cups (You probably will need only about half for the macarons, but the rest can be frozen for later use)
Recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
4 sticks (1 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still firm (Yes, we know it’s horribly fattening, but only a little bit is on each macaron)
1 1/2- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips). To be on the safe side, check to see if the temperature has reached 160˚ F.
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes. Split the vanilla bean, and scrape its seeds into the bowl.
With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, add the vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. If you are using it the same day, it can sit out at room temperature. If not, it can be refrigerated in a air-tight container for a few days, or frozen for several months.
Side Note: These two recipes together use about 11 egg whites! We have a recipe coming on Wednesday that will use up a few of the leftover yolks! Also, the shells can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container, but we recommend filling the macarons within a couple hours of serving. While they still taste the same, the shells get soft and less crispy/chewy over time.