Are you guys tired of the hearts and the cupids and the chocolate yet? Can you do without the “dessert for two” recipes, and the color red? Are you ready to just move on and get on with it?
Well, I’m not! I love being festive, as I’ve told you before, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. It is right around this time every year that I have a deep urge to take a shoebox, cut a hole at the top, decorate the whole thing, and wait for my classmates to drop in store-bought valentines. With candy (!), if I’m lucky. No people, this is not sad. It is quite the opposite! It is celebratory and fun and…fine, maybe a little sad. But I still love it.
I’ll spare all of you the decadence and the heart shape food. But I will share what I love! Because that’s what this holiday is about anyway, right? My favorite dessert at the moment: French Macarons! Bonus: They’re pink!
I’ve told you that I have attempted to make these before without much success. And these weren’t perfect by any means. They didn’t rise the way they were supposed to, they were a bit too sweet, they were chewier than they are supposed to be, and they were all cracked on top. But boy, am I in love. This is the start of a lifelong relationship and it will just improve with time.
Strawberry and Cream Macarons (recipe adapted from BraveTart)
There is a myth that making macarons is not for the faint of heart (pun full intended). But this really could not be further from the truth. There are no fancy stand mixers needed (in fact, I think that my batter was overmixed because of my stand mixer). The recipe is quite straight-forward, not particularly labor or time intensive, and everything can be done by hand. The one extra-ish tool that you will need, however, is a scale. The proportions need to be exact. I speak from experience. I ended up with one giant sheet of macaron shell when I tried to “eye” the measurements. It won’t work, people. And then you will be sad. And that’s the last thing I want on a day like today!
4 ounces (115g) almond flour, or ground up blanched almonds
8 ounces (230g) powdered sugar
5 ounces egg whites (144g), set out at room temperature overnight
2 1/2 ounce (72g) sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract, or the seeds from one vanilla bean, or 2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 oz. freeze dried strawberries, ground up
Preheat the oven to 300° and have ready a large pastry bag, fitted with a plain tip. Or a freezer bag, and just cut off the tip when you are ready to use. Also line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
This is where it gets a bit tedious. Take a 1 to 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter and trace out circles on the parchment paper, about a 1/2 inch away from each other. This is to guide you to size the macarons as you are piping them, to make sure they are all the same size. Then after you are done, flip the parchment paper over on the baking sheet, ink side down. You should will be able to see the circles from the other side.
Sift together the almond flour with the powdered sugar and freeze dried strawberries and set aside. If a significant portion won’t go through your sifter, however, you’ll need to grind them up until they do.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, or by hand (!), combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla bean (not the extract), and salt and turn the mixer to medium. Beat for 3-5 minutes or until the egg whites just seem to be getting foamy.
Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat another 7-10 minutes, or until the egg whites are glossy and shiny and holds it shape. You will end up with a very stiff and dry meringue and your arm will hurt if you are doing this by hand.
Now dump in the dry ingredients all at once and fold them in with a rubber spatula. You will think that this is an impossible task, but it’s not! Keep folding. The meringue will lose some of its air, but that’s a good thing. You want the end results to be like the consistency of say, pancake batter.
Pipe the batter into the pre-traced circles on the baking sheet. Stop piping just shy of the borders of the circle, as the batter will continue to spread just a bit. If it doesn’t spread, your batter is still too thick, and you need to mix it some more.
After piping your macarons, take hold of the sheet pan and hit the baking sheet against your counter. Rotate the pan ninety degrees and rap two more times. This is to knock out any of the air bubbles. Let the baking sheets sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the macarons are dry to the touch.
Bake for about 18 minutes, or until you can cleanly peel the parchment paper away from a macaron. Let cool completely on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack. Pipe with white chocolate buttercream, recipe to follow, top with another macaron shell and enjoy!
White Chocolate Buttercream
6 ounces heavy cream
10 ounces good quality white chocolate (I found a bar with strawberry bits in it!), chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
In a large, heat proof bowl, place the white chocolate, salt and vanilla bean paste. In a small pot, bring the cream to a simmer, but make sure that it does not boil. Pour the cream over the white chocolate and let it sit for a moment. Sit everything together until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Let it come to room temperature. With a mixer, beat in the butter until the whole mixture is light and fluffy. Fill the macaron shells and enjoy! Store the extras in the refrigerator.