Ah, macarons… Those gorgeous, little French cookies. They’re delicate and pretty. They’re fluffy and delicious. And they are so super cute! Aren’t they? Uuuum, no! Don’t let their cute appearance fool you. Macarons have caused more home bakers to collapse onto their kitchen floors crying in utter frustration than any other cookie! But if you’re willing to overlook that little piece of information, then yes: they are cute!
Cute and notoriously finicky…
Lucky for me, I’ve never collapsed onto my kitchen floor in utter frustration because of a bad macaron. Nope, macarons never did that to me. It happened to others, but not to me. I can honestly say that I never experienced a nervous break down after pulling a batch of macaron shells out of the oven.
So what does that mean? I’m the most gifted baker in the universe? Not really… iIt’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but when I first started making macarons about six – oh my god has it been that long?? – years ago, I was just an idiot who didn’t have a clue what a proper macaron was supposed to taste like.
There, I said it: me was idiot.
Oh yeah, hollow, tough macarons used to make me feel proud of myself. As long as they kind of looked like the real deal, with the shiny top and the cute feet, I’d be happy with them. I’m not sure if being an idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about macarons is really the best approach to take when it comes to making these babies, but it sure saved me a lot of tears! Not even undercooked macarons would disappoint me… Jeez…
Of course, when the Rocking Rebel brought home a box of real Parisian macarons (from Ladurée) it dawned on me that the macarons I had been making up until then were, um, not worthy of the name ‘macarons’. They were too dry, too tough and waaaay too chewy… But in a delicious kind of way. Luckily, by that time I had just purchased a brand new cookbook with shiny pages and the perfect macaron recipe. And that perfect macaron recipe taught me this: French style macarons are not my thing! And when I say ‘French style’, I mean macarons made with French meringue.
I’ll explain all about French meringue in my next post. For now, all you need to know is that in my kitchen, French meringue style macarons means chewy, hollow almond cookies. Not macarons. So, whenever I’m craving a proper macaron, with a thin egg shell-like crust and a fluffy center, I always whip up a batch of Italian meringue first. As my once-clean-and-shiny cookbook taught me: Italian meringue makes for the best macarons!
And what did I make last week?
Italian meringue! The most stable kind of meringue!
What a coincidence…
Actually, the fact that I had a batch of Italian meringue is exactly the reason why I decided to make macarons. Sure, I could have used the Italian meringue to make another fruit mousse or something like a lemon meringue pie, but I had my mind set on macarons. They’re yum!
Especially these salted caramel macarons! They are amazing!
I call them salted caramel macarons, but there’s really nothing particularly special about the macaron shells themselves. Well, besides the fact that they are perfect, I mean. ‘Cause the shells sure are perfect! As in: shiny on top, fluffy on the inside with a thin egg shell-like crust on the outside and cute little feet at the bottom. But the thing that really takes these perfect-but-nonetheless-quite-ordinary macaron shells to the next level is the whipped salted caramel filling!
Yeah, that’s right… Whipped. Salted. Caramel. Filling.
Yum, yum, yum…
Seriously guys, this stuff is the best! And it’s really easy to make too, which makes me love it even more.
You start by cooking up a basic caramel. A wet caramel, that is. To make a wet caramel, sugar and water are combined in a pan and heated over low heat. As the mixture heats, you stir it to help dissolve the sugar crystals into the water. The resulting syrup is then heated over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. At this point (and temperature) the water will evaporate, leaving you with a pure sugar syrup that eventually turns into a gorgeous, golden caramel.
You can also make a dry caramel, which is made by heating sugar in a pan (without the water) until it melts and caramelizes. However, not only is this more difficult, it can also leave you with a lumpy – even crunchy? – caramel. Dissolving the sugar crystals into a little water first allows the sugar to caramelize more evenly, which means that you will end up with a smoother caramel.
It’s entirely possible to make a smooth dry caramel – for example, I made a dry caramel to top these deliciously spicy Molasses Cookies and these Caramel Apple Muffins – but doing it the ‘wet’ way is just a little easier. And because macarons are finicky enough, I didn’t want to trouble you with a difficult caramel…
Soooo, once you’re happy with the color of your caramel, you whisk in some hot cream and a fair amount of butter. You then need to cool the caramel to room temperature and chill it in the fridge or the freezer. Once the caramel has cooled, and the butter fat in the caramel has set again, you can whip it up with a mixer, like ordinary butter!
Very easy and very, very delicious.
Once you’ve whipped the caramel to a buttercream-like consistency, you fold in a little sea salt and voilà…you’re done!
So go ahead and make yourself some of these delicious, three-bite-sized cookies today!
Okay, maybe not today… But promise me you will try them! And when you do: they’re even better the next day! Just don’t make them on a rainy (or humid) day… They don’t like it!
- 150g (or ¾ cups) granulated sugar
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) egg whites, about 2 large egg whites
- 150g (or 1½ cups) ground almonds or almond meal
- 150g (or 1 cup + 3 tablespoons) powdered sugar
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) egg whites, about 2 large egg whites*
- a few drops of yellow food coloring, optional (only use gel food colorings for macarons!)
- 175g (or ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
- 120ml (or ½ cup) heavy whipping cream
- 175g (or ¾ cup + 1 teaspoon) unsalted butter, cubed
- sea salt to taste, I used about ½ teaspoon
- Please note: to make the Italian meringue, use the first three ingredients of the list of ingredients. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium-high and allow the syrup to come to a boil.
- In the meantime, add the egg whites to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and mix (with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until foamy and the whites are almost able to hold soft peaks.
- Once the syrup is boiling, clip on a candy (or sugar) thermometer.
- Cook until the syrup reaches 116°C/240°F, then take the pan off the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the foamy egg whites, mixing continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Don't pour the syrup onto the whisk, or the syrup may splatter against the sides of the bowl (or into your face!). Instead, aim for a spot close to the whisk.
- Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the meringue has cooled down to body temperature. If you want to use food coloring (I used a drop of yellow food coloring, but I don't think it made that much of a difference), add it and mix briefly until the meringue has a uniform color.
- Line two (or three, if you have them) large baking sheets with baking parchment. I always use a tiny dollop of italian meringue to stick the parchment to the baking sheet, This way, when I start piping, the parchment stays in place. Preheat the oven to 135°C/275°F (standard oven setting).
- In a large bowl, stir together the ground almonds, powdered sugar and remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula, until a paste forms.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold one third of the meringue into the almond paste. You don't have to be too careful with it just yet; this third of meringue is used to lighten the almond paste so that the remaining meringue can easily be incorporated without losing too much volume.
- Once you've lightened the paste with one third of the meringue, carefully fold in the remaining two third of meringue.
- The mixture is probably too stiff at this point, so stir with your rubber spatula until you come to the point where a ribbon of batter takes about 30 seconds to completely sink back into the bulk of the batter. At this point, the batter won't flow out of your piping bag or all over your baking sheets, and it won't be too stiff either.
- Plop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large open tip and pipe 1½-cm (U.S. quarter-sized) dollops onto the prepared baking sheets. If you want shells of roughly the same size, do yourself a favor and make a template first. Slide it underneath the baking parchment to make piping the shells a little easier.
- Pipe 70-76 macaron shells. You probably need more sheets of baking parchment to pipe the shells on, even if you only have two baking sheets. Once all of the shells have been piped, allow them to sit undisturbed at room temperature for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. By drying the unbaked shells like this, you make sure that a skin forms on the outside of the shells.
- Once the unbaked shells have rested, bake for 20 minutes (one baking sheet at a time), or until you can easily pull a shell off the baking parchment.
- Allow the shells to cool to room temperature before filling them. You can also store the cooled shells in an airtight container for a day to make the shells extra delicious.
- In a medium-sized saucepan (preferably a light-colored pan), combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring with a metal spoon until the sugar has dissolved, then crank the heat up to medium-high. Allow to come to a boil.
- In the meantime, add the cream to a small saucepan and heat over low heat until the mixture reaches scalding point. Turn off the heat.
- Cook the sugar syrup until it turns into caramel. Once you're happy with the color of the caramel, take it off the heat and immediately whisk in the hot cream. The mixture will start to bubble and hiss like an angry snake (this is why the pan needs to be medium-sized) but just keep whisking and it will calm down.
- Add half the butter, one cube at a time, whisking until incorporated. Then plop the bottom of the pan in a cold water bath (fill your sink with an inch of cold water and dunk the bottom of the pan into it). Add the remaining butter and whisk until the caramel thickens (aka: cools).
- Transfer the caramel to a medium-sized bowl and place in the fridge or freezer to chill.
- Once chilled, use a mixer to whip up the caramel. Because there's a lot of butter in it, it will double in volume and lighten in color (like buttercream). Fold in sea salt flakes with a rubber spatula.
- Pair the macaron shells according to size and fill each pair with a teaspoon of the salted caramel filling.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge, but serve at room temperature. The macarons are even better the next day!