Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vanilla Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Cream



The first time I had a French macaron I was vacationing in Paris with my late husband, Chris. We bought two large macarons, (a rookie mistake we would later remedy by buying the smaller versions so we could try more flavors) one pistachio and one vanilla, at Ladurée on rue Royale. We walked to the Tuileries garden and sat on a bench before removing our treats from the pretty green and gold bag. I remember my first bite. The thin crisp crust gave way to the soft, rich pistachio filling. I sat silently analyzing the flavors and textures stunned at the simple yet complex nature of this rare pastry.

Today French macarons are more available around the globe, but who wouldn't prefer going to Paris to get them? While I have never met a French pastry I didn't like, these little treats rank at the top of my favorites list.

I made macarons as part of the trio of desserts for Maddie and her friend's progressive dinner. French macarons are made with ground almonds, egg whites and sugar. There are two ways they can be made: mixing ground almonds with meringue or mixing ground almonds with Italian meringue, which is meringue made with boiled sugar syrup. Either method works, but I like the Italian meringue method best even though it is a little more work.


Finely ground almonds, confectioner's sugar, and egg whites are mixed together to make a paste.


Sugar syrup is boiled to between thread and soft-ball stage.


A 1/3 of the Italian meringue is stirred into the almond paste to lighten it. 



When all the Italian meringue is folded into the almond mixture the batter should be smooth and firm, but drip slowly from the spatula.

I really love silicon baking mats. Everything always seems to bake better when I use them. I did a little experiment by using silicone baking mats for half the macaron shells and parchment paper for the other half. The macaron shells baked on the silicone mats rose perfectly even and were very easy to remove once cooled. The macaron shells baked on the parchment did not rise as nicely and took a little more effort to remove from the parchment paper. If you have silicone baking mats definitely use them.


The secret to a true French macaron is the foot or 'pied' at the base. That is what sets it apart. Plus a smooth top with no cracks. The best way to achieve this is to let the macarons rest for 20-30 minutes before baking to form a skin on top. That way when they rise the skin will keep them from cracking. Also opening the oven door a couple times during baking allows steam to escape. They will still rise but not explode.


Traditional macarons are made with blanched almonds, so the shells have a uniform appearance. You can use regular almonds if you prefer. You can also use regular or blanched almond flour. I used almonds with skin for these macarons because I liked the color variation. If you grind your almonds make sure to grind them in a food processor until very fine. Remove any large chunks.

The recipe makes a lot of macaron shells. Depending upon the size it will yield approximately 7-8 dozen sandwiched cookies. The Salted Butter Caramel Cream (recipe below) will fill about half of the macarons shells. For a little variety fill the other half with chocolate ganache, raspberry jam, or lemon curd. Or double the Salted Butter Caramel Cream recipe.

Vanilla Macarons

Prepare a pastry bag with a large round tip. Line four baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper. Set aside.

Almond paste

2 1/2 cups (300 g) finely ground almonds (blanched or regular or almond flour)
2 3/4 cups (300 g) confectioner's sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 egg whites, at room temperature

Split vanilla bean in half with a sharp knife remove the seeds. Put the ground almonds, powdered sugar and the vanilla bean seeds in a food processor. Process until well combined and the almonds are very fine.

Put almond mixture in a mixing bowl, stir in the egg whites and vanilla until mixture forms a paste. Set aside.

Italian meringue

1 1/2 cups (300 g) plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup (100 ml) water
3 egg whites, at room temperature

Put 1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar and the water in a medium saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil. Continue to cook until a candy thermometer reaches 230℉ (110℃). While the sugar syrup reaches temperature whip the egg whites and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a standing mixer with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. When the sugar syrup reaches 230℉ (110℃) remove from the heat. Beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form then reduce the mixer to slow/medium speed. Slowly pour the sugar syrup down the inside of the mixing bowl close to the edge so it doesn't splatter too much. Once all the sugar syrup is combined continue to mix increasing to medium/high speed until the meringue is stiff and glossy.

Stir 1/3 of the meringue into the almond paste to lighten it. Fold another 1/3 until combine followed by the final 1/3 of the meringue. Fold a few more times to slightly deflate the batter. The almond meringue mixture should be smooth yet firm and drip slowly from the spatula. Put in the prepared pastry bag and pipe neat rounds about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) across. Whack each pan once or twice on the counter to flatten the macarons slightly and remove air bubbles.

Preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃).

Allow macarons to rest 20-30 minutes to develop a skin so they don't crack when they bake. Touch the top to check. It should feel dry and not sticky. Bake one sheet at a time in the lower third of the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes. To release any steam that might crack the shells open the oven door twice during baking. The first time after 4 minutes, then again after four more minutes. By then the feet should be formed. The macarons will look dry on top when finished.

Remove from the oven. Carefully move the silicone baking mat or parchment paper onto a cooling rack. If you leave the macarons on the hot pans they will continue to bake. When cool remove from silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Fill with the caramel cream or desired filling.

The finished macarons should rest in the refrigerator overnight to soften slightly before serving. They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. For longer storage allow to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours to soften, then freeze. To serve allow refrigerated or frozen macarons to come to room temperature for maximum flavor. Although it is often difficult to wait that long.



To make the caramel cream boil sugar and water until it turns amber colored.


Once the sugar syrup is a golden caramel color remove from the heat and add hot cream followed by softened butter and vanilla extract.



Cooled caramel is mixed with softened butter to make the caramel cream filling for the macarons.



The recipe makes a lot of macaron shells. Depending upon the size it will yield approximately 7-8 dozen sandwiched cookies. The Salted Butter Caramel Cream will fill about half of the macarons shells. For a little variety fill the other half with chocolate ganache, raspberry jam, or lemon curd. Or double the Salted Butter Caramel Cream recipe.

Salted Butter Caramel Cream

1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons (1 ounce/28 g) salted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (4 ounces/113 g) salted butter, softened

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just at a simmer. At the same time put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over medium/high heat. Boil until mixture turns amber colored, about 5-8 minutes. Watch closely so it doesn't burn. Once it starts to color it will get dark quickly.

Once it has turned amber-colored remove from the heat and carefully stir in the hot cream using a long-handled wooden spoon. Be careful as the mixture will foam and bubble violently. Once the mixture has calmed down stir in the butter until completely melted and add the vanilla. Allow to cool completely.

Cover and refrigerate if not using when cooled. The caramel can be made to this point and refrigerated up to 4 days. To finish the caramel cream beat the butter until light add the caramel and continue beating until light and airy. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tip. Pipe caramel cream on one macaron shell and sandwich with another.

The finished macarons should rest in the refrigerator overnight to soften slightly before serving. They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. For longer storage allow to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours to soften, then freeze. To serve allow refrigerated or frozen macarons to come to room temperature for maximum flavor.

Vanilla Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Cream



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