Birthday Cake French Macarons
French macarons are the cutest little cookie you will ever find. They are so delicate and pretty with a little ruffle around the edge. So cute! And they only have a handful of ingredients? That sounds great! Beware, they are not for the feint of heart. These are really difficult to get right. My first batch looked like I melted and burnt marshmallows onto a cookie tray. Actually that doesn’t sound too bad, but really it was. Then, the next batch started to look like cookies, but were all spread out and cracked. I tweaked one little thing at a time over and over to get this recipe. There are lots of recipes out there, and they all require a little bit of luck. For some reason, this recipe and exactly this recipe works for me. All the other ones don’t.
Once you get the hang of it, these cookies are a hit! They look so fancy, and you can make them different colors and flavors. They are so much fun! I made a plain batch so that you can see what they look like without color. I recommend only making plain ones at first to get the hang of it. Then, have some fun! I decided to make birthday cake French macarons. I colored the cookies blue, and flavored my icing with clear vanilla. Clear vanilla has that boxed cake mix flavor that is really sentimental and sweet. To really bring home the birthday cake feel: sprinkles. I wanted a good amount of sprinkles, so that meant that I had to have quite a bit of icing! These are definitely over the top!
When I started trying different recipes for macarons, I saw a bunch that called for aged egg whites. They literally called for me to crack and separate some eggs, and then let them sit in my fridge overnight. What a ridiculous proposition. First of all, I already had to go to the grocery store for this stuff. Now, I have to crack eggs ahead of time? Like they’re not going to get fridge stuff in them before they make it into cookies. Yikes. No aged egg whites here.
There are LOTS of tips and tricks for this one. Beating the eggs into a meringue is super important. It creates a whole different structure that allows the cookies to hold air. But don’t ask me any more science questions, because that’s all I know about it. You don’t want that much air to stay in the cookies, so you deflate the meringue as you add the almond flour and powdered sugar by folding the mixture together. This is called “macaronage.” If you google it, you will find lots of very opinionated people who will tell you exactly how and why this is the most important thing ever. I just want cookies, so this is what I figured out I had to do to get cookies. It seems to work.
Depending on your almond flour, you might need to run it through a food processor to get it really fine. You want blanched almonds and not raw almonds, because the skin will turn your cookies brown instead of a pale cream color. I found my almond flour at Trader Joe’s, and it’s awesome. Even the blanched almonds will have a little bit of a yellow tint, so beware when coloring. The cream color ones I made are plain - no flavor, no color. I made the other batch blue, and it took quite a bit of my sky blue color to look blue and not greenish. It’s probably because it’s sky blue. But once again, it’s not perfect.
You have to let these cookies rest! For the love of cookies, don’t skip a step. Resting creates a skin on the cookies that holds the top together in one piece, and forces the air to escape out the side of the cookie and creates those cute little ruffles called “feet.” I have found that the size of the cookie does not affect the baking time, since they are all about the same thickness. These birthday cake French macarons are really big. I’ve seen them at bakeries a little smaller than this. Lastly, baking time is a total guess. Mine work at nine minutes. They look done a couple of minutes before this. But when I took them out and let them rest, they were really sticky. So the bottom stuck to the parchment and the top came right off. You don’t want these cookies to brown. This makes any color you added look super weird. You want them to be perfectly done - no more no less.
I like Swiss meringue buttercream for filling these cookies. You can do whatever you want - jam, ganache, other icings. This icing has the perfect balance of sweet. The cookies are mostly powdered sugar, so I want an icing that isn’t totally powdered sugar. Swiss meringue buttercream has the most beautiful silky texture. I ice cakes with it only when I don’t need the icing to set up or crust like American buttercream does. Don't skimp on the icing. It's not there just to hold the cookies together. That's where your flavor is!
In summary, these cookies are super difficult and really special to make. I’ve considered listing it as a special skill on my resume. But bribing people with cookies is usually frowned upon. I still think it qualifies as a special skill.
BIRTHDAY CAKE FRENCH MACARONS
- 72g fine, blanched almond flour
- 120g powdered sugar
- 2 egg whites, room temperature
- 50g granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- gel food coloring
- Swiss meringue buttercream icing (recipe below)
- Sift almond flour and powdered sugar, combining in a bowl. Dispose of any almond pieces that are too large to fit through your sifter. If you have more than a teaspoon of almond pieces, mix all of your almond flour in a food processor with a blade to grind it finer. Sift it again to be sure your flour is ground fine enough.
- Place egg whites, granulated sugar, and cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Start on a low speed, and gradually increase speed every minute or two, whisking egg whites until stiff peaks form.
- Add color and mix until just combined.
- Remove bowl from stand mixer.
- Add the almond flour and powdered sugar mixture to the bowl with the egg whites.
- With a rubber spatula, fold the flour-sugar mixture into egg whites. The whipped egg whites will deflate some, but not completely.
- Stop mixing when the mixture falls off of your spatula in a consistent curtain of batter - not in a liquid stream and not in clumps.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a large round tip with the batter.
- Fit two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place dots of batter under each corner of your parchment paper to stick the corners down to the baking sheet.
- Pipe batter onto baking sheets in about 20 small rounds.
(To avoid little tips in the middle of your cookie, don’t pull the piping bag up and away from the cookie while piping. Hold your bag perfectly vertical, so that the top of your piping bag is directly above the decorating tip, not at an angle like you would for cakes. Stop squeezing when you have enough batter for one cookie on the sheet. Then, swirl the bag in a small circle to release the batter that is still touching the piping tip. Keep the tip as close to the top of the cookie as possible without dragging it through the cookie.)
- Lift each baking sheet and slam it down on your countertop several times to release any large air bubbles. This will spread your cookies a little bit. Be sure to keep the sheet flat while doing this, or your cookies will spread to one side. Caution: This will be loud. Try putting a towel down between your cookie sheet and your countertop.
- Let batter rest on baking sheets for about 30 minutes.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 9 minutes in the lower third of your oven, one tray at a time.
- Place baking sheet on a cooling rack to allow cookies to cool completely.
Swiss meringue buttercream icing
- 2 egg whites
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅔ cup butter
- ½ tsp clear vanilla
- Place a small saucepan containing an inch of water over medium heat on your stovetop.
- Rest a medium bowl on top of your saucepan. Be sure the bowl is not touching the water.
- Add egg whites and sugar to bowl.
- Whisk egg and sugar mixture several minutes, until the sugar has dissolved into the egg whites. You may need to hold the bowl steady with your other hand fitted with an oven mit for safety.
- Remove bowl from heat when done. Test this by sticking your thumb and index finger into the mixture to get a little bit on your fingers. Rub your fingers together. If you cannot feel the granules of sugar between your fingers, it is done.
- Place mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Whisk until soft peaks form - about 5 minutes.
- Add butter 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing well in between.
The mixture may look curdled or broken, but your icing isn’t ruined. Continue mixing until stiff and glossy.
- Add flavor and mix to combine.
- Add icing to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.
- Pipe icing onto the flat side of one cookie.
- Add a second cookie, flat side to icing, to create the cookie sandwich. 13. Twist the top cookie while pressing lightly to be sure it sticks to the icing without smooshing all of the icing out the sides.
- Frost and sandwich all of the cookies.
- Optional: Let the cookies sit in the fridge overnight to firm up. Then, bring to room temperature before serving. The texture of the cookie gets a little softer and the icing really holds the cookies together after it's chilled.