I’ve already written about the culinary delight that is a “macaron” once. That blog post featured my first attempt at making this delicate treat, and while I was pleased with my end result back then, I’ve since refined my recipe and had some even better outcomes. The first time I tried making macarons (pronounced mac-ah-rõ, with the nasalized /o/ and no /s/ at the end), I filled them with lemon curd. This was tasty, but a bit runny and messy to eat. My most recent attempts have included several more flavors, including: coffee, vanilla, apricot-lavender, salted caramel, and lavender. The standout favorites among these were the salted caramel and lavender macarons. So these are the ones I will write about for you (starting with the salted caramel recipe). I’ve had many requests lately for a post about these- mainly from the French ex-pat crowd. So without further ado…la recette des Macarons au Caramel Fleur de Sel est à vous.
For the macaron cookie (the “coque”):
110 g ground almond
225 g powdered sugar
120 g egg whites (about 4 eggs)
1 pinch of salt
50 g caster sugar (e.g. superfine sugar, or baker’s sugar)
- First things first: Where do you get ground almonds? This is something I’ve gone back and forth about. You can find “almond meal” at Trader Joe’s for a reasonable price, but it has the almond skin in it, which can make the batter heavier and stickier once baked. One way around this is to sieve the almond meal several times before weighing it, to remove as much almond skin as possible. This works pretty well, but you end up losing a lot of almond in the process, which is a shame. You can also buy almond flour from Bob’s Red Mill (I believe it is sold at Whole Foods). This might have a finer consistency than the Trader Joe’s one (I don’t know, I’ve never tried it), but it’s expensive (over $12.00/lb!), and also has the almond skin mixed in. Not really the best option out there if you ask me. So to get around this problem, I’ve actually started buying whole almonds, blanching them, removing the skins by hand, and grinding them in my food processor. This is a little more time consuming, but you can make a lot of ground almonds all at once for a much better price. Once you blanch the almonds and remove the skins, they need to sit out for a while to dry, otherwise you’ll end up with a clumpy paste rather than a fine powder. I prepare my almonds the day before I plan on making macarons. (Just a little side note: In the macarons I have pictured here, I’ve included some of the store bought almond meal, because I like the little flecks it makes in the finished product…just in case you were wondering).
- Once your almonds are ready, place them all in the bowl of a food processor and turn it on for a few minutes (you might want to wear ear plugs for the sake of your hearing…this process can get pretty loud). After several minutes of processing, you should have a slightly grainy mixture of ground almonds. Don’t worry if the almond meal doesn’t look fine enough. This will be taken care of in the next step.
- Weigh out all of your ingredients. One of the “macarons secrets” I’ve stumbled upon several times in my research is to let your egg whites sit out, uncovered, for 24 hours before making the macarons. Something in the egg white’s chemistry makes it safe for them to stay at room temperature for that long (or so I’ve read). However, if you’re uncomfortable leaving your egg whites out that long, or just plain don’t have the time to wait, you can mimic the aging process by microwaving your egg whites for 10 seconds before using them. Once all of your ingredients are measured, place the powdered sugar and ground almonds back in the food processor and turn it on for another couple of minutes. Now you should get a fine powder. Sieve the almond/sugar mixture and set it aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites with a small pinch of salt. Turn the mixer on medium-high. When you can see the lines made by the wire whisk in the beaten egg whites, slowly add the caster sugar. Turn the speed up to high and continue beating until you get a stiff meringue (about 2 minutes). Turn off the mixer.
- Pour the almond mixture onto the meringue and begin folding it in. After the first few strokes, you can add some gel food coloring if you so desire (but for the caramel macarons, I think they’re just fine without added color). As long as your meringue is stiff enough, you don’t need to be overly careful about breaking the meringue. Just make sure the almond mixture is well incorporated. You should end up with a thick batter, the consistency of “magma.” Basically, the batter should settle about 30 seconds after stirring it. This is probably the most delicate part about making macarons. If you overstir the batter, you will get cracked tops, and if you understir you won’t get that nice dome-shape to the cookie. Don’t worry about this too much on your first try. It’s trial and error kind of thing.
- Cover 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. You might want to spray the corners of the cookie sheets with oil to help the parchment paper stay in place. Pour the batter into a piping bag, fitted with a #12 round piping tip. Pipe the macarons on the prepared cookie sheets, about 1-inch in diameter and 1-inch apart. Some people trace circles onto the parchment paper to ensure that their macarons are a consistent shape, but I think this is just a crazy amount of extra work for little reward. So I just count 4 seconds for each macaron and they end up being about the same size.
For the Caramel Fleur de Sel filling:
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or scrapings from one vanilla bean)
200 g heavy whipping cream (warmed)
4 g fleur de sel
140 g butter (chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces)
This is what really makes these macarons. This recipe is amazingly delicious, and actually quite simple to make. I have to give props to Chubby Hubby, who originally posted the recipe from Chef Pang. Thank you for sharing!
- In a 1 liter heavy based pot, cook the sugar, stirring consistently until you get an even caramel. Add in the vanilla bean paste.
- Slowly add in the warm cream. Be careful to only add a little cream at a time, as it has a tendency to splatter when mixed with the caramel. Once the cream is completely incorporated, add the fleur de sel. Stir to make sure everything is well mixed, and that the salt (from the fleur de sel) has dissolved.
- Allow the mixture to cool to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C). Add the butter to the caramel. Using a hand blender, blend this mixture until you get a smooth glossy paste. Cover the surface of the caramel with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
When you’re ready to fill your macarons, just spoon the caramel fleur de sel into the cookies, and sandwich them together. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, but it’s best to bring them back to room temperature before serving them.