The first thing I did when I got back from my dream England vacation was make these Blue Cornflower Macarons. There are multiple reasons I did this . . . I had just gone to Paris and tasted the finest macarons in the world at Pierre Hermé . And I had just visited the incredibly talented Jacqui Bellefontaine of Recipes Made Easy, and toured an incredible London food market with her, where we selected these absolutely elegant Blue Cornflower petals. So even though there is more of my trip to tell you about, I thought that this recipe bridged the gap nicely between Paris and London. And since I could never possibly pick which of these incredible cities I liked best, I felt that perhaps I should pause here for a dessert.
Dessert is always a good idea when one is pondering. Well . . . dessert is a good idea anytime, really. 😉
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Blue Cornflower Macarons
100 g. egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
50 g. white sugar
200 g. powdered sugar
110 g. almond flour
Yellow food coloring gel, optional
Whip room temperature egg whites, cream of tartar, and white sugar with the whisk attachment of your stand mixer until the whites reach stiff peak stage. Meanwhile, pulse your almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor until the mixture is well combined. Sift your almond flour/powdered sugar through a sieve and throw away the pieces that are too large to pass through the sieve. When the whites have whipped into stiff peaks, fold the almond/sugar mixture into the whites gradually and carefully until they reach proper “macaronage.” Pipe meringue circles onto a silpat, using a template, if desired, and slam the cookie sheets several times on the counter to dislodge air bubbles. Allow circles to dry for 20 minutes before baking at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven (move oven racks, if necessary). Do not open the oven until the 20 minutes are up, and use an oven thermometer for best results. When your macarons are done they should feel “firm on their feet.” If the macaron shells are soft or crack when gently touched, bake for 2 more minutes and test again until they are firm on their feet. After baking remove entire silpat to cooling rack and allow shells to cool, completely, before removing them from the silpat. Fill cooled shells with lemon curd just before serving.
Now, in pictures 🙂
Macarons are tricky beasts. I have made them before– strawberries and cream macarons, mint chocolate macarons, and even salted caramel macarons. These little babies are tricky to make. But each time I do it I get a little bit better, and each time it gets a little bit easier. But trust me– it wasn’t always this way (read the strawberry one for my first few attempts– NOT pretty!).
But one thing that you absolutely have to have, when making macarons, is a kitchen scale. In fact, I bought my very first kitchen scale JUST for these prima donna little desserts, and I am not ashamed. Start out by weighing your egg whites. I know many chefs abhor “the DASTARDLY cartoned egg whites!!!” but I use them every time and it works just fine. Then I don’t have to try to measure regular egg whites, which tend to glob together, or crack another egg for a few missing ounces. Just pour, measure, and go. No aging required. Shhh. Don’t tell Pierre. I’m sure he would write me up as a macaron heretic in no time.
The next thing you need when making macarons is a food processor. You’ll be amazed at all the dirty dishes and pieces of equipment lying over what has become the wasteland of your kitchen when you are done whipping up these teensy, delicate little cookies. You’ll get like, 10 perfect macarons, and you’ll be cleaning for days. (Well, I might be exaggerating. You might get 11 cookies 😉
The food processor just helps to mix together your powdered sugar and almond flour very thoroughly and finely. I don’t start my egg whites whipping until I have all the other “bits” set to go, because the egg whites are finicky, and they need to be the timeline upon which everything else hinges. Get everything else out of the way before you start whipping.
Once you have whirled the almond flour and powdered sugar together in your food processor, use a sifter to sift the mixture into a bowl. A SIFTER? Like my GRANDMA used to have? Are you kidding? Do I HAVE to?
Oh no you don’t have to. You can eat broken, battered macarons instead. 😀 But if you want perfect macarons, you need to sift. And when you get that little bit of grit at the end that won’t go through the sifter, throw the grit away. You just saved your little macs from ripping and tearing their delicate skin. You’re welcome.
Look at that glorious, effervescent mound of ethereal loveliness. That, my friends, is angelically soft flour and sugar, ready to caress and cajole your macarons into pristine, pastry perfection.
Next, the star ingredient– the edible blue cornflower petals. Jacqui and I got these at a food market in London, but you can also get them here. If you can’t find cornflower petals anywhere you can use another type of dried edible flower. Just make sure the flowers you use ARE edible. This is not the time to test out random plant life from the flowerbeds on your enemies. 😉
Now that we have everything ready it’s time to start the egg whites whipping! Use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer and whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and white sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. “Stiff peaks” just means that you can tilt the beater sideways and the “point” will stand straight out, instead of drooping down. That’s perfect. If you want to add gel color you can add it now, and just whirl the mixer a few more times to mix it. You don’t want to overbeat these egg whites.
Now this next part is the most difficult part of making macarons– the “macaronage.” I honestly think that this is where almost all macaron making goes wrong. And I ruined many, MANY macarons before I kind of just “got the feel” for this. You almost just start to know how the batter should look. So practice a lot (and eat a lot of cookies– they still taste good even if they aren’t perfect), and get to know your batter.
I add my dry, sifted almond flour/powdered sugar in 3 “adds.” The first time I add 1/3 of the powder to my egg whites. I use a spatula to fold it in partially. Add another 1/3. Again, fold. The last third. Fold.
Your finished batter. Sigh. How do you KNOW when it’s finished? Again, sadly, this just comes with experience. I know because I have made so many of these that now I know what the correctly folded batter looks like, feels like, even sounds like. I’ve heard it described as “ribboning off the spatula” (whatever that means), or “flowing like lava.” Hmm. Anyone ever WATCHED lava flow in person? Me either. Basically you don’t want the dough to be so stiff that it “snaps” off your spatula and plunks into the bowl, when you lift a spoonful out. But it can’t be so runny that it’s like liquid. You want it somewhere in between there. For me I find that the easiest way is to lift my spatula full of batter up quickly and if it streams in an unbroken line down to the bowl while I’m lifting for at least a second, it’s done. It will be shiny but not watery. I know. That doesn’t do much. Watch some youtube videos if you find it helpful. But mostly, it just takes practice. Not too thick, and not too thin. That’s the key to a perfect macaron.
Next we want to fill our piping bag with macaron batter. I am using a special macaron piping bag because it’s stiff enough that I can fill it by myself without trying to wrestle a plastic bag to stand up while I’m trying to pour batter. But any large piping bag will work.
Pipe the circles onto a silpat mat. I use a template (you can see where I have it under the far side of the silpat– there are lots of free templates online). Just remove the template after you pipe them and don’t accidentally bake it. (I may or may not have accidentally done this a few times. ahem. 😉
Sprinkle your blue cornflower petals (aren’t they gorgeous!) onto half of the piped macaron shells. The other half will be for the bottoms, so you don’t need to gussy them up. I wanted to mention something else– if I have a little extra batter I make a “practice” shell. Through the process you will need to test the shells multiple times for dryness and doneness, and it helps to have a few that you don’t mind ruining. Scrap shells are perfect for this.
Slam the baking sheets (yes. You really get to bang things around in the name of science. You’re welcome) about 5-6 times on the counter. This helps to remove any air bubbles so your little shells will be nice and even. Let the shells sit out, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. They need a “skin” on them in order to form correctly in the oven. You will know they are dry enough when you can touch them lightly (again, scrap macarons are perfect) and your finger doesn’t stick to the shells.
During the time your macarons are resting preheat your oven to 310 degrees. I like to set the oven a little higher right at the start because putting the cool cookie sheets inside will bring your oven temperature down a little bit, and you want the shells at a constant 300 degrees. You can adjust it after the cookie sheet warms up.
Bake your macaron shells, one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven (move oven racks around if necessary). Bake for 20 minutes, keeping an eye on your oven thermometer WITHOUT opening the oven. A puff of cold air will deflate the temperamental little beauties.
After 20 minutes, check the macarons by LIGHTLY pressing on the side of one of your practice shells. If it seems firm on its feet, without shifting around or cracking, the shells are done. If it cracks or deflates easily, they need a few more minutes. Give them 2 more and check again.
When your shells feel firm when lightly touched from the side, pull the sheets out of the oven. Carefully remove the silpat and let it cool, away from the heat of the cookie sheet, on a cooling rack. I told you– these little babies are the high maintenance dolls of the pastry world. They like it *just* so.
When the shells have completely cooled, carefully peel the silpat out from under them. You can gently run a knife underneath the shells if that works better. Just go slowly and carefully and don’t rip them. I have the best luck kind of peeling the silpat out from under by bending the silpat and keeping the cookies straight.
Matching the shells is not really science– just try to find a top that is about the same size as the bottom shell. Pair these together and put a little lemon curd in between them, twisting slightly to get the lemon filling all the way to the edges.
Take a big, beautiful bite of sunshine. Catch the floral hint of cornflower. Think of London. Dream of Paris.
Marvelous, isn’t it?
You did it, and I’m just so proud of you.
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