Vanilla Bean Macarons

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I planned to make French macarons for Easter after seeing the March cover of Martha Stewart Living; it was covered in beautiful multi-pastel-colored macarons. So springy and festive- and delicious!! After really reading all of the recipes, and the recipes all over the internet, I decided to make vanilla bean macarons. They don’t have the pretty pastel spring colors, but they had the most appealing flavor to me. 🙂 Don’t worry, I plan to make a bunny cake too!

I was a little intimidated to take on the task of making macarons. I chose the recipe from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel because their recipes are so precise- all the guesswork is removed. I closely followed the recipe (it’s only very slightly adapted)… they said it made 14 macarons… it made 14 macarons! Foolproof and fabulous. According to the book, macarons are their biggest seller. They are 2 1/4- inches in diameter; next time I would make them more petite, but I didn’t want to mess with perfection! Great!!

Notes:

  • Macarons (like any meringue) are best made on a dry day. The outside shell is crisp and fragile, the inside chewy.
  • For optimal results, weigh the ingredients.
  • Equipment needed: candy thermometer, a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip, & a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch plain tip. (I only have fluted 1/2-inch pastry tips… so my macarons have a little ripple on the surface! I also used a 1/4-inch plain tip for the filling… it was okay.)
  • It is optimal to make them in a convection oven, on the middle rack, and left undisturbed during cooking. (Baking in a standard oven is possible, but may affect the texture.)
  • Their flavor develops as they stand. This recipe recommends wrapping them in plastic wrap and freezing for 24 hours (or up to 2 weeks); transferred to the refrigerator for 3 hours or so, then returned to room temperature before eating.

Yield: 14 2 1/4-inch macarons

For the Macarons:

  • 212 grams almond meal/flour (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 212 grams powdered sugar
  • 82 grams egg whites
  • 90 grams egg whites (about 5 large eggs in total)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 236 grams granulated sugar, plus a pinch for the egg whites
  • 158 grams (2/3 cup) water
  • 250 grams Vanilla Bean French Buttercream (recipe follows)
  1. Make a template for the macarons: Lay a sheet of parchment paper on the work surface with a long side closest to you. Trace 4 evenly spaced 2 1/4-inch circles alone the top long edge, leaving a 1 inch of space around them. (A compass could be used; I used a biscuit cutter and a fine-tip sharpie.) Trace 3 circles below them, spacing them between the first circles. Continue with another row of 4, followed by another row of 3. Turn the parchment paper over and lay it on a sheet pan. Lift up the corner of the parchment and spray the underside with nonstick spray to keep it from blowing up while the cookies are baking. Repeat for the second sheet pan.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (convection) or 400 degrees (standard).
  3. Place the almond meal in a food processor and pulse to grind it as fine as possible, about 1 minute.
  4. Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar into a large bowl and whisk together.
  5. Mound the almond-flour mixture, then make a 4-inch well in the center, leaving a layer of flour at the bottom. Pour in the 82 grams egg whites and combine with a spatula.
  6. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the mixture, stirring until evenly distributed. Set aside.
  7. Place the remaining 90 grams of egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  8. Combine the 236 grams granulated sugar and the water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 203 degrees F (110 degrees C). (It will continue to cook.)
  9. While the syrup continues to cook, add the pinch of sugar to the egg whites, turn the mixer to  medium speed, and whip to soft peaks. If the whites reach soft peaks before the syrup reaches 248 degrees F (120 degrees C), reduce the speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.
  10. When the syrup reaches 248 degrees F (120 degrees C), remove the pan from the heat.
  11. Turn the mixture to medium-low speed, and slowly add the syrup, pouring it between the side of the bowl and the whisk; the meringue will deflate.
  12. Increase the speed to  medium and whip for 5 minutes, or until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Although the bowl will still be warm to the touch, the meringue should have cooled; if not, continue to whip until it is cool.
  13. Fold one-third of the meringue into the almond mixture, then continue adding the whites a little at a time (you may not use them all) until when you fold a portion of the batter over on itself, the “ribbon” slowly moves. The mixture shouldn’t be so stiff that it holds its shape without moving at all, but it shouldn’t be so loose that it dissolves into itself and does not maintain the ribbon; it is better for the mixture to be slightly stiff than too loose. (The consistency is VERY important!!)
  14. Transfer the mixture to the pastry bag with the 1/2-inch tip.
  15. Hold the bag upright 1/2 inch above the center of one of the traced circles and pipe out enough of the mixture to fill in the circle. Lift away the pastry bag and fill the remaining circles on the the first pan.
  16. Lift up the sheet pan and tap the bottom of the pan to spread the batter evenly and smooth any peaks left by the pastry bag. (I tapped it on the counter.)
  17. If using a convection oven, bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops are shiny and crisp. If using a standard oven, place the sheet pan in the oven, immediately lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until the tops are shiny and crisp.
  18. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely. If using a standard oven, preheat it to 350 degrees again.
  19. Pipe the remaining meringue mixture into the circles on the second sheet pan and bake as directed above. Let cool completely.

For the Vanilla Bean French Buttercream Filling:

  • 38 grams granulated sugar
  • 38 grams granulated sugar (76 grams divided in half!)
  • 63 grams egg yolks (from about 4 large eggs)
  • 75 grams whole milk
  • 250 grams (8.8 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  1. Whisk 38 grams sugar and the yolks together in a medium bowl, set aside.
  2. Combine the milk and the remaining 38 grams in a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar.
  3. When the milk is at just below a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and, whisking constantly, pour it into the egg mixture.
  4. Return the mixture to the pan and place over medium heat.
  5. Whisking constantly, bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for 1 minute, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent the mixture from curdling; it should be very thick.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment, turn the mixer to medium, and whisk for about 8 minutes, until the mixture is completely cool.
  7. Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, to the egg yolk mixture. If at any point the mixture looks broken, increase the speed to re-emulsify it, then reduce the speed and continue adding the butter.
  8. Check the consistency: if the buttercream is too loose to hold its shape, it should be refrigerated for a few hours to harden, then beaten again to return it to the proper consistency.
  9. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, add them to the buttercream, and mix on low for about 30 seconds to distribute the seeds evenly.
  10. The buttercream can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month; defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using. Thirty minutes before using, place it in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and allow it to soften. Then mix on low speed to return the buttercream to the proper consistency for piping of spreading.

To Fill the Cookies:

  1. Transfer 250 grams of the buttercream (you will have leftovers… yum!) to the pastry bag with the 3/8-inch tip. (I used a 1/4-inch tip.)
  2. Turn half of the macarons over. Starting at the center, pipe 15 grams (1 T) (eyeball it!) of the buttercream in a spiral pattern on one upside-down macaron, not quite reaching the edges. Top with a second macaron and press gently to spread the buttercream to the edges.
  3. Repeat with the remaining macarons and filling.
  4. Wrap individually in a few layers of plastic wrap and freeze for at least 24 hours or up to 2 weeks. Before serving, defrost in the refrigerator for 3 hours, then bring to room temperature. Alternatively, they can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

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The Best Birthday Cupcakes

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I truly love trying new recipes, but sometimes tried and true is best. I have made these cupcakes for YEARS to celebrate my kids’ birthdays at school or for parties. This recipe from Food and Wine has served me well- the cake is moist and tasty and the frosting is perfect. The first time I tried these recipes, I made chocolate Elmo cupcakes for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. (The chocolate cupcakes are especially delicious!) This year they were golden (vanilla) cupcakes transformed into pink & purple peace signs! 🙂 How times change….

Golden Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • frosting (recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the sugar with the eggs and vanilla extract at medium-high speed until smooth and thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the butter and oil and beat until incorporated, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating batches, beating well between additions. Carefully pour the batter into the lined muffin tins, I use 1.5 to 2 cookie scoops each, filling them about two-thirds full.
  4. Bake the cupcakes in the center of the oven for 15 (on convection) to 23 minutes, until springy and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the muffin tin, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost and top the cupcakes as desired.
Note: The unfrosted cupcakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

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Chocolate Cupcakes

Yield: Makes 12 cupcakes

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • frosting (recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the vegetable oil and water over low heat.
  3. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the melted butter mixture and beat with a handheld mixer at low speed until smooth. Add the egg and beat until incorporated, then add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl. Pour the batter into the lined muffin tins, filling them about three-fourths full. (I use a cookie scoop.)
  4. Bake the cupcakes in the center of the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, until springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool slightly, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Frost and top the cupcakes as desired.
Note: The unfrosted cupcakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

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White Buttercream Frosting

Yield: Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes (When I pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes, I often make 1 1/2 times the recipe.)

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  • food coloring to tint, if desired
  1. In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the softened butter at medium speed until smooth.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract and salt and beat the mixture at low speed just until combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth.
  3. Add the milk or heavy cream and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spread the frosting on the cupcakes and top as desired.
Note: The white buttercream frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight plastic container for up to 2 days. Return to room temperature before using.

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Also! It isn’t a birthday in our house without “number cookies” (& peace sign cookies! :)) Our fun tradition. 🙂

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