LAVENDER MACARONS WITH HONEYCOMB BUTTERCREAM
At once elegant and whimsical, macarons, with their bite-sized, crunchy exterior, chewy interior, and smooth filling, may seem best left to French pastry chefs at the famous Parisienne-style macaron shop Ladurée. Twenty years have passed since my first tasting of a French macaron, and just last summer I shared the experience with my youngest child. So smitten with these cookies fed to kings, we signed up for a class at PATISSERIE A LA CARTE and learned from a French cooking instructor how to make these scrumptious treats. Truth be told, the macarons we made that hot summer Paris day were psychedelic colors that looked as if we had taken a detour to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco during the counter-culture revolution of the 1960's. The heavenly taste, nonetheless, inspired a macaron making journey on American soil--without food coloring and a heavy reliance on nature's natural pigments. Relax, find a stiff spatula, and begin "macaroning". It may take more than one batch to get the texture just right. A teaspoon of cocoa powder, a pinch of espresso powder, a tiny bit of raspberry or blueberry jam thinned with a teaspoon of water and heated on the stove provide subtle coloring, but a favorite food paste will not be cause for pouting. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of macarons is the chameleon-like nature of the cookie. Go ahead, if pancakes and bacon make for a world-class cupcake, it may just need an entrepreneurial spirit to transform one of breakfast's greatest combinations into a macaron sensation that makes the NY Times Sunday food section. After several failures in the macaron-making department, these lavender macarons have earned a permanent spot on Weston Table.
Nota bene: Forget about making macarons on a humid, hot, summer day. Rain and cool weather fine, but humidity is the enemy of any beaten egg white dessert. Food coloring may be added if desired at the end of step 4. Jam and chocolate ganache are classic fillings and fabulous alternatives to the buttercream. L'ABEILLE OCCITANE LAVENDER HONEY tastes like bottled Provence and LE CHATELARD CULINARY LAVENDER provides a subtle lavender floral flavor with hints of mint and rosemary. Be careful to use lavender grown for use in the kitchen--it would be a shame to have these cookies wind up with a soapy aftertaste. Also, older egg whites are better than fresh for whipping to a stiff consistency. This is one time it makes sense to use the oldest eggs in the refrigerator or on the supermarket shelf.
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Blend 1 cup of the confectioners sugar, lavender, and almond meal in a food processor until fine. Pour into a large glass bowl and whisk again by hand.
4. Add the egg whites and sugar to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn the mixer on to power level 4 and whisk the mixture together for 3 minutes.
5. Turn the power up to 7 and whisk for 3 more minutes. Raise the speed power to 8 and whisk an additional 1 to 2 minutes--at this point, the meringue should be stiff in the bowl. Knock the meringue that is trapped in the whisk back into the bowl.
6. Remove the bowl from the mixer. All at once, add the almond meal mixture to the meringue. Use both a folding motion (to incorporate the dry ingredients) and a rubbing/smearing motion to deflate the meringue against the side of the bowl. At first the dry ingredients/meringue will look hopelessly incompatible. After about 25 folding and rubbing/smearing turns, the mixture will still appear and feel lumpy and stiff in texture. Another 15 strokes will be just about right. Keep in mind that macaroning is about deflating the whites, so don’t feel as if they must be treated too carefully. Go ahead: knock the air out of them.
7. Fill a pastry bag with the meringue and almond meal batter. You can use a pastry bag with just a coupler or with a tip. Pipe uniform shells onto the parchment-paper lined baking sheets, a little more than a quarter (US currency) in size (about 2 cm. or 1 inch), spacing them about 1 inch apart.
8. After each sheet is filled, pick up the macaron lined pan and whack it down hard against the counter. Do this another time, then rotate the pan 90 degrees and do the same thing twice. This action will bring tiny air bubbles to the surface of the rounds (if air is buried the cooked macarons will be lopsided).
9. Slide the pans into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, at which point the shells should be able to be cleanly picked off the parchment paper.
10. Let the shells cool to room temperature while making the lavender buttercream.
11. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the butter 2 minutes using the whisk attachment.
12. Slowly add the remaining 1 cup confectioners sugar and whisk until incorporated.
13. Add the honey, honeycomb, and sea salt and mix until smooth and creamy.
14. Put the honey buttercream into a pastry bag and pipe onto 1/2 of the cooled macarons.
15. Place another macaron shell on top of the macaron.
16. Eat or store in an airtight container for 3 days.
Makes 15 to 18 macarons
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon culinary lavender
3/4 cup almond meal
2 egg whites
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lavender honey
1 tablespoon honeycomb
1/2 teaspoon Maldon sea salt flakes