You would have to live in a cave these days not to realize that Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Those lovely sweet tarts! And the chocolate kisses! And the heart shaped cookies! And the cutest heart adorned cupcakes! Shades of pink and red... everywhere. Well, I guess I live in one because when a friend called and asked if I could make her some macarons for Valentine's Day, I replied "oh yes sure, just remind me when it's closer to that time". Silence. "Ugh, it's soon, really. Like next week!" My turn to be silent.
I admit we don't really celebrate Valentine's Day. For as long as I remember I was always stuck at work that evening and even now that we could, B. always seems to have a music gig that night. Nothing against V-Day, not even the countless years of having me hide rings and earrings in desserts at the restaurant! I love romance. I am a hopeless romantic. I love old, well - read books and often create a romantic, often sad story behind their earmarked pages. I love old black and white movies and spending a few hours with Jimmy Stewart, a couple of macarons and a glass of milk (don't question the association, it just works)
Hard to believe when the first words that came out of my mouth when I met B. were "and now I am going to have to eat chicken!" instead of "Hi! You just bought the last ticket to the gala dinner! You are going to love the squab!". This was followed by "you're hot" when I should have said "you're sweet" when we got to talk later. He is hot, and he makes me lose my marbles, even today. Taking an extra day to celebrate that would send me straight to the mad house!!
I understand how a day devoted to celebrating love can give a timid suitor the necessary strength to propose or take the next step. Turns out my friend Linda could use all the help she can get as she will be proposing on V-Day and she thought that a batch of cute romantic macarons could sweeten the pot. I already know she does not need to worry and I accepted her request with a happy and giddy heart. I love it when there is a purpose behind, when you know there is something important shaping up and you have been part of it.
I guess I was deep in my thoughts and forgot to be stunned when B. said "So what would you like to do for Valentine's Day?". Silence from me. Really trying to word this the right way so he won't have any way out "I'd like to make macarons with you. I'd like if you could grind and shake, shift and fold with me. I'll even let you build things with them when they are done". Interesting how much we got done within a couple of hours...even a makeshift macaron Eiffel Tower balancing on the counter top... What do you think I was going to say, eh?!!
We used a mix of almonds and pistachios for the macaron shells and kept one half uncolored and the other bright cherry pink. I purposely did not add white coloring to the other shells which I sometimes do and let them get a nice shade of antique pink while cooking. To draw the heart, I simply set aside a tablespoon of each batter and drew hearts on the shells with a toothpick dipped in the batters before baking them. We filled them with B.'s favorite spiced Swiss meringue buttercream with hints of cardamom and star anise.
Valentine's Day Macarons Recipe:
For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (about 3)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
55 gr almonds
pink cherry powdered food coloring (the end color will depend on how much you use)
For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Combine the almonds, pistachios and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like lava or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Divide the batter in half and mix some color to one half to the desired effect. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with one of the batters and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Use another bag for the second half of the batter.
Preheat the oven to 280F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 20-22 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer. To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 big tablespoon in the center of one shell and top with another one.
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon star anise
pinch of salt
Put the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like marshmallow cream. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Add the spices and salt and whip for another 10 seconds to incorporate it. If not using right away, refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 1 month.