Is it just me, or does Valentine’s Day appear to be one of the most polarizing holidays out there? So many people seem to either love or hate it. And I guess each opinion has a grain of truth to it: to some it means a day of love, of appreciation of a significant other, or just a day to eat chocolate and be merry. To others, it represents one of commercialism’s greatest feats, as well as yet another reminder of the constant societal pressure to find romantic love.
I like Valentine’s Day. As a kid I liked it because it meant chocolate and presents (the most memorable of which was the grey Webkinz horse I got when I was, like, 9), and today I like it because I think of it not as a time to celebrate purely romantic love, but as a time to be grateful and joyful about every kind of love–romantic, familial, and what the Greeks referred to as “philia” love, or deep affection for friends. And while the hearts and the pink and red can get a little irritating sometimes, I think that there is some value in taking one day out of the year to reflect on the relationships that affect us and move us.
And then there’s the fact that Valentine’s Day gives me an excuse to make cute, heart-filled desserts and eat as much chocolate as I can stomach. Which is definitely a perk. Seeing as I hadn’t made macarons since those insane peanut butter banana ones a while back, I thought it was time for a new take. And macarons are so elegant and yummy and impressive that they make the perfect present if you box them up.
These guys are raspberry shells–thanks to some freeze-dried raspberry powder, aka the best way to add any fruit flavor to a baked good–with a chocolate french buttercream (which is so silky and rich that it has quickly climbed my list of favorite frostings). I use an Italian-style meringue (which uses a sugar syrup), which I’ve found has led to more consistently good results as it’s more stable than a French meringue. Macarons can seem super daunting–and trust me, I’ve had my fair share of fails. But the trick is a kitchen scale, close attention to directions, and the knowledge that while the recipe may take a few tries to get the hang of, the result will be delicious (unless, of course, you toy around with the recipe enough that you end up with literal hockey pucks like these).
Chocolate Raspberry Macarons
Makes 24 sandwich cookies (48 halves)
For the raspberry macaron cookies:
- 212g almond flour/meal
- 212g powdered sugar
- 15g freeze-dried raspberry powder (made by grinding freeze-dried strawberries)
- 82g egg whites
- 90g egg whites
- 236g granulated sugar, plus more for the egg whites
- 158g water
For the chocolate French buttercream:
- 38g granulated sugar
- 38g granulated sugar
- 63g egg yolks
- 75g whole milk
- 250g unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces, at room temperature
- 125g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- For the macarons: Preheat the oven to 350 F for convection, or 400 F for a standard oven. On a piece of parchment paper, fill the page with evenly spaced 2-inch circles (they should be about 1 inch apart). Place the circle-filled parchment on a baking sheet, ink/graphite-side down so as not to get any on the cookies.
- Sift the almond flour, powdered sugar and raspberry powder into a large bowl and whisk to combine. Make a well in the center of the mixture, then add in the 82g of egg whites and stir with a spatula until combined. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, stir together the water and 236g granulated sugar and place over medium-high heat.
- When the sugar syrup reaches 203 F/110 C, place the remaining 90g egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add in a pinch of sugar, and whip on medium speed until they form soft peaks. If this happens before the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, turn the mixer speed to its lowest setting.
- When the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, take the pan off the heat and, with the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly drizzle in the syrup. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes, or until the whites hold stiff, glossy white peaks. The meringue itself should be cooled down by now; if not, continue to whip until it does.
- Fold one third of the meringue into the almond mixture, then add the rest of the meringue a bit at a time until the mixture isn’t so stiff that it won’t budge when you fold it over onto itself, but isn’t so loose that it does not hold its shape at all. The “ribbon” created by folding the batter onto itself should slowly move.
- Load the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip and pipe onto the traced circles. Tap the pan against the counter to release any air bubbles and smooth the tops. Set the pan aside to dry for a few minutes, or until you can gently touch the tops of the macrons without getting batter on your finger.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes in a convection oven. If you’re using a standard oven, place the pan in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 F. Bake 9-12 minutes, or until the tops are crisp and the macarons aren’t overly wobbly when touched. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
- Repeat this process with the rest of the batter.
- For the buttercream: Place the chocolate in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, then set aside. Whisk together 38g granulated sugar and the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, stir together the milk and the remaining 38g of sugar and heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the milk is just below a simmer. Take the pan off the heat and, whisking constantly, pour it into the egg and sugar mixture. Pour this mixture back into the pan and place it back over medium heat. Continuing to whisk constantly, bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and allow to simmer for 1 minute, or until it is very thick and pudding-like.
- Strain the mixture through a mesh sieve into the stand mixer bowl with the chocolate. Whisk on medium speed for 8 minutes, or until the mixture is cooled.
- With the mixer still on, add the butter a few pieces at a time. If the mixture looks broken at any time, increase the speed until it re-emulsifies.
- Load the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip and pipe dollops onto half of the macarons, topping with the other halves. Store in the fridge and bring to room temperature before enjoying! These are even better the second day, as they have time to soften.
Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy nibbling!