Swirly royal icing transforms these fancy-pants French macarons into fun, whimsical treats. The classic pastries are filled with Earl Grey buttercream, lemon cream, and raspberry jam.
I’ve always been fairly artistic, so when I signed up for a watercolor class one summer at UC Davis, I thought it would be a breeze. Up until then, I had trained in performing arts my entire life and had dabbled in acrylic painting in my free time. Even children play with watercolors, so how hard could it be? I was tragically mistaken. Watercolor painting is extremely difficult, or at least when trying to manipulate water and paint into sometime remotely recognizable.
I purchased all of the necessary supplies on the course list before class started and picked my seat at one of the tilted drawing tables with confidence. As I looked around, I think my brushes were the only ones in the classroom that were unused, paints unopened, and palette completely clean of remnants of past projects. Throw in some water, and I knew I was doomed.
I was quickly humbled by colleagues’ abilities and grace working with this impossible medium. I chose to paint things like abstract flowers while others were creating landscapes, one simple stroke at a time. I felt like they were all working with the water, while I was trying to control it. Our final project was a pond of koi fish. I think mine is stashed away, still half-complete, somewhere in my parents’ storage unit… I’m not one to give up quickly, and I still play around with my paints from time to time, focusing on gradients, lettering, and whimsical little illustrations, but mainly I work with sugar and butter to fulfill my intrinsic artistic needs.
Growing up a dancer, I’ve always had a creative outlet. I studied all disciplines of dance and musical theater (plus a few years of percussion) all the way through college. As the style of dance transitioned from classical ballet to my college jazz team to contemporary/modern, my adult body could no longer keep up. I started getting migraines in my mid-twenties and the movement associated with contemporary dance triggered my motion sickness. Eventually I had to cut back and find a new way to express myself.
Enter cake and pastry. Just as I was leaving the world of dance that had consumed my previous 20+ years of life, I found my passion for baking. Where I could no longer move and flex my body the way I wanted it to, I started to manipulate sugar. I ended up throwing all of my energy into my new cake business, and the rest is history!
For this recipe, I wanted to go bold and bright – something undeniably FUN for summer. I fell in love with the whimsical designs of Meghan Rohsko of Nutmeg and Honeybee earlier this year and her ability to create edible art from sugar cookies and macarons. Both finicky and fanciful, classic French macarons are typically perceived as these pristine little jewels, sitting unnecessarily high on their perfect pedestals. Meghan’s use of vibrant colors and textures goes well beyond tradition and make macarons a bit more approachable and fun.
Don’t get me wrong, baking perfect macarons can definitely be tricky - they have an elitist aura about them for a reason. I’ve gone on about my quest to master these little pastries before, and I know I am not the only one out there to have a love/hate relationship for these little buggers. In an effort to manipulate sugar in yet a new way, I wanted to decorate the actual shells of the macarons. Made of mainly egg whites and almond flour, these crispy shells are temperamental and delicate. A few drips of water, and they are ruined. I’ve tried painting on them with petal dust mixed with alcohol, but I wanted to test out royal icing this time around. Inspired by some of Meghan’s sugar cookies and macarons, I created these marble macarons!
Using summer palettes of pink and yellow for my Pink Lemonade macarons and teal and sky blue for my Earl Grey macarons, a few drops of gel food coloring turned these plain shells into swirly, whimsical treats. A quick bath in the colourful icing and it’s instant edible art! Much easier than painting a watercolor fish, I promise, and much more fun, too.
For the Shells
200 grams ground almond flour
200 grams powdered sugar
200 grams granulated sugar
50 grams water
140 grams egg whites (from about 4 large eggs)
gel food coloring of choice
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or non-stick silicon mats and set aside. Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar together in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the granulated sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until the mixtures registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and let rest for about 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs whites with an electric mixer until medium-soft peaks. If using a stand mixer, begin whisking on high when the sugar mixture hits about 210 degrees.
Once the sugar mixture is hot and the eggs are whipped, keep the mixer running on high speed and carefully pour in the sugar. Pour in the sugar slowly and try to keep it from hitting the whisk to prevent hot sugar splatters. Continue to mix on high until the outside of the mixer bowl returns to room temperature (about 8 minutes). During the last minute or so, add in the gel food coloring, if desired.
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Using a large, rubber spatula, begin folding in the meringue mixture into the almond flour mixture in three batches. Use large, deliberate folds – turning the dry ingredients from the bottom of the bowl up to the top. Continue to fold and smooth out the batter until it falls like thick lava off of the spatula – not too stiff and not too runny. Rotate the bowl as you fold and smear the mixture against the sides of the bowl with spatula to smooth. Do not over-mix.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a medium round piping tip with the macaron batter. Pipe out uniform rounds of the batter, about 1 ¼ inches in diameter, on the prepared baking sheets. When done, rap the bottoms of the baking sheets a few times against a safe work surface to knock out any air bubbles.
Allow the piped macarons to rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes or until the tops feel dry to the touch and are not too sticky. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. When done, the tops of the macarons should "jiggle" slightly but still feel attached to the base. Cool the macarons on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before carefully pealing them off the parchment paper or baking mat.
For the Lemon Cream Filling
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until combined. Slowly add in the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth. Beat on medium until fluffy – about 30 seconds or so.
1 egg white
1 ½ cups confections sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg white on medium until frothy. Gradually add in the sugar and turn the mixer up to medium-high. Continue to mix until soft, glossy peaks. Add in the lemon and mix until combined. Stir in water, a ½ teaspoon at a time, as needed. The royal icing should be fairly runny, similar to Elmer’s glue.
gel food coloring
Earl Grey buttercream (half of this recipe)
Match all of the macarons by size and set on a baking sheet. Only the tops will be decorated, while only the bottoms will be filled. Set aside.
Divide the royal icing into two bowls. Using a toothpick, dot the top of the royal icing with gel food coloring – two to three colors in each bowl. Gently swirl to combine. Holding the edges with your fingertips, dip the tops of the macaron shells into the royal icing. Swirl, lift, and shake, allowing the excess icing to drip off. Place the shell, icing side up, on a baking sheet and gently tap to get rid of any air bubbles. Clean up the sides as needed with a clean fingertip or paintbrush and allow to dry – at least 4 hours.
Pipe the filling on the bottom shells. To create the Pink Lemonade macarons, pipe a ring of lemon cream around the edges, then fill with about ¼ - ½ teaspoon raspberry jam. Pipe on the Earl Grey buttercream with a medium star or round tip. Do not overfill or pipe directly to the edges. Place the tops on the filling and gently press together until the filling flattens and reaches the edges.
It is common practice to let the macarons “mature” for 24 hours – allowing the flavors and textures to develop. If you are like me, then enjoy at your leisure (like immediately after, hehe).
This design was heavenly inspired by Meghan of Nutmeg and Honeybee. Be sure to give her a shout out and follow her YouTube Channel!