Happy Year of the Snake! I know this looks like a Valentine’s themed post, but I thought I’d deliver the Chinese New Year greeting first. The first day of the year of the snake was on Sunday the 10th, meaning there was very little time to recover from the New Year dinner gluttony before Valentine’s Day came around. If you recall, I had doubts about making my Valentine’s dessert idea come to fruition, but yes! it happened. I must be riding some good new-mother karma still…
Since I’ve done many traditional ooey-gooey-chocolatey desserts for past Valentine’s Days, I wanted to go off the well-worn path a bit (secondary reason: while stuck in the house with a newborn, I’m eating pretty much anything left in the cupboards, which includes a whole lot of chocolate bars. I’m a little overdosed on chocolate right now). My mind wandered to Sweethearts, or conversation heart candies. I have to confess, those pastel sugary hearts weren’t exactly my favorite candy; really, wasn’t the point of them to match up the sayings with the appropriate recipient, with tastiness running a distant second? Apparently the makers of Sweethearts decided this wasn’t acceptable, as they revamped the candies a few years back in all new flavors, and with all new modern sayings, such as, “Tweet Me” and “Text Me”. So maybe my memories of those candies are way outdated – I might have to wait until baby Isabelle goes to kindergarten and starts exchanging valentines with her classmates before I sample Sweethearts again!
I wanted an alternative way to get your romantic missives across. Enter the stalwart macaron. While heart-shaped macarons have made appearances on Valentine’s Day, what about heart-shaped macarons with sayings on top? As a new mom, I’m not afraid to admit when I need a little help, so for these macarons I got an assist from my good friend Philippe, the pastry chef behind Patisserie Philippe. His classic French pastries are carried at various coffee shops around San Francisco, and I’ve said that his macarons are the next best thing to a trip to Paris. Philippe’s raspberry and cassis heart macarons made the perfect parchment for some sweet sentiments. The little striped and dotted paper straws are just a cute purchase from the kitchenware store I couldn’t resist.
If you’d like to make your own conversation heart macarons, you can follow my macaron tutorial here for some classic Italian meringue macarons and a Swiss meringue buttercream filling, and simply pipe the macarons in a heart shape. The macarons and buttercream can be colored and flavored however you like, and you can write on the tops with food writing markers.
P.S. Don’t forget my other Valentine’s Day dessert with Driscoll’s – the triple semifreddo. Hope I helped make your Valentine’s sweet!
Italian Meringue Macarons with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 200 g almond meal or ground blanched almonds
- 200 g confectioners’ sugar
- 200 g sugar
- 50 g water
- 150 g egg whites, divided into two 75g portions
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups (330 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- food coloring as desired
For the macarons:
- Stack two baking trays on top of each other. Line with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- Process almond meal with confectioners’ sugar in a food processor. Sieve out any large bits of almond.
- Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on medium until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Meanwhile, place 75g of egg whites in a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment.
- Continue cooking until the sugar syrup reaches 118 C/245 F. While the sugar is cooking, begin whisking the egg whites. They should reach stiff peaks by the time the syrup is at 245 F. If it whips too fast, turn down or turn off the mixer.
- Turn the mixer speed to low. Carefully pour the sugar syrup in a slow stream into the mixer.
- Turn the mixer speed to high and let the meringue for several minutes until it has cooled and appears glossy and firm.
- In a large bowl, combine the almond meal mixture with the remaining 75g of egg whites until partially combined.
- Scoop the meringue on top of the almond meal mixture. Using a spatula or dough scraper, carefully fold the meringue in, trying not to deflate it. The final batter should be thick and flow slowly like magma. Do not overmix.
- Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a ½” diameter plain tip. Pipe 1 ½” rounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Let the sheets sit for about 20 minutes to let the shells harden. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160 C/320 F.
- Bake one set of macarons for 15 minutes, rotating once. Let tray cool for a few minutes before removing from the silicone mat. Let finish cooling on wire racks.
For the buttercream:
- Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
- Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.
- Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
- Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.
- When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and any food coloring you desire.
- The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tip with the buttercream. Place macarons on a sheet pan with their flat bottoms facing up. Pipe about 1 teaspoon buttercream in the center of half the macarons.
- Place the remaining macarons on top, pressing down slightly to spread the filling to the edges.