lemon and basil cream macarons
It's been feeling a lot like summer this past week in NYC with temps reaching nearly 90 degrees F, which is very strange for it being May and all. So I've been daydreaming about what I should be doing while actually doing a whole lot of nothing. Hot weather isn't my best friend! So with that and today being the last day of May, I wanted to share this recipe that Erin and I did a few weeks back for our Macaron of the Month for May: Lemon Basil! We wanted to merge the last of the winter citrus, lemons, and freshness of spring—basil! It’s a classic shell with a lemon basil cream—think lemon crud deluxe that’s been infused with fresh basil and a very fresh, bright and tangy lemon gel. I know I said last month that my favorite thus far was the kaffir lime, but TBH, that was last month and this month these lemon basil macarons have stollen my heart (and taste buds).
I'm obsessed with this lemon basil cream and how the lemon gel cuts through the richness and gives you a burst of freshness. If you've ever had and loved Gushers fruit snacks as a kid (like me) these are right up your ally! Erin developed a similar cream recipe for a lime pistachio cookie a while back, which uses agar agar. I've never used this before so this was a new adventure and trust me, I'm now going to be making a ton of gels for no other reason than to have a ton of gels because it's so easy and they are so good!
Side note: As a testament to how well the cream holds up, we actually made it about a month ago and placed in the freezer. When we finally got to it, the basil really developed into a robust flavor that was to die for. So if you have time and want to allow the basil to really shine, I suggest making the cream ahead of time and allowing it to mature the flavors a bit more than when it's freshly made. Either way, you're going to have a delish AF macaron!
I updated the Good to Knows with a few new things I've recently come across, so please check that out and I hope you enjoy these as much as we have!
…Good to Knows…
To save space and to prevent you from scrolling for hours, I've complied a section for all my macaron notes from my kitchen journal here! I'll keep this list updated and current as I discover new ideas, trick and/or tips.
You may make the lemon basil cream a few days in advance and store it in an airtight container in your fridge, or even a few months in advance if you'd like to store it in your freezer until you're ready to make your macarons.
You can also make the lemon gel up to a week in advance and stored in a airtight container in your refrigerator.
I noticed that the gel does soak into the shell after about two days in the refrigerator. If you're not planning on eating (or sharing) these within the first 48hrs, it may be best for you to store each component separately, constructing them as you need them. I usually have a large container in my refrigerator that has many buttercreams, curds and other leftovers and found the best way to store these are pastry bags with the tops and ends sealed with clips.
I've had a long-time suspicious about this, and then came Heritage Macarons. They shared a lot of information on their insta-story regarding moisture levels of Bob's Red Mill's almond flour vs other brands. They mentioned (as I have always suspected) that it's extremely moist/oily compared to other available options—my preferred brand is Trader Joe's, and although this quality is great for other recipes, it's not ideal for macarons. They found that even after drying Bob's Red Mill in the oven it still hinders your success when the oils mix with the meringue, dry time and clumping, resulting in less than ideal tops. Please check out their insta-story highlights 'almond flour' for a more in-depth breakdown of their findings.
If your local grocery store doesn't have a Agar Agar, you may order it on amazon.
lemon basil macarons
…makes around 24 sandwich cookies…
170g ground almond flour
300g powdered sugar
180g large brown egg whites (about 5-6 large brown eggs), at room temperature
160g granulated white sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or the seeds from one vanilla bean pod
lemon yellow gel food coloring - we used 15 drops of americolor 'lemon'
Lemon Basil Cream
150g (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) lemon juice
150g (3/4 cup) granulated white sugar
2 large brown eggs
3 large brown egg yolks
30g basil leaves, fresh
225g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature.
250g (1 cup plus 1 tsp) lemon juice
125g (1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp) simple syrup (equal parts white sugar & water)
5g agar agar
Cut four sheets of light colored parchment paper to fit your baking sheets. Draw 1.5 inch (3.81cm) circles on one sheet of your pre-cut parchment paper to be used as your template guide for piping evenly shaped macarons, spacing them at least ¾ -1 inch apart and about 2 inch from the edge of the pan.
To save you time, here is a printable template. Note: This templet is 8x11 and you will need to print two sheets and lay side by side to fit on a half sheet pan.
Scale all dry ingredients. Separate your egg whites and yolks and prepare your equipment.
Sift almond flour and confectioners’ sugar through a medium-mesh sieve and place in a bowl. Repeat this step, discarding any bits that are too big to go through the sieve. Set mixture aside.
Some people like to place the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor and pulse them together before sieving. This is usually a great step if your almond flour is not finely ground or if you are making almond flour at home. I use a store-bought flour with a consistency that works great for me, so I don’t do this step but please feel free to try it out for yourself and see what’s best for you.
In your stand mixer bowl, hand whisk your room-temp egg whites till bubbles start to form then beat them on high speed with the whisk attachment until they start to foam and become cloudy white. Turn down to medium speed, and gradually add granulated sugar to the egg whites until all sugar is incorporated. Turn speed back to high and beat until you start to see stiff, glossy peaks form (about 5 minutes). At this time, add your lemon yellow gel food coloring and continue to whip the meringue on medium for a minute more, making sure you don’t over beat your meringue.
For a great guide to measuring meringue peaks and to see what is under-, perfect and over-whipped, check out Zoë François’s instagram stories @zoebakes and her website zoebakes.com. She has the most amazing how-to’s and tip tutorials. Zoë is an invaluable resource for baking!
Once your meringue reaches optimal peaks, slowly start adding your almond flour/confectioner sugar mixture. I like to add this 1/4 at a time. Start to fold the mixture into your meringue using a flat spatula. Tilt the mixing bowl to a 45 degree angle, mix the dry ingredients (1/4 at a time) into the meringue, scooping from the bottom towards you and folding everything onto itself while maintaining the body of your meringue. (Smashing through the center of the mixture will cause the meringue to deflate and we’d need to start from scratch.) Continue to add the dry ingredients with this folding method until everything is added.
At this time, start pressing and spreading the batter against the bowl’s walls. This step, which I think is the hardest to perfect and to understand, is called macaronage.
Scoop the batter from the bottom and turn it upside down. Repeat this process about 15-30 times.
So here is where I want to explain some things I’ve learned over the years. There are NO set times, folds or strokes. It really depends on how your batter is looking and feeling. While you are folding, pressing and spreading the batter, you want to constantly check the consistency. You are looking for something that resembles a nice lava that slowly flows off your spatula. Erin mentioned to me that as it falls off the spatula, you should be able to draw a figure 8 into the bowl without the stream breaking. The 8 in the bowl should then slowly incorporate back into itself.
Once the batter is to a thick lava consistency, you are ready to pipe your shells. Here is the youtube video I still use as reference for getting my macaronage techniques down.
Now get your prepared piping bag with a round ateco #805 tip. [Make sure to twist and seal the tip of the bag with a clothes pin so the batter doesn’t leak out.] I like to place my pastry bag into a large glass so the bag is upright and sturdy.
Pour all batter into piping bag and again twist and seal the top of the bag with a clothes pin so it’s not exposed to air.
I don’t always do this trick, but sometimes I will seal the top of the bag with a rubber band to make it a bit easier and cleaner when piping. This recipe does make a large amount of batter, so if you aren’t yet confident with holding a larger pastry bag, the rubber band will help. Or you can split this amount into two smaller bags.
It’s now time to pipe your shells. Pipe the batter onto your prepared parchment lined sheet pans fitted with your printed or drawn circle templets. Hold the pastry bag at a 90 degree angle and, with the tip very close to the parchment, pipe the batter until you’ve filled the circle. Quickly lift and twist the bag away creating a small tail to point. If your macaronage is correct, this will fall back into itself and the top will become smooth. The shells will spread just a bit. That is why having a inch of space between them is important.
Once the tray is full, carefully slide out the template and repeat on your other prepared sheet pans. After the trays are full, I like to take a small dab of batter and adhere the corners of the parchment to the sheet pan to make sure the parchment stay in in place during baking.
Firmly tap the sheet pan against the counter or a flat surface a few times. Keep the distribution of the vibrations as even as possible to prevent from deforming your circles to ovals. This step helps the shells hold their rounded shape and knock out as many air bubbles as possible.
Pointer from I Heart Macarons: As macarons bake, small pleat-like frills form at the bottom of each shell. This pleat is called a pied, or “foot”. Without it, the pastry cannot be called a macaron. Some bakers attribute the pied to the macaronage, some to the oven temperature, and some to a good tap of the sheet pan on the counter before baking.
Preheat your oven to 300˚f/150˚c and place your rack in the center of the oven, along with an empty sheet pan. You are going to preheat this sheet pan to use as the bottom sheet pan for baking the shells. You always want to have them double tray’d to prevent the bottom of the cookies from burning. I have found that when preheating the second pan, it helps give the shells some extra lift compared to a pan at room temp.
While your oven and sheet pan are preheating, let your shells dry uncovered at room temperature for 15-45 minutes. There’s no “set in stone" time for drying. It’s going to depend on the temperature of your space, the weather and time of year.
As they dry, you are looking for thin skin to form on top like heated milk. You should be able to gently slide your finger across and leave no marks. I like to designate one or two shell as my testers in case one is still tacky and I scar the top.
Once the shells have their skin, place the sheet pan onto the preheated sheet pan and bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the trays once halfway through baking. At the 15-minute mark, check them by lightly pressing on the shell with the back of your finger. If it’s sturdy without movement, they are done. If there’s a little movement on the pied “foot” (the ruffled bottom part), any jiggling at all, they need another minute or two. I will now set the timer at 1-minute intervals and watch them very, very closely. They can go from underdone to overdone in a matter of 60 seconds.
Maracons are a learning experience and no two bakes are the same. Sometimes I have different baking times for the same batch of shells. The key is to be alert to each of your macarons’ needs.
Once they are fully set, place sheet pans on wire racks to cool, leaving the shells on the parchment and on the pan for 15-30 minutes. When the macarons are completely cooled, very carefully remove them from parchment paper by pulling the parchment paper away from the sell. If they are still sticking to the paper, toss into freezer for a few minutes and they’ll easily release from the paper.
Lemon Basil Cream
Start with a double boiler. You may easily create one with a medium pan and a heat resistant bowl (metal or glass). Place the bowl on top of the medium pot that has simmering water, making sure that the bowl does not come in contact with the water.
Now combine the lemon juice, basil leaves, egg yolks, eggs, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl, whisking continuously to prevent the lemon juice and sugar from turning the eggs into scrambled eggs. If your eggs do scramble, you’ll need to start again.
Heat the mixture, whisking continuously, until it reaches 180˚f / 80˚c on a candy thermometer. This may take a little longer than you might expect (approx. 15 minutes) so please be patient! Also take note: You need to ensure you bring the mixture right up to the required temperature as this will determine if the cream will be fully cooked and have the right consistency to set properly.
Remove the bowl from the heat, and set aside, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is 140˚f / 60˚c on your candy thermometer. Strain mixture into a clean mixing bowl using a fine mesh sieve. Add the butter, a few small pieces at a time, blending well with an immersion blender until completely combined before adding the next piece. Take Note: If you don’t have an immersion blender, you may use a standard blender on a medium/high speed.
Once all the butter is incorporated, the cream should be a pale yellow and thick enough to not fall off a spoon.
Transfer to an airtight container, press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming, and cover. Refrigerate overnight, or until ready to use.
When assembling macarons, transfer lemon basil cream to a piping bag fitted with a round ateco #804 tip.
In a small non-stick saucepan, bring the simple syrup to a low boil. Stir in the agar agar until fully dissolved. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, stirring until everything is combined. Pour mixture into an airtight container and chill overnight until it sets.
Once you're ready to use the gel, pour set mixture into a mixing bowl and whisk for about 10-20 seconds to bring the gel to a soft consistency. Pour gel into a prepared piping bag.
Transfer lemon gel to a piping bag fitted with a small round ateco #801 tip.
It’s time to play match maker! Pair your shells with matching mates of equal size, then pipe a ring of lemon basil cream around the edge. Next pipe the lemon gel in the center. Gently top with its corresponding shell. It is best to store your finished macarons in the fridge for a few hours (for optimal results, overnight) to allow the flavors to mingle and “mature” so they develop that ideal soft texture. Macarons may be refrigerated for about one week or frozen in the freezer for a few months in an airtight container. Enjoy!