The other day I was minding my own business when a friend tagged me on Facebook. Quite nonchalantly – Caroline, I am looking at you! – she shared a video… “Sally, your next addiction, I mean… project? ;-)” The video was all about meringues and macarons, with amazing piping techniques made by a professional baker from Los Angeles. Truth is, this was not the first time a “friend” suggested baking projects for me. Usually they involve either macarons or mirror glazes, all with levels of complexity that make me tempted to ask “do you hate me that much?” or “what have I done to you?” But, pandemic times do strange things to humans. Somehow, I decided to tackle one of the simpler projects from the video, macarons shaped as Lady Bugs. Having recently enraged Cheetahs, I figured I would be safer upsetting a small insect. I had a total blast with this adventure, and find them adorable… I hope you do too…
LADY BUG MACARONS WITH CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FILLING
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)
For the shells:
200g Icing/powdered sugar
115 g almond flour
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
red and black food color
for the filling:
Chocolate Russian Buttercream Recipe
113g unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1/8 tsp of salt
50g unsweetened cocoa powder (1/2 cup)
200 g condensed milk (about 1/2 can)
Royal Icing (black) or Candy melts (black)
Black sanding sugar
food pen (black)
Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.
Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla and the food color. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.
Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. When the mixture is starting to get homogeneous, remove a small amount and dye black. Remove a small amount and leave it white. Dye the rest red. Continue with the three portions of batter until you get proper mixing (macaronage). Put the mixtures in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip (large, 8mm for red, 4mm for black, white can be left without a piping tip, just make a cut in the bag with scissors. To make the lady bugs, pipe a regular round red shell, then a small black round where the head will be. To make the flowers, use the white batter right after piping the red shell, and do the decorations you want, as if working with Royal Icing, “wet on wet” technique.
Slam each sheet four times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.
While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking. When the shells are cold, made the black decorations with a food pen, for the lady bug’s body and the outline of the flowers and hearts. If desired, paint the lady bug’s head with Royal Icing or Candy melts dyed black. Before it sets, sprinkle black sanding sugar.
Make the Russian buttercream. Whip the room temperature unsalted butter on a medium-high speed with a whisk attachment for 5 minutes. The butter should lighten in color as you incorporate air into it. Add in the vanilla extract, salt, and sifted cocoa powder mix on the lowest speed until incorporated. Pour very slowly the sweetened condensed milk as you whisk at medium-speed. Scrape the bowl to make sure it is all very well incorporated. Refrigerate until needed to fill the shells.
Assemble the macarons: match two shells similar in size and add buttercream to the bottom of one of them. Place another shell on top and gently squeeze to take the filling all the way to the edge. Store in the fridge overnight before consuming.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: In the video, the decorations for the lady bugs were made with piped Royal Icing, but I decided that a food pen was simpler. Also, you can make antennas with candy melts piping them on parchment or acetate, allowing them to fully set, and then stick them in between the two shells, held by the filling. Some bakers use licorice strands cut in small pieces. Since my macs are donated and each must be wrapped individually, I skipped the antennas. My Lady Bugs are mutants, and I hope they don’t hate me for that.
The filling… My first time using Russian buttercream. I decided to try it because many people claim it to be less sweet than American and very easy to prepare. I will say that the texture is really nice, but it is still quite sweet. Of course, it is made with condensed milk, so what was I expecting? I had a few problems with the texture too, I believe you need to get the butter temperature just right, not too cold, not too warm. My buttercream ended up a tad too soft. When opting for a chocolate filling for macs, I think I’ll stick with a ganache-base.
For the flowers and hearts decorations, the secret is to work fast. Pipe two or three red shells and immediately start to work on the details, because you want to make sure the design will set and dry homogeneously with the background. It is exactly the same technique I used before, except that I used the food pen to outline the drawings. It does not have to be perfect, in fact I think that being a bit more lax with the outline makes them more interesting. That’s my story… 😉
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ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Leaving on a jet plane…