Or, lemon Parisian macaroons.
Disclaimer: baking macaroons like this is addictive. You improve so much every time you do it, and the range of flavours and flavour combinations possible is so enticing that once you get the hang of it, you can’t stop coming up with new things to do with the basic recipe. And that’s the other beauty of these macaroons: once you’ve mastered the basic recipe for the shells, you only have to vary the filling to change the flavour. The shells are almost never specifically flavoured themselves, though they’re usually coloured to reflect what’s in between them, be it a rich chocolate ganache, a smooth nut paste, or… well…
While a simple lemon flavour isn’t the most adventurous of my macaroon projects, there’s a very good reason why I decided to go for this, and it’s Pierre Hermé’s recipe for crème au citron (or Tartine bakery’s recipe, as it also appears in their book). I had made a batch of this lemon-curd-on-steroids for another recipe, and turning it into a filling for macaroons was the obvious solution to the question of what to do with the left over amount. As it turned out, these have become possibly my favourite macaroons so far. They are amazing. Crisp outer shells, soft innards, and melting tangy lemon cream…
40g caster sugar / superfine sugar
Optional: yellow food colouring, but only ever in powder form
1) Grind the almonds and icing sugar (and food colouring, if using) up together as finely as you possibly can for a good 5 minutes in a food processor, then sieve them through the finest sieve you can get your hands on. Set aside.
2) Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with non-stick baking parchment.
3) Whip up the two egg whites with a balloon whisk or in a stand mixer until they form soft peaks. Add the caster sugar in 2 additions and beat until you have a thick but not totally stiff or – heaven forbid – dry meringue.
4) Using a metal spoon or a plastic spatula, fold the ground sugar/nuts into the meringue in two additions – a step known as ‘macaroner’ the mixture. You must be deft, but not overly rough, and mix just until the batter is homogenous. It should be shiny, quite stiff and totally smooth.
5) Pipe or drop small, even rounds of the mixture onto your prepared baking sheets. They should be roughly 2cm in diameter (just less than 1 inch) and far enough apart to allow for some spreading.
6) Leave the shells to sit for at least 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 150*C.
7) Bake the shells for around 11 minutes, until you can lift them cleanly off their baking sheet with a spatula. Leave to cool completely.
225g [1 cup] caster [superfine] sugar
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
130ml [3/4 cup] freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 to 5 lemons)
300g [2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons or 21 tablespoons or 10 1/2 ounces] best unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into tablespoon-sized lumps
1) Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Off heat, work the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs followed by the lemon juice.
2) Transfer this to a double boiler and cook over simmering water, stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Keep whisking until the mixture is very pale and thick, about 10 minutes. The whisk must leave tracks in the mixture. Once you get to this point, keep cooking for another few minutes then remove from the heat.
3) Strain the mixture into the container of a blender or, if you have a stick blender, into a large bowl (that of your stand mixer, if you have one). Discard the zest. Let the cream rest at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
4) Turn the blender to high and, with the machine going, add about 5 pieces of butter at a time. Once all the butter is incorporated, keep blending until the cream is smooth and homogenous.
5) Transfer to a mixer/get out your hand mixer and beat on medium speed, using the balloon whisk attachment, for 5 minutes.
6) Cover and store for up to 5 days in the fridge.
NB: This recipe makes far more lemon cream than you will need for macaroons, unless you make several batches of them. Other good things to do with the rest: filling cakes; filling tart cases (and possibly topping it with meringue!); layering in a fruity trifle…
Pair up your macaroon shells, pipe a circle of the chilled lemon cream onto one, and sandwich with the other.
Refridgerate for a few hours to let the shells soften and the lemon cream set up, but don’t serve straight from the fridge if you can avoid it.