Lavender macarons with salted caramel
When I purchased a miniscule container of edible dried lavender from Whole Foods, I hadn’t even thought of what recipes I could use it in. Unfortunately, every trip to Whole Foods ends in heavier shopping bags than I expect, as it’s a gourmet heaven in a sea of Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets – and I can’t resist picking up specialty items.
I thought of various applications that lavender would have worked well in: brownies, panna cotta, shortbread, ice cream. Yet nothing appealed to me, and desserts, rather than sweet treats like cookies, aren’t ideal since they should be all consumed on the day. A pack of ground almonds in my pantry suddenly conjured up lavender macarons in my mind. I figured that most of the flavour from macarons comes from the filling, while the shell just serves simultaneously as a delicately sweet, textural contrast and vehicle with which to accompany the filling. Lavender has a pungent enough aroma to perfume the entire shell, which would give an additional layer of flavour than the ordinary macaron.
Whatever application I’ve tasted lavender in, it’s always been intensely sweet and floral. Macarons can be sweet to the point of cloying, so I thought that a robust salty filling would work as a juxtaposition against the floral notes. Salted caramel, one of my favourite flavour combinations, immediately sprang to mind.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost my exact recipe since, but since I follow a ratio of ingredients, you should be able to replicate this recipe without major variations. (This is why I’m such a bad blogger – I made these macarons almost exactly a year ago!) I use Syrup and Tang’s ratios; he also has an incredibly detailed guide to making macarons that has been very helpful for me. In brief, decide how many egg whites you want to use, then weigh them and scale the rest of the ingredients up according to the ratios given.
Once your dry ingredients have been just incorporated, fill a piping bag and pipe circles onto a lined baking sheet. As you can see, I have no piping skills. Rap the underside of the sheet against the counter to remove air bubbles and any peaks that refuse to dissolve. Then it’s oven time! I don’t have pictures of making the caramel, but it’s dead easy – all it involves is opening a can of condensed milk and stirring.
Lavender macarons with salted caramel
For the lavender macarons:
- egg whites (g)
- 1.3 x egg whites (g) ground almonds, minus the weight of dried lavender (see below)
- 1.6 x egg whites (g) icing sugar
- 0.8 x egg whites (g) caster sugar
- 5-10g edible dried lavender – final weight is to taste; don’t add too much, otherwise it’ll taste soapy
For the salted caramel filling:
- can of condensed milk
- 0.5 tsp sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 160C, fan-assisted.
Start by pulverising the ground almonds, icing sugar, and lavender together in a food processor until everything has been blitzed to a fine consistency. You want to avoid any clumps of moist almond that will make your macarons grainy later on, so after it’s been processed, sift the almond mixture.
Grab a clean bowl for your egg whites. Make sure it’s really clean, as any oily residue will affect the ability of the egg whites to form a meringue, and you’ll still be beating 20 minutes later. Beat your egg whites until soft and foamy, then add the caster sugar little by little and continue beating until the egg whites have formed a thick and glossy meringue. Any peaks lifted up by your whisk should also stand against gravity at this point.
Add your almond mixture in batches to the meringue, and with a firm hand, fold it in by scooping around and under the meringue and back over onto itself. Once everything is fully incorporated, stop and check the consistency of the batter. Any ribbons of batter dropped from above should disappear within 30 seconds. Be careful not to over-mix it, however: err on the side of under-mixing here, as overstimulation will result in a runny batter. Any food colouring can be added at this point, but I rather like the natural colour of macarons, so I didn’t add any. The flecks of lavender are pretty enough as it is!
Fill a piping bag (or if you don’t have one, a ziplock bag with a corner cut off will do) with the batter and pipe even circles onto a lined baking sheet. To remove any air bubbles or peaks in your batter, rap the underside of the baking sheet firmly onto the counter before placing it into the oven. Many recipes tell you to leave the piped batter to dry on the counter before baking, but I’ve tried both ways and it didn’t seem to make a difference. Bake for about 8-10 minutes; the exact time will depend on the temperament of your oven and how accurate it is. Watch for any browning and rotate the baking sheet as necessary to facilitate even baking.
After taking them out of the oven, don’t try to lift them straight away. Leave them for a few minutes on the baking sheet before lifting the macaron shells off the baking paper with a gentle twisting motion. If you’re having trouble, spray the underside of the baking paper with a tiny bit of water while the sheet is still hot to create a little steam, which should release the shells more readily. Leave to cool on a baking rack.
While cooling, you can get started on the salted caramel filling. Pour the condensed milk and salt into a thick-bottomed saucepan and set it on a low flame. Stir every so often until it turns a lusciously golden colour; this might take up to 20 minutes. Take care not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan. Burnt caramel is a flavour you do not want in this macaron! Once it has transformed into a thick, sugary caramel, take it off the heat and let it cool; it will firm up as it cools. Pair up the macaron shells and pipe the caramel filling on one side of the shell. Sandwich it gently with the other shell using a twisting motion, pushing the filling out to the sides. It takes a bit of practise so that the filling doesn’t ooze out of the sides, but you can eat those. Baker’s treat!
Lastly, the most important step: place the filled macarons in the fridge and let it sit for 24-48 hours. It will be difficult to resist eating them straight away, I know, but allowing the shell and filling to mature in the fridge improves the flavour combination so much. The lavender mellows out and melds with the salted caramel; the contrast doesn’t seem as jarring, and the flavours just marry elegantly after a couple of days.
Let them come to room temperature before consuming, to bring out the best flavour.
Enjoy with a cup of tea!