Whelp, folks, as you have all learned from JT this week, today is the first day of May. And that means that Birthday Season has begun! Everyone in my family has summer birthdays — my mom’s is the end of May, my sis and I are both in June and my dad’s is the first day of July. Throw in Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Fourth of July, and summer is basically Christmas.
When I was a kid this meant that I was never more than 6 months away from a Big Present (the best) and that one Saturday in June, my parents would reserve the pool at our swim club and my sister and I would have back-to-back birthday parties. (That’s right — we didn’t have a joint party, we had two parties on the same day. Which meant twice as many kids, twice as much cake, and one long-ass day for the grow ups, who were
Around this time every year, we would pick out fun, summer-themed invitations (usually involving sea animals or pool floaties) and then take the invitations to the local cake shop, Janet’s Cakery, which would make a custom cake to match the invites. The party-planning trip to Janet’s was almost as good as the party itself — the cake shop was dark and cold, it smelled like fresh cake, and they had huge binders full of photos of their creations. We would taste cake samples and have a consultation with a Cakeist, who would quietly listen while we explained our vision of a seahorse-shaped cake with white cake and white icing (duh) decorated in neon colors that matched the bathing suit on my birthday list, which maybe she had seen in the window at Gap Kids at the mall?
We would show up just before the party to collect Janet’s works of art, and spend more than a few minutes ogling the beautiful cakes and trying to decide which of us got the better design. (But really, check out their cakes here and here and here, which are crazy elaborate, even if the children today don’t seem to be into neon? What’s up with that?) Then we would spend a whole day at the pool — our cousins and a few close family friends would stick around for both parties, and my sister and I would take turns opening presents on the ping pong table and blowing out candles on our works of art. And then we would have a TON of leftover cake, which I can imagine my parents pressing into the arms of My friends’ parents as they were collecting their tired, sopping wet, slightly sunburned kids — “No, really, take it. We have more cake than we can possibly eat, we got two again this year.”
I don’t get to have pool parties anymore (one of the major drawbacks of living in Manhattan) but I still get an urge this time of year to bake something beautiful. And a few weeks ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to learn to make macarons. The BF and I were in LA for a wedding, and I sampled the most amazing Earl Grey macaron at Bottega Louie downtown (recommendation cred to @californiapearl!!). I couldn’t get it out of my head, and had to make my own.
So I did a deep dive on macarons on the Internet. If you’re planning to make these, I strongly suggest you read Dorie Greenspan’s wisdom on macarons, and check out this Macaron Like A Pro guide from Honest Cooking.
Macarons are finnicky and time-consuming — the shells are little almond flour cookies, made with an egg white meringue in either the French or Italian method. The filling is traditionally a ganache (a rich icing made with cream and melted chocolate), but that is often switched out for a thicker buttercream icing or a dairy-free jam. (I found ganache to be too runny, so went with a ganache-buttercream hybrid.) The shells aren’t usually flavored, but they are dyed bright colors to match the flavor of the filling. In this case, I dyed the shells yellow (like birthday cake!) and filled them with a chocolate ganache that was thickened with powdered sugar. Then, because I have a heart and love funfetti, I rolled the icing in bright sprinkles. The result is beautiful and fun, a perfect treat for this time of year!
Let birthday season begin!
- 1 batch macaron shells, dyed with 25 drops of yellow food coloring
- 1 bag semisweet chocolate chips (not dark chocolate, which won't get thick enough to spread on the cookies)
- ¾ c. heavy cream
- 1 t. vanilla extract
- 1½ c. powdered sugar
- Rainbow sprinkles
- Because Dorie can explain the complicated process of the shells better that I ever could, and because I followed her recipe to a T (and you should too), I am linking to it here. I deviated only in that I added 25 drops of yellow food coloring to the egg whites before they went into the almond flour.
- Melt the chocolate and cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat, stirring with a flexible spatula until smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until completely combined.
- Set aside to cool -- I was ready to ice my cookies, so as soon as it was cool enough to touch, I put the icing in a freezer bag and stuck it in the freezer for about 20 minutes. You could also let it come to room temp in the pot and then sit in the fridge overnight. The goal of this step is to give the icing a chance to firm up -- if it's too runny, it will slide down the edges of the cookies and ruin the look.
- Once your icing is cool, scoop it into a freezer bag and snip off a small corner, then use the bag to pipe the icing onto a cookie.
- Gently smoosh another cookie to make an icing sandwich, and roll the icing edges in rainbow sprinkles.
- Set aside in the fridge for at least 24 hours to let the shells soften up, and then enjoy! They are best eaten within 4-5 days. Also, note that macarons freeze great. Just pack them in an air-tight container and defrost them in the fridge overnight before eating.