Think of these sweet stacks as the plated dessert version of a classic macaron sandwich cookie. Graduating sizes of chocolate macarons are sandwiched together with vanilla and strawberry frostings. Best of all, these are quite make-ahead friendly: The macaron shells can be frozen after baking, and the assembled stacks benefit from an overnight rest in the fridge. This softens the cookies enough to make them as easy to slide a spoon through as a piece of layer cake. —Erin Jeanne McDowell
- Prep time 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes 4 towers
- Chocolate Macaron Shells
1 1/2 cups
(142g) finely ground almond flour
1 3/4 cups
(198g) powdered sugar
(21g) cocoa powder (preferably dark or black cocoa powder)
large (140g) egg whites
(99g) granulated sugar
(2g) vanilla extract
- Vanilla Buttercream & Strawberry Buttercream
large (106g) egg whites
(<1 g) cream of tartar
(198g) granulated sugar
(226g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
(5g) vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 teaspoons
(7g) vanilla extract
(28g) freeze-dried strawberries
(28g) powdered sugar
(58g) heavy cream
- Line four half-baking sheets with parchment paper (use your flattest ones). Use a set of round cookie cutters to trace graduated guides onto the parchment paper. Start with the largest macarons on their own baking sheet, and draw four 3-inch rounds. On the next baking sheet, draw four 2 ½-inch rounds. On the next baking sheet, draw four 2-inch rounds. On the final baking sheet, draw four 1 ½ inch rounds and four 1-inch rounds. cookie cutter to trace rounds onto the parchment paper. Turn the parchment paper over so the ink won’t touch the batter when you pipe onto the paper. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip (such as 803/804/805).
- Make the macaron shells: Sift the almond flour, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Repeat 1 to 2 more times—you’re trying to eliminate clumps, combine the dry ingredients, and also aerate this mixture. (If any rogue clumps of almond flour remain that won’t fit through the strainer even when coerced, discard them.)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a large bowl and a hand mixer), whip the egg whites on medium speed until slightly foamy, about 30 to 45 seconds. Raise the mixer speed to high and gradually add the granulated sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue whipping until the meringue holds stiff peaks, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
- Remove the meringue from the mixer. Add about half of the almond flour mixture to the bowl and start to mix with a silicone spatula to combine. It’s OK to mix the batter a bit more vigorously at this stage—you’re sort of “tempering” the batter with the dry ingredients, which will make it easier to incorporate the remainder. You’re also intentionally starting to deflate the batter to get it close to the ideal texture.
- Add the remaining almond flour mixture to the batter, and fold gently to incorporate with a silicone spatula. Move the spatula around the outside of the bowl in a circular motion, then cut through the center and repeat. Rotate the bowl as you fold to keep working with all the batter evenly. The goal is to end up with a batter the consistency of “lava”—it should hold it’s shape when dropped from the spatula but slowly spread and lose definition (in other words: thick, but not so thick it holds any peaks).
- Gently transfer the batter to the prepared piping bag, filling it just over halfway full. Pipe the batter onto the prepared baking sheets using the guides to keep them evenly sized. Hold the pastry bag parallel to the baking sheet and begin to apply pressure, allowing the batter to flow out of the tip into a fluid round. Stop applying pressure just before you reach the end of your guide. Repeat until the baking sheets are filled up, refilling the pastry bag as needed.
- Gently tap the baking sheets on the countertop—this should smooth out the surface of the macaron and spread it slightly. If desired, use a needle or skewer to pop any visible bubbles on the surface of the macarons.
- Let the macarons rest at room temperature until they form a skin on the surface, about 30 minutes to 1 hour (it can take less time in a dry environment, longer in a more humid one). Towards the end of rest time, preheat the oven to 300°F with your oven rack in the center portion of the oven.
- Bake the macarons until they have risen, forming a foot on the bottom, and the surface of the cookies is shiny, dry, and set. Work in batches, baking 2 trays at a time. Large macarons will take 22 to 25 minutes; medium macarons, 18 to 22 minutes; and the small macarons, 15 to 18 minutes. Once baked, cool the macarons completely on the baking sheet. (The shells can be carefully stored in an airtight container, layers separated by pieces of parchment paper, and frozen for up to 3 months. When you’re ready, assemble the macaron stack using frozen cookies, then refrigerate overnight before serving.)
- Make the vanilla buttercream: Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment.
- In a medium pot, combine the sugar and water; stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. When it begins to boil, stop stirring and attach a candy thermometer to the pot (if any sugar crystals appear on the sides, brush them away using a pastry brush dipped in cool water). Continue to cook the syrup until it reaches 240°F.
- When the thermometer reads 230 to 235°F, start whipping the egg whites on medium high speed; the goal is to have the egg whites close to soft peaks by the time the sugar reaches 240°F.
- With the mixer running, carefully add the hot sugar syrup in a slow, steady stream. Continue to whip on high speed until the mixture reaches stiff peaks and the bowl is no longer noticeably warm to the touch. The meringue should be smooth and glossy, not clumpy or dry.
- With the mixer still running, gradually add room temperature butter in ½-tablespoon chunks. Continue adding and mixing until all of the butter is incorporated and the buttercream is light and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and mix to combine.
- Transfer half of the frosting to a pastry bag, fitted with a medium round or star tip. Return the mixer bowl with the remaining frosting to the mixer, still fitted with the whip attachment.
- Make the strawberry buttercream: In a food processor (or with a mortar and pestle), grind the freeze-dried strawberries and powdered sugar into a pink-hued powder. Add this powder to the frosting still in the mixer and mix to combine. Add the cream and mix to combine. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag, fitted with a medium round or star tip.
- When they are cool, gently peel the macarons off of the parchment paper. As you work, group one macaron of each size together—you’ll have enough to create four stacks.
- To assemble, place the largest (3-inch) cookies onto individual plates or a serving platter. Pipe mounds or stars of the fillings onto the cookie. You can pipe randomly or in rings—start with one flavor of icing, leaving room to pipe some of the other flavor as well. Fill the entire surface of the cookie except the outer ¼ inch.
- Gently place the next size (2 ½-inch) cookie on top and gently press down. Repeat the process of piping the icing and stacking the cookies until you reach the final (smallest) cookie. If desired, finish with a final swirl of frosting on top.
- Loosely cover each stack and prepare for the stacks to rest overnight, which softens the cookie as it absorbs moisture from the filling. Transfer the cookies to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. (The stacks can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.)