Gold splattered French macarons filled with punchy pink peppercorn buttercream and luscious bittersweet chocolate ganache. Perfect for this Valentine's Day!
In an effort to keep things unpredictable, “spontaneous,” spicy, and always some-what stressful, my husband and I typically make plans to cook from home on Valentine’s Day. I say this jokingly, because every time we’ve done so in the past, there has been an unexpected “twist” to our perfect night in. If you are looking for ways to keep the romance alive in your own marriage, try frantically Google-ing how to quickly thaw out an unexpectedly frozen chicken while tending to a 4-week old and trying to battle the impending gloom of a 10pm dinner while the risotto gets mushier by the minutes.
Or don’t – you probably shouldn’t, actually. It’s up to you.
This year, Valentine’s Day happens to fall on a Tuesday following a three-day weekend (here in British Columbia). The chances of me wanting to throw together a super-fancy dinner over the weekend are high. I’ll probably spend the next week in search of new recipes to try and make endless lists for groceries and prep work. At the end of the day, I actually live for this stuff. I love to cook and researching recipes is actually one of my favorite rituals to do in between putting the toddler to bed, taking the dog out, and getting ready for bed each night.
The problem is more of a matter of ambition. I always want to try out something new. And while I am huge supporter of pushing your own boundaries and trying new things, I tend to wait until the steaks are high – like trying to pull-off a 5-course meal (with hardly any prep work completed) on Valentine’s Day. In such times, the only recipe I can really count on is the recipe for disaster: high stress + new recipes + unpreparedness. Don’t be like me.
Earlier on in my career, making French macarons would have fit the bill perfectly. In fact, I did try to pull-off heart-shaped macarons for Valentine’s Day the same year 85% of our kitchen was in boxes just days before the big move from California to Canada. Not only did macarons still give me tremendous trouble at the time, everything else that was going on around created the perfect storm for disaster.
But back to this year and why I am rediscovering the macaron. Instead of being overly ambitious with my meal prep or trying a new fancy recipe for the first time on a holiday, I plan to use tried and trusted recipes but with a special twist. A favorite dish but with a new flavour variation or something with a simple preparations but made with heart and high-quality, seasonal ingredients. I’m not sure what this means yet as far as an entrée for us this year, but for dessert – these Pink Peppercorn Ganache Macarons. At this point, macarons aren’t nearly as stressful for me to make and I no longer see them as these fancy, unattainable pastries. Yet, they do take time, practice, and preparation, so I don’t make them very often. With that said, combined with this blushing pink and chocolately filling, they fit my new criteria for a special yet not overly fussy Valentine’s Day dessert.
Pink peppercorn in a dessert??! If you recall this cake from back in the day, or the version that I recreated for my book Layered, then you know I love how the slightly peppery and faintly fruity flavors pair with sweets. In a dessert, especially this buttercream, the crushed pink peppercorns pack an unexpected punch – but don’t worry, it’s not like biting into a pepper or anything. The spice in a pink peppercorn is delicate and much more rounded (as opposed to sharp flavours of black pepper).
For me, the crushed pink peppercorns off-set the sweetness of the buttercream perfectly and the rich, fudgey centers make for the most divine bite(s). I love how decadent bittersweet chocolate ganache can be, but feel free to use a semi-sweet variety if you are in search of something a bit lighter. Valrhona Chocolate was gracious enough to send me a variety of their best chocolate feves to test out. In this particular recipe, I favoured their 70% Guanaja chocolate, but if that sounds too rich to you, then go for the 63% Illanka chocolate. Both are amazing! A post about the wonders of Valrhona Chocolate would not be complete without mention of their Dulcey feves. I’m not a huge white chocolate fan, but this blonde chocolate just might be heaven on earth. Next time, I am definitely saving some plain macaron shells to fill with mounds of the caramelized white chocolate ganache goodness.
And last but not least – GOLD SPLATTER! Because macarons shells can be quite finicky, I don’t like to add too much to the shell batter before baking. Beyond some vanilla bean and/or a few drops of food coloring, I try to stay clear of too many additional ingredients that might disrupt the bake. I’ve tried freeze-dried fruit powders and sprinkles, but they tend to yield inferior macarons (in my personal opinion). A fun and easy way to dress up baked macarons shells is to add a little shimmer by way of gold splatter! I have several little jars of gold luster dust leftover from my wedding cake making days, so I am always on the hunt for ways to incorporate the metallic powder into my desserts today. As you could imagine, macaron shells hate water. But mixed with a touch of vanilla extract or even vodka, gold luster dust turns into beautiful gold paint. For the splatter effect, simply add just enough liquid to the luster dust so that it becomes slightly liquidy and not pasty. Dip a clean brush into the mixer and use your finger to flick the bristles over the top of the macarons. I love the imperfect, organic nature of this decorating technique – don’t you?
Pink Peppercorn Macarons
For the shells, I used this macaron recipe here.
Pink Peppercorn Buttercream
3 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 to 2 teaspoons pink peppercorns, or to taste
2 to 3 drops pink food gel, optional
In the bowl of an electric mixer, lightly whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer. Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double-boiler.
Stirring intermittently, heat the egg white mixture until it registers about 155-160 on a candy thermometer. Once hot, carefully transfer the mixer bowl back to the stand mixer.
Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks, or until the outside of the mixer bowl returns to room temperature (about 8 minutes). Stop the mixer and swap the whisk for the paddle attachment.
Meanwhile, crush the peppercorns using a mortar and pestal.
With the mixer on medium-low, add in the butter, a few tablespoons at a time. Add in the vanilla. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix until silky smooth. Add the crushed pink peppercorns and food coloring until desired taste and color is achieved.
At any point does the buttercream appear curdled, just keep mixing. If the buttercream appears soupy, try placing it in the refrigerator for about 10 to 15 minutes then mixing again.
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (by weight), chopped
¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
Place the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and set aside.
Place the cream in a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once hot, pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand 30 to 60 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Add a pinch of salt and combine.
Allow the ganache to completely cool. It will thicken over time. Cooling may be sped up in the refrigerator, but be sure to stir every 5 minutes or so. Remove from the refrigerator and use once the ganache has thickened and can be piped from a piping bag (about 20 minutes).
Once the macarons shells are baked, let rest for a couple minutes out of the oven before removing the shells off of the hot baking sheets (wait until they are just cool enough to handle and don’t break apart). Once cooled, match the shells together into pairs of the same size.
Fit two piping bags with medium round tips – around #8 or so (or just snip them with scissors to create smallish openings). Fill the bags with the buttercream and cooled ganached.
Pipe rings of the buttercream around the edges of the bottom macarons shells. Fill the centers with the ganache. Place on the top shell and gently press together so that the buttercream goes to the edges of the cookies but does not spill out. Place the filled shells on your work surface and splatter with the gold luster “paint.”
The gold splatter can be slightly bitter, so don't get too carried away.
I always use Bob's Red Mill almond flour – It's the best!! However, I failed to sift all of the flour before making this particular batch. Don't be like me. Sift, sift, sift!
Thank you to Valrhona Chocolate for supporting Style Sweet CA!