Lemon French Macarons
These French macarons are delicious, delicate, and bursting with bright lemon flavor. Make a batch for afternoon tea, a holiday cookie tray or brunch!
Lemon French Macarons are delicate, chewy, gluten-free cookies made by folding blanched almond meal into meringue (egg whites and sugar whipped until fluffy and stiff). Once baked and cooled the cookies, which are also called shells, are sandwiched together with a soft, creamy, and zesty lemon buttercream.
These macarons are sweet, tangy, and bursting with a freshly grated lemon zest flavor. It’s sure to brighten up anyone’s day!
Macarons make for a super special treat to give as a gift or share for a special occasion. They look impressive and serve as beautiful dessert centerpieces for any celebration from brunch to afternoon tea.
What is a French Macaron?
A French macaron is an airy cookie that can be made in a wide variety of flavors and colors, which is one reason they are so popular. Filled with a ganache, buttercream, jelly, or jam, macarons are the perfect not-too-sweet dessert.
A naturally gluten-free treat, a macaron consists of two almond cookies called shells that rise in the oven with the help of an egg white meringue. They bake up into airy, chewy cookies with a smooth outer layer and beautiful ruffled “feet” on the bottom.
What’s in a French Macaron?
You can play with different colors and flavors, but all macarons have key ingredients that cannot be substituted.
- Blanched almond meal is finely ground skinless almonds. It is pale yellow, not speckled with brown almond skin. Do not use almond flour or meal unless it is labeled as blanched and super-fine.
- Powdered sugar is added to the almond meal for a little sweetness. It works better than granulated sugar because it is finer in texture.
- I recommend using the freshest egg whites you can get ahold of. The egg whites are whipped into a meringue, which gives the shells their unique texture and height.
- Granulated sugar and cream of tartar are added to the egg whites to help stabilize the meringue. This means the air and bubbles you create to make the meringue tall and fluffy won’t deflate.
- Food coloring is added to the batter for a boost of color. Use gel food coloring instead of liquid food coloring so that the batter does not thin out too much. I recommend Americolor brand gel food coloring.
What Tools to I Need to Make Macarons?
There are four tools that will help you make the best macarons:
- Clean glass or metal bowls: Plastic bowls are more likely to hold onto grease from previous cooking experiences, which interferes with the macaron batter. The fat will not allow the egg whites to trap air bubbles, which you need for the shells to rise and keep their shape. I wipe the inside of my bowl with a little distilled white vinegar to get rid of any residual grease.
- Kitchen scale: I’ve provided you with measurements in grams. Macaron batter can be temperamental so it's important to have the right ratio of ingredients. Weighing the ingredients with a kitchen scale will give you the most consistent and accurate amounts.
- Stand mixer: I use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a whisk attachment to make the batter. Although it can be done with a handheld electric mixer, it will be more difficult.
- Pastry bag and pastry tip: I use a 12- to 18-inch pastry bag and a #12 Wilton round pastry tip. You can also use a large zip top bag instead of a pastry bag.
Tips and Tricks for Macaron Success
Follow these simple tips and tricks for the most successful bake:
- Don’t make macarons on a humid or rainy day. In fact, don’t run your dishwasher or do dishes with hot water near the macarons. A meringue’s worst enemy is moisture.
- I like to flip my baking sheet upside down and bake the macarons on the bottom (which is now the top). Macarons are sensitive to heat. An upside-down baking sheet distributes the heat coming from the bottom of the oven more evenly, preventing the macarons from baking too quickly.
- Room temperature egg whites whip up faster, easier, and more consistently than cold egg whites.
- Always shake the food coloring bottle before using to redistribute the color dye and liquid.
- Make sure to mature the macarons in the fridge overnight after assembling them. This will allow some of the moisture in the filling to seep into the shells and make for a chewier cookie!
Common Problems with Macarons
Feet are the bottom outer edge of the shells. They are ruffled and a unique feature of macarons. If feet aren’t forming, the shells did not rest long enough before baking. Rest them up to one hour until the top of the shell feels dry and looks matte. You should be able to gently touch the shell without leaving an impression on it.
Cracked shell tops?
Either the oven is too hot or the meringue was over whipped. Stop mixing the meringue right when it looks stiff. Also, I recommend investing in an oven thermometer to be certain of the true temperature in the oven. Even if you set the oven to 350°F, it may be at 325°F! A small difference in temperature can make or break the macarons.
The piping bag was most likely held at an angle rather than straight down when piping. Piping the shells at an angle will cause them to bake lopsided. Also, don’t place the shells to dry underneath a fan, as this can cause the batter to dry and bake lopsided.
Other Fun Variations
Macarons are versatile—you can add any color to the shells and flavor the filling however you’d like. Instead of lemon, try these flavors:
- Coffee: Add a few tablespoons of cold coffee or a few drops of coffee extract to the buttercream.
- Cake batter: Add a few drops of cake batter extract to the buttercream.
- Raspberry: Add a few drops of raspberry extract to the buttercream.
Once the macarons have been assembled, keep them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. Let them come to room temperature before eating them as they will be hard straight from the fridge.
To freeze them, place them in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Freeze them for one hour, then transfer them into an airtight container. Use a sheet of parchment paper in between the stacked layers. They can stay frozen for up to one month.
Cookies Worthy of Gifting
- White Chocolate Peppermint Macarons
- Chocolate Florentine Cookies
- Oatmeal Lace Cookies
- Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies
- Benne Wafers
Whip the butter:
In a medium bowl, add the softened butter. Using a mixer with the beater attachment, beat on low speed to ensure the butter is lump free before adding the powdered sugar.
Add the powdered sugar:
Add the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time and continue mixing on low speed until combined. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula with each addition of powdered sugar so that it incorporates evenly. Then, increase the speed to medium speed and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the lemon zest:
Add the lemon zest and mix until combined. Add the milk and beat again on medium speed until light and creamy.
The milk will help thin out the buttercream and give it a super smooth and creamy texture. You shouldn’t need more than 1 tablespoon of milk. If you add more, the buttercream will be too thin.
It should look light and fluffy, not runny. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel and set it aside.
Sift the dry ingredients:
Place a sifter or fine mesh sieve over a large bowl. Add the almond meal and powdered sugar to the sifter or sieve and sift into the bowl. Discard any large pieces of almond meal. Set the dry ingredients aside.
Whip the egg whites:
Dampen a paper towel with a bit of vinegar and wipe down the inside of a 4- or 5- quart glass or metal mixing bowl.
Make the meringue:
Add the egg whites to the mixing bowl and using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, whisk on medium-low speed for 1 to 2 minutes until the egg whites are foamy, but not yet holding their shape.
I use a Kitchen Aid mixer on speed 3 for this step. You can do this with an electric handheld mixer set on medium. Follow along with the visual cues for doneness.
Add the cream of tartar first and continue whisking for 3 minutes. At this point, the egg whites will have gained a little bit of volume, look dull, and will not hold its shape.
With the mixer still running, sprinkle in the sugar slowly, 1 tablespoon at a time. When all the sugar has been added, increase to medium speed and continue whisking for about 2 minutes. The egg whites will have increased in volume, become white, and look thick. I use a Kitchen Aid mixer on speed 4 for this step.
Stop the mixer and add the food coloring, then continue whisking for 3 minutes until the mixture looks glossy and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. You will also notice some ridges in the middle near the whisk indicating it is ready. This foamy mixture is called a meringue.
Check for stiff peaks:
Stop the mixer, lift the whisk from the egg whites, and turn the whisk upside down. It should have a stiff peak of meringue that slightly bends at the very tip, but it should not slide off the whisk.
If the peak curls or falls over then continue whisking the meringue, about 1 to 2 minutes. If the meringue starts to look chunky or curdled, the egg whites have been overwhipped and you’ll have to start over.
Fold in the dry ingredients:
Add one third of the dry ingredients into the meringue. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold them together. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients, one third of it at a time until fully combined.
Scrape the batter:
Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter against and around the sides of the bowl to knock some of the air out of the batter. Do this 5 or 6 times. Knocking some of the air out of the batter is important because too much air will cause the shells to crack while they bake.
Test the batter:
Use a rubber spatula to pick up some of the batter and drizzle it over the batter in the bowl. It should stream down like honey.
Draw a figure 8 with it over the batter. The figure 8 should start to sink back into the batter after 10 to 20 seconds, but not disappear.
If the figure 8 disappears too quickly, you have over-mixed the batter. If the batter does not pass the figure 8 test, fold the batter with a rubber spatula twice and then check it again, and repeat until it passes!
Pipe the shells:
Turn two large baking sheets upside down and line the bottom of the baking sheet (which is now the top!) with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set them aside.
Fit a 12- to 18- inch pastry bag with a small round pastry tip—I use a small #12 Wilton round tip.
Place the pastry bag into a tall cup with the pastry tip touching the bottom of the cup. Cuff the excess bag over the edge of the cup. Use a rubber spatula to gently scrape the batter into the piping bag. Twist the top of the pastry bag so that the batter doesn’t fall out of the bag while you’re holding it.
If using parchment, pipe a small dot of batter in each corner of the baking sheet to help secure the paper.
Pipe 1- to 1 1/2-inch circles 2 inches apart from each other on the prepared baking sheets. The pastry tip should point directly down, not at an angle, for evenly sized and perfectly round shells.
If the tops have a pointy tip from the piping, gently smooth them out with an offset spatula or the back of a small spoon. You will get 30 to 32 circles, which will yield 15 or 16 macarons.
Remove more air bubbles:
Firmly grasp the sides of the baking sheet and tap it hard against your counter. Tiny air bubbles may come up to the surface of the shells and pop. You can use the sharp, pointy end of a toothpick to pop them, if desired. Rotate the baking sheet as needed to tap all sides evenly.
Rest the shells:
Allow the shells to rest for 30 to 40 minutes. It may take up to 1 hour if your home is humid. The shells are ready to bake when they look matte and you can touch the tops without them sticking to your finger or leaving a mark.
Meanwhile, set the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 300°F
Bake the shells:
Bake the shells, one baking sheet at a time, for 13 minutes. When the timer goes off, carefully open the oven door, and gently touch the top of a shell.
The top of the shell should not move from the feet where it touches the pan. If it moves slightly, bake it for 1 minute more.
Cool the shells:
Place the baking sheet on a wire cooling rack. Allow the shells to cool completely before lifting them from the mat. Do not try and lift them up using a spatula or other tool, especially if they are sticking.
Once they are completely cool, use your hands to peel the baking mat or parchment paper back from the shells slowly and gently. If they are completely cool, the shells should come off easily.
Match the shells:
Match similar-sized shells in pairs and set them aside on your counter. Each pair will be filled with the lemon buttercream.
Fill with the lemon buttercream:
Fit a small piping bag with a round #12 Wilton tip. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the lemon buttercream into the pastry bag. Twist the top of the pastry bag so that the buttercream doesn’t fall out of the bag while you’re holding it.
Pipe a little less than a tablespoon-sized dollop of lemon buttercream onto one of the paired shells. Top it with its paired shell. Repeat filling the remaining macarons.
Mature the macaron shells:
Transfer the macarons into an airtight container and place them in the fridge overnight, at least 12 hours, to soften for the best texture. This step is called maturing.