Anytime out-of-town friends come to Austin, one of the first places I take them is Elizabeth Street Cafe. I know I can’t go wrong with what is arguably the cutest café in town (I mean, have you seen the bright pink and turquoise exterior?!) and treating them to the fresh mango and cucumber salad or a warm bowl of bún accompanied by some delicious spring rolls. So when the ESC team invited us to learn how their pastry chef makes the café’s most legendary sweets, you can bet that everyone on our team rsvp’d “yes” faster than you can say “macaron.” We spent a sweet afternoon at the darling cafe bar to learn Sara’s expert tips on making the best macarons at home. Click through the slides to see how it’s done — it’s easier than you think!
*photography by Buff Strickland
Sara Berger is the head pastry chef at Elizabeth Street Cafe — we were inspired to learn that she’s a self-taught baker who learned her pastry skills at home and on the job! She’s known for creating delicious and unique sweet treats like flavored eclairs and cream puffs, beignets, and macarons whose flavors change daily. We were so excited to learn her secrets and take some of her tricks of the trade home to our own kitchens!
This is one dessert recipe where it’s crucial to measure the powdered ingredients out to the exact gram on an ingredient scale. For macarons, precision is key.
Sara started by sifting the almond flour and powdered sugar together to get rid of any large lumps that might be in the mix. Sifting dry ingredients together may seem like an extra step, but it’s is actually one of the keys to a light and airy macaron, ensuring that any hidden lumps may be caught.
A fun trick we learned during the class was using a whisk to push ingredients through the sifter. Hold your sifter in one hand and with your other hand, move the whisk in circular motions in the dry ingredients to push all the flour and sugar through the sifter. Try that technique out or you can just pat the side of the sifter with your hand.
Another tip that surprised many of us was to leave our egg whites out at room temperature overnight before using them. It turns out that this little trick will help add extra volume to your meringue when you whip it, as warmer eggs whip faster than cold eggs. To add color to your macarons, use a gel food dye. A liquid food color will actually deflate your mixture!
The next step is to macaronage your mixture – the folding in of the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites. It takes about 35 folds to fully incorporate the dry ingredients into the egg whites. You’ll know when you are done macaronage-ing when the batter has a cement-like texture, is a little glossy in look, and no longer grainy. We then moved our batter into a piping bag fitted with a tip.
We were surprised to learn that we’ve all been holding our piping bags wrong! Sara showed us that you should place your dominant hand at the bottom of the piping bag rather than using that hand to squeeze at the top. This helps to keep the piping tip leveled and provide more control which results in more even cookies.
To pipe perfect macarons, hold the tip parallel to the baking sheet and without moving, squeeze your piping bag until the macaron is about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Rather than lifting the bag at this point, which creates a point in the cookie, pull the piping tip forward and to the right, in a crescent motion to top it off and move on to the next one.
We all collectively decided that Kelly’s macaron skills were the best. She topped hers off with some white nonpareil sprinkles which gave them a little pop and made the cookie tops look even prettier.
We worked with three flavors of macarons: red velvet, rose-lychee, and strawberry. It was a tough decision deciding which one was our favorite, but Camille made sure to check out each flavor to decide which tasted best.
Click here to get the full recipe and make your own macarons at home.
Once the macarons were out of the oven and fully cooled, we filled in different flavored buttercreams for each cookie and created the perfect macaron sandwich.
Sara prepared three different buttercream flavors to pair with our macarons, a cream cheese frosting for the red velvet, a strawberry frosting to add an extra punch of flavor to the strawberry cookie, and a rose-lychee flavored frosting to pair with the rose macaron.
Chanel had a lot of fun mixing and matching flavors and testing out her frosting skills.
Can we just talk about how amazing the Elizabeth Street Café server uniforms are? And turns out, they take “custom” to a whole new level. The restaurant group’s creative director, Ryan Smith, curates a selection of floral fabrics in-house, adding fresh prints to their inventory each season. He buys just enough of each fabric to make one dress, ensuring that no two dresses are ever in the same fabric. These types of tiny details, with so much thought and creativity behind them, add to ESC’s unforgettable vibe.
Once we were done frosting our macarons, we moved outside to the Elizabeth Street Cafe front porch for some tea and macaron eating! We enjoyed the gorgeous spring weather with a few of the café’s teas and a sampling of our cookies. I’d say that for being macaron beginners, we didn’t do half bad!
Cheers to many more afternoons sipping tea and eating macarons. Thanks for treating us to the most fun baking lesson ever, Elizabeth Street Cafe!
editor’s note – Don’t forget to bring home some of Elizabeth Street’s macarons on your next trip to Austin: I got a sneak peek at the cutest ever macaron “to-go” box they’re about to roll out that are going to make the perfect gifts for all the sweets lovers in my life. Also — the George of the Jungle totes are amaze.