These chewy salted caramel macarons are golden brown in color with subtle caramel notes from brown sugar in the macaron shells. The interiors are filled with a creamy swirl of salted caramel buttercream and a pocket of homemade salted caramel sauce. Using a Swiss meringue buttercream keeps the frosting from being cloying, and the dark amber notes in the caramel sauce help balance the overall sweetness. If you're a fan of salted caramel, these are definitely for you!
I really like salted caramel. I've drizzled it on cakes, tucked it into tarts, and poured it over tiny cakes. There's always a partial jar of it on the top shelf of our fridge. It's quite easy to make, and a real treat to eat with most anything (crisp apple slices dipped in caramel sauce are the ultimate simple fall indulgence.)
This macaron recipe is a not-so-subtle love letter to caramel. (How I love thee, let me count the ways...) The shells are made with brown sugar rather than white in order to give them a naturally colored golden glow and bit of extra flavor. The caramel buttercream gets its taste from a generous portion of deliciously dark and rich homemade salted caramel sauce. And more caramel sauce is piped into the center of each macaron and drizzled on top for decoration, for a triple caramel French macaron that's very, very good.
If you haven't tried making macarons, I encourage you to give these a go. Macarons do have a learning curve, but they're very much worth the effort.
For the macarons
- Almond flour - Use finely ground almond flour for macarons, rather than almond meal or ground almonds. The key to a smoothly textured macaron shell is to avoid lumps and graininess from roughly milled almond flour. If you have a food processor, you can process the almond flour and powdered sugar together to create as fine a consistency as possible. Additionally, always sift your almond flour to remove any larger pieces.
- Powdered sugar - Sift your powdered sugar well to avoid lumps.
- Egg whites - Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature. If you've forgotten, place the eggs in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes prior to separating, or if already separated, place the container of egg whites into a container of hot water to warm for 10 minutes. Make sure water does not enter the container.
- Brown sugar - Brown sugar provides sweetness, extra caramel flavor and subtle natural golden color to the macaron shells.
- Vanilla extract - for flavor.
For the salted caramel sauce
- Granulated sugar - Granulated sugar and water are heated in a heavy saucepan over the stove until fully dissolved, bubbling and golden brown in color. They form the base of the caramel sauce.
- Water - This salted caramel sauce uses the "wet caramel" technique, which means adding water to the sugar as it melts and caramelizes. Since the water needs to boil off in order to create a caramel, it cooks for longer than a dry caramel, thus enhancing the flavors and creating a caramel with more depth.
- Heavy whipping cream - Cream provides the rich smooth texture to the caramel sauce. Warming the cream before adding it to the hot sugar mixture will help reduce the possibility that the sugar will seize.
- Unsalted butter - For extra richness and smooth mouthfeel. Using unsalted butter allows you to control the total quantity of salt in the recipe. Salt content in salted butter varies from brand to brand.
- Vanilla extract and Salt, for flavor.
For the salted caramel buttercream frosting
- Egg whites - Egg whites and sugar are warmed to dissolve the sugar, then whipped to form a Swiss meringue. To this, we add the remaining ingredients to create a wonderfully smooth, not too sweet buttercream.
- Granulated sugar
- Unsalted butter - The temperature of the butter is important here. It should be at room temperature, around 65 degrees F. You should be able to make a fingerprint in the butter with a bit of resistance. I like to cut my buttercream into tablespoon sized cubes to ensure even temperature.
- Vanilla extract and Salt, for flavor.
- Salted caramel sauce (see above)
Step 1: In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour and powdered sugar. Set aside.
Step 2: Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites. Beat on medium speed until foamy.
Step 3: Gradually beat in the brown sugar. Scrape down the side of the bowl.
Step 4: Increase speed to high and beat egg white mixture until stiff peaks form.
Step 5: To the stiff egg white mixture, add half of the almond flour mixture.
Step 6: With a spatula, fold it in until well mixed together. Add the second half of the almond flour mixture. This is the stage called macaronage. You want to fold in the remaining almond flour while removing some of the additional volume/air from the macaron batter. As you fold in the almond flour, use the spatula to press the batter up and against the side of the bowl.
Step 7: Every few strokes, scoop the batter onto your spatula and let it drip off. It should flow in a constant, slow stream (like lava or honey) without breaking. If you can hold the spatula and drizzle a figure 8 with the batter without it breaking, your batter is ready.
Step 8: Using a piping bag fit with a round open tip, pipe circles of macaron batter onto each circle marked on the parchment paper. Stop squeezing and give a quick flick of the piping bag tip up and to the side to finish each macaron. Pipe all the circles onto the parchment and continue with other pans. Lift each pan and bang it down onto the counter (as level as possible).
Give it a quarter turn and repeat banging three more times, turning each time. Turning the pans helps ensure the batter does not spread too much in any direction. Repeat with all baking pans. This step helps remove air bubbles. Pop any visible air bubbles with a toothpick. Set the pans on a draft free surface to dry the macarons for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Step 9: Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 17 minutes.
Step 10: Pair up similar sized shells for filling and decorating the macarons.
Step 11: On a parchment lined baking sheet, add caramel drizzle to the tops of half of the macaron shells. To the bottom halves, add a piped circle of caramel buttercream and fill with salted caramel sauce.
Step 12: Assemble similar sized macaron shell bases and tops by pressing the tops gently into the base. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours to mature.
Making in advance
Can I make the various elements of this recipe in advance? Yes!
- Macaron shells - You can bake the shells in advance and store them in an airtight container in the fridge, layered between pieces of parchment paper. They will keep, unfilled, for 5 days in the fridge. If you plan on making them further in advance, pack them carefully into an airtight container and store in the freezer. Defrost them in the fridge before filling.
- Salted caramel sauce - Salted caramel sauce will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks. You may also freeze it (in a container that allows for expansion) for up to 3 months. Be sure that your caramel sauce has warmed to room temperature before you use it in the recipe.
- Salted caramel Swiss meringue buttercream - You can make Swiss meringue buttercream in advance and store it in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, and in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you are not using the buttercream immediately, you will need to beat it again to achieve the light and silky texture. Make sure it is at room temperature before you begin. If it breaks upon remixing, refer to the troubleshooting section.
Why Swiss meringue buttercream?
Swiss meringue buttercream is made by heating a syrup of egg whites and sugar. The syrup is then cooled as it is beaten to stiff peaks, and then butter, salt and flavorings are gradually incorporated. It has a very smooth and silky consistency and is quite stable. Swiss meringue buttercream has less sugar than American buttercream, which is helpful here as the caramel sauce adds additional sweetness.
American buttercream consists of mostly butter and powdered sugar, so it's already very sweet. Adding caramel sauce would increase the liquid content significantly, which would require adding even more powdered sugar to thicken it. You'd end up with a tooth-achingly sweet frosting that is grainy from the added powdered sugar.
Additionally, it's much easier to incorporate a small amount of liquid flavorings into Swiss meringue buttercream. You can often add sauces or jams to Swiss meringue buttercream (like this salted caramel sauce) without adversely impacting the final consistency or needing to make additional ingredient adjustments.
You can generally store assembled macarons in an airtight container in the refrigerator, carefully stacked between layers of parchment paper. These, however, are a bit more fiddly since they have a caramel drizzle on top that will never fully set. Stacking them will stick them together and smear the caramel decoration.
Store in the fridge - If you plan to serve them within 24 hours, store them in a single layer on parchment lined baking sheets in the fridge. If you plan to make them up to 5 days in advance, consider omitting the decorative caramel drip on top until the day they will be served. This way you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
Store in the freezer - You can also freeze these macarons. Place them in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet, freeze for 1-2 hours, and then transfer to an airtight container. Place parchment paper between layers. Defrost in the refrigerator before eating.
Part of the fun of macarons are the nearly infinite variations that you can create with different fillings. While it's possible to modify the macaron shell flavors as well, it's an advanced technique as it alters the ingredient ratios. If you'd like to try different flavors, start easily by swapping out fillings:
- You could switch out the salted caramel sauce for a chocolate ganache filling to make chocolate caramel macarons. Try the chocolate ganache from this chocolate olive oil bundt cake recipe.
- Instead of a salted caramel buttercream, substitute a dark chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream. A half recipe should be enough. Fill with salted caramel.
- Add 1-2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the caramel buttercream for an extra punch of coffee flavor! I like to dissolve the espresso powder into the vanilla extract and then add that to the buttercream per the instructions.
- Add 2 Tablespoons of bourbon to the salted caramel sauce (when you add the vanilla extract) for a bourbon salted caramel filling!
Macarons are notoriously challenging. There are many factors that can cause your macarons to have issues. A few of them are listed here. Have patience with yourself (and fun) during the baking process. They are a technical bake and you will learn and improve each time you make them. For a comprehensive guide to macaron issues, see here. My top recommendations: use a kitchen scale to measure all ingredients, sift everything well, and take your time when you're at the macaronage stage.
- Macarons don't develop feet - A macaron's classic marker is the foot. Your meringue should be beaten to stiff peaks (see visual guide here). If under or over beaten, this can impact the formation of the feet. It's also important to dry the piped macarons long enough so that the tops form a subtle skin on top. When you touch one, the batter should no longer be tacky or stick to your finger. When the macarons bake, the steam cannot escape through the dried top, so it exits through the side, lifting the shell and creating the foot.
- Macarons have hollow shells - A hollow shell can be caused by over beating the meringue, which impacts the structure of the batter and causes the interior to collapse. Hollow shells can also result from under baking macaron shells.
- Macarons are wrinkly - Wrinkly shells after baking can be caused by over beaten meringue, over mixed batter, or an oven temperature that is too low. Make sure to use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven heats at the correct temperature! My oven is never preheated when it says it is. It takes at least 15 additional minutes to reach the correct temperature.
Caramel sauce troubleshooting
- Caramel seizes and forms lumps when adding cream - This can occur if your cream is too cold or is added all at one time. To avoid this, heat the cream until it's warm to the touch. This will help avoid drastic temperature changes. If it has already seized, continue to stir over medium-low heat until the lumps dissolve. This might take 5 or 10 minutes.
- Caramel sauce doesn't thicken - When you finish the caramel sauce, it will still be fairly runny as it is hot. It thickens significantly as it cools to room temperature, and becomes even firmer if refrigerated. How to thicken caramel sauce if it just doesn't set up after cooling? Gently reheat the entire amount in the same large heavy saucepan and keep it at a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
Swiss meringue buttercream troubleshooting
Sometimes when making Swiss meringue buttercream, you might encounter challenges. Here are a few common problems, with solutions. If you have a digital thermometer, the temperature you're aiming for is about 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius).
- Buttercream is soupy or liquidy. Does your buttercream become runny after adding the butter to the meringue? It's possible either the meringue wasn't cooled enough, or the butter was too soft. Your mixture is too warm. If it doesn't thicken after continuing to beat for a few minutes at medium-low speed, remove the bowl from the mixer and place it in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. This should chill the ingredients and bowl enough that it will thicken when you try again.
- Buttercream is broken or curdled. If your buttercream has curdled and looks lumpy, it's most likely too cold. Perhaps you cooled the swiss meringue too long before adding the butter, or the butter was too cold. Maybe you made the Swiss meringue buttercream in advance and you're mixing it again after it's been in the refrigerator. Place the entire bowl of buttercream over a water bath for several minutes, until the edges begin to soften and melt. Place back onto stand mixer and beat on low speed using the paddle attachment. Alternatively, you can remove about a half cup of buttercream and heat it for 10 seconds in the microwave, until it is beginning to melt and get runny. Add it back to the bowl and beat. This should warm your buttercream enough. Repeat if needed.
Salted Caramel MacaronsPrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- 170 grams almond flour, sifted
- 300 grams powdered sugar, sifted
- 180 grams egg whites, room temperature (about 6 large eggs worth)
- 160 grams brown sugar, light/golden
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 60 mL (¼ cup) water
- 125 mL (½ cup) heavy cream, warmed
- 28 grams (2 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
- 90 grams egg whites (about 3 large eggs worth)
- 150 grams (¾ cup) granulated sugar
- 170 grams (6 ounces, 1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 75 grams (60mL, ¼ cup) salted caramel sauce, room temperature (recipe above)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- Prepare your half sheet baking pans by lining them with parchment paper. Slip a printed template underneath as a guide, or trace 1½ to 1¾ inch circles about ¾ inch apart on the paper, and then flip it over so the marks are underneath.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour and powdered sugar. Set aside.170 grams almond flour, sifted, 300 grams powdered sugar, sifted
- Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites. Beat on medium speed until foamy. Gradually beat in the brown sugar and vanilla extract. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Increase speed to high and beat egg white mixture until stiff peaks form.180 grams egg whites, room temperature (about 6 large eggs worth), 160 grams brown sugar, light/golden
- To the stiff egg white mixture, add half of the almond flour mixture. With a spatula, fold it in until well mixed together. Add the second half of the almond flour mixture. This is the stage called macaronage. You want to fold in the remaining almond flour while removing some of the additional volume/air from the macaron batter.
- As you fold in the almond flour, use the spatula to press the batter up and against the side of the bowl. Every few strokes, scoop the batter onto your spatula and let it drip off. It should flow in a constant, slow stream (like lava or honey) without breaking. If you can hold the spatula and drizzle a figure 8 with the batter without it breaking, your batter is ready.
- Place a large round open tip (I use a Wilton 1A tip) into a 16 inch piping bag. Push a bit of the bag down into the tip from the exterior, blocking the flow of the tip. This will allow you to fill the bag without the batter dripping out. Fill your piping bag ½ to ¾ full.
- Holding your piping bag perfectly upright, at a 90 degree angle from the baking sheet, pipe circles of macaron batter onto each circle marked on the parchment paper. Stop squeezing and give a quick flick of the piping bag tip up and to the side to finish each macaron. Pipe all the circles onto the parchment and continue with other pans.
- Lift each pan and bang it down onto the counter (as level as possible). Give it a quarter turn and repeat banging three more times, turning each time. Turning the pans helps ensure the batter does not spread too much in any direction. Repeat with all baking pans. This step helps remove air bubbles.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 Celsius, Gas Mark 2). Place a rack in the center of the oven.
- Poke any remaining visible air bubbles with a toothpick. Let the sheets of macarons rest for 30 minutes minimum (this time will vary depending on temperature and humidity), until the tops of the macarons have formed a skin, are slightly dull, and can be gently touched without making your fingers sticky.
- Bake one pan at a time for 17 minutes. The macarons should develop feet and lose their sheen. If your oven does not bake evenly, rotate the pan halfway through baking. To check if the macarons are done, gently press down and slightly sideways onto the top of a macaron. If the top does not move, it is finished. If the top sinks or slips to the side, bake for an additional minute and test again.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a rack on the baking sheet. When fully cooled, remove from the parchment. If macarons stick, place pan in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes and then try again.
Salted Caramel Sauce
- In a large, heavy shallow saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook over medium heat, without stirring(!), until the color of the sugar mixture is a dark amber/copper brown and is just beginning to smoke.200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar, 60 mL (¼ cup) water
- Quickly remove from heat. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the heavy cream in a thin stream into the hot sugar mixture – be careful as it will sizzle and foam at the beginning.125 mL (½ cup) heavy cream, warmed
- Continue to whisk until the cream is completely incorporated and the sauce is smooth. Add the butter, vanilla and salt. Stir until butter is melted and fully mixed in. Set aside to cool completely.28 grams (2 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
- Place the egg whites and granulated sugar into the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Stirring constantly, warm to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, or until sugar has dissolved completely. If you rub it between your fingers, you should not feel any graininess.90 grams egg whites (about 3 large eggs worth), 150 grams (¾ cup) granulated sugar
- Remove pot from stove and strain through a fine metal sieve into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg white mixture on high speed until glossy, stiff, pillowy meringue peaks form and bowl is cool to the touch – this will most likely take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle on your stand mixer. On medium speed, begin adding the butter a few squares at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Continue with this process until all butter has been added and buttercream is thick, creamy, and silky smooth. If the buttercream seems to curdle or turn soupy, keep beating! This is common with ingredients of different temperatures and should right itself if you’re patient. See post for troubleshooting if needed.170 grams (6 ounces, 1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
- Add vanilla extract, cooled salted caramel, and kosher salt and mix on low until completely blended together. Scrape the bowl several times to make sure the caramel is entirely incorporated into the buttercream.½ teaspoon vanilla extract, 75 grams (60mL, ¼ cup) salted caramel sauce, room temperature (recipe above), ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- Arrange half of macarons in rows on sheet pans lined with parchment paper, flat side down. Fill a piping bag with a very narrow tip (I simply cut a very small opening with scissors) with room temperature salted caramel sauce. Pipe three or four thin lines of caramel onto the top of each macaron. Sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt if desired.
- Arrange the other half of the macarons in rows on sheet pans lined with parchment paper, flat side down. Fit a 16" piping bag with a medium star tip (I used a 4B). Fill with salted caramel buttercream. Pipe circles of buttercream around the border of each macaron, making sure circle is fully closed. If the macarons move around while you're piping, place them onto a kitchen towel while piping to keep them from spinning.
- Fill each of the centers with the remaining salted caramel sauce. You can simply cut a larger tip on the salted caramel piping bag so that the filling process goes more quickly. To assemble, match up similar sized macaron shell tops and bottoms. Gently press top and bottom together and place, caramel drizzle side up, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with all macarons. Place in refrigerator for 12-24 hours to allow flavors and textures to meld and mature.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Macarons can be frozen in an airtight container for 1-2 months. To defrost, place container in refrigerator overnight. Macarons are best served about 20 minutes after being removed from the fridge.
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