If you're looking for a fun and unique party or birthday dessert to make, these birthday cake macarons are just what you need! They're made with vanilla French macarons and a vanilla cake buttercream filling. They are cute, delicious, great for decorating, and taste just like a slice of birthday cake!
WHAT ARE MACARONS?
Not to be confused with macaroons, which are coconut cookies, French macarons are delicate sandwich cookies made with almond flour and meringue. The shells have a mild, sweet, slightly nutty flavor and are usually sandwiched between a frosting or other type of filling.
Macarons are deceptively small and simple looking, but they are actually considered one of the hardest desserts to make! There is a lot of accuracy and precision involved, and you won't know if you've done everything right until they come out of the oven. The good news is you only need a few ingredients to make them, and even when they don't look perfect, they always taste amazing!
MERINGUE FOR MACARONS
Macarons can be made with a French, Swiss, or Italian meringue. No one method is necessarily better than the other, it just depends on what you feel most comfortable with or works best for you.
The French method is the most basic and is a great place to start if you're new to meringue or to making macarons. Most professional pastry chefs use the Italian method, which is the most advanced but also makes the most stable meringue. The Swiss method is less common and is somewhere in between the two.
This recipe for cake macarons uses a French meringue.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE CAKE MACARONS
- Bowls and mixers: Several large bowls and an electric or stand mixer. Unlike Swiss and Italian meringue, a French meringue can be made just as easily with a hand-held mixer.
- Food scale: Keeps everything accurate, which is crucial for making macarons! This food scale is hands-down my favorite piece of kitchen equipment, it makes baking so much easier and practically eliminates the need for measuring cups.
- Food processor: Processing the dry ingredients is an extra step that will give you very smooth macaron shells.
- Piping bag and round piping tip: For piping the macaron batter, I recommend using a ½" round piping tip.
- Baking sheet: For macarons you want to use a sturdy baking sheet that won't warp in the oven. You can also double stack your baking sheets to keep them from warping.
- Silicone baking mat or parchment paper: For piping the macaron batter onto. If you make macarons often enough a silicone mat is definitely worth the investment. I find it easier and the batter doesn't spread as much as with parchment paper. Whatever you use make sure it's slightly smaller than your baking sheet. Otherwise you'll have a few lopsided shells.
- Template: A lot of silicone baking mats come with macaron templates printed on them. You can also make your own by tracing 1.5" circles onto a sheet of parchment paper.
CAKE MACARON INGREDIENTS
- Almond flour: Almond flour is made from blanched ground almonds and is what gives macarons their unique taste and texture. Not all brands are equal, some tend to be less fine and more oily than others. My favorite brand that I always use is Blue Diamond almond flour.
- Powdered sugar: Sifted with the almond flour to make up the dry ingredients. Powdered sugar is crucial in macarons developing feet during baking.
- Salt: Just a pinch to bring out flavor in the macaron shells.
- Egg whites: Separate the eggs while they're cold and then let them come to room temperature for about 30 minutes-1 hour. Eggs separate easier when they're cold and egg whites whip to stiff peaks easier and to a greater volume when they're at room temperature.
- Cream of tartar: An acid that stabilizes the egg whites.
- Granulated sugar (sifted): Gives the meringue structure. Be sure to sift the sugar to get rid of any clumps. Clumps or any debris will deflate the egg whites and ruin your meringue.
- Vanilla extract: Adds a little birthday cake flavor to the shells.
- Rainbow nonpareils: For sprinkling on top of the piped shells.
VANILLA CAKE BUTTERCREAM
- Butter: Unsalted and softened to room temperature.
- Powdered sugar
- Heavy cream
- Vanilla extract
- Rainbow sprinkles
HOW TO MAKE CAKE MACARONS
Prep the ingredients: Separate the eggs while they're cold and then set the egg whites aside to come to room temperature for 30 minutes-1 hour. Make sure you don't get any yolk in the bowl with the egg whites or you won't be able to whip them to stiff peaks.
Sift the granulated sugar into a clean bowl and set aside.
Sift the almond flour back and forth between 2 bowls, discard any larger chunks left at the bottom of the sifter.
In a large bowl, weigh 100 grams of the sifted almond flour, 140 grams of powdered sugar, and ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Transfer everything to a food processor and pulse for about 15-30 seconds, then sift everything together into one bowl. Set aside until needed.
MAKE THE MERINGUE
Use a hand-held mixer or the whisk attachment in your stand mixer to whip the room temperature egg whites and cream of tartar for about 1 minute or until starting to thicken and increase in volume.
With the mixer running, add the sifted granulated sugar, about 2 teaspoons at a time, and mix for 20 seconds after each addition. Once all of the sugar is added, add the vanilla extract and mix until the meringue reaches medium-stiff peaks. When you lift the mixer out of the bowl and flip it upside down there should be a peak that sticks up with a very slight droop at the tip.
Macaronage is the process of combining the dry ingredients and meringue to make a macaron batter.
In 3-4 additions, gently fold the meringue into the dry ingredients by wiping around the sides and bottom of the bowl. It will be thick and pasty at first. Wipe any batter or meringue off of the spatula as needed.
After the last addition, continue to fold by wiping the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Take your time and check often for signs it's getting close to the right consistency. It should be smooth and flow off of the spatula in thick ribbons without breaking.
PIPE THE CAKE MACARON BATTER
Add the macaron batter to a large piping bag fitted with a half-inch round piping tip.
Hold the bag straight up and down with the tip right in the center of the circle on your template. Gently squeeze the batter out from the center until it fills the circle. Stop squeezing and lift up with a quick twisting motion. See here: How to Pipe Macaron Batter
Once you've piped all of the shells, lift the pan up and drop or bang it firmly on your counter several times. You can also just hit the bottom of the pan with your hand several times if you don't want to drop it on your counter.
Sprinkle the tops of each piped shells with a few rainbow nonpareils while the batter is still wet.
DRY THE SHELLS
Let the shells dry out at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, or until they form a skin on the surface. You should be able to gently touch the tops without wet batter sticking to your finger.
Arrange your oven rack to the middle position and preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C. Bake the macarons, one baking sheet at a time, for 15-17 minutes each.
Let the macarons cool completely on the baking sheet for at least 30 minutes before touching or removing them. Once cooled, I find it easier to peel the mat off from under the shells, instead of trying to peel the shells off of the mat.
MAKE THE VANILLA CAKE BUTTERCREAM
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the softened butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, cream, and salt, and mix until the frosting is smooth. Stir the rainbow sprinkles into the frosting.
Add the frosting to a large piping bag and pipe a dollop onto the bottom of one macaron shell. Gently top with a second shell.
HOW TO STORE CAKE MACARONS
These cake macarons taste best 12-24 hours after they've been filled and stay fresh for one week in the fridge. Store them in an airtight container and keep in the fridge, you can also freeze the shells, filled or unfilled, for up to 2 months.
To freeze: Place the macarons in a single layer on a baking sheet and set the sheet flat in the freezer until the shells are completely solid. Then transfer to a sealed container that will protect them from getting squished. Keep frozen for 2 months.
MORE MACARON RECIPES
Birthday Cake Macarons
- Food processor
- electric or stand mixer
- Large piping bag and round piping tip
- 2 Macaron templates
Birthday Cake Macaron Shells:
- 100 grams egg whites
- 120 grams granulated sugar
- 100 grams almond flour
- 140 grams powdered sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- rainbow nonpareils
Vanilla Birthday Cake Buttercream:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 and ½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 and ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles
Make the Cake Macaron Shells:
- Prep: Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats with macaron templates. You can make a homemade template by tracing 1.5" circles onto parchment paper.
- Separate the eggs while they're cold and then set the egg whites aside to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Make sure you don't get any yolk in the bowl with the whites or you won't be able to whip them to stiff peaks. Sift the granulated sugar into a small bowl and set aside.
- Sift the almond flour back and forth between two bowls. Discard any larger chunks left at the bottom of the sifter each time. Place a large bowl on your kitchen scale and add 100 grams of the sifted almond flour, 140 grams of powdered sugar, and ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Sift everything together into one large bowl and set aside. Optional: Pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor for about 15-30 seconds before sifting together into a large bowl. This is an extra step that will give you shells with very smooth surfaces that aren't at all lumpy.
- Make the meringue: Add the egg whites to a completely clean and dry bowl or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Begin whipping the egg whites on medium speed for about 30 seconds or until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and whip for another 30 seconds-1 minute until starting to thicken and increase in volume.
- With the mixer running, begin adding the sifted granulated sugar, about 2 teaspoons at a time, and mix for 20 seconds after each addition. Once all of the sugar is added, add the vanilla extract and keep mixing until the meringue reaches medium-stiff peaks. If you lift the mixer up out of the bowl and flip it upside down there should be a peak that sticks up with just a slight droop at the tip.
- Make the macaron batter (macaronage): In several additions, use a rubber spatula to gently fold the meringue into the dry ingredients. It will be thick and pasty at first. Keep folding by wiping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Once all of the meringue is added, continue to fold gently until the batter flows in thick ribbons from your spatula without breaking. If you lift the batter up and draw a figure 8, it should disappear into the batter after about 10 seconds. If it doesn't disappear or if the batter breaks off of the spatula, keep folding and check again after every few turns.
- Pipe the shells: Add the macaron batter to a large piping bag fitted with a ½-inch round piping tip. Hold the piping bag straight up and down with the tip right in the center of the circle on your template. Squeeze the batter out from the center until it fills the circle, then lift up with a quick twisting motion. See here: How to Pipe Macaron Batter
- Once you have all of the shells piped, lift the pan up and drop or bang it firmly on your counter several times to get rid of any trapped air bubbles. Sprinkle the tops of each shell with a few rainbow nonpareils while the batter is still wet.
- Let the macaron shells dry out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or until they form a skin on the surface. You should be able to gently touch the tops without wet batter sticking to your finger.
- Bake: Arrange your oven rack to the middle position and preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C. Bake one sheet of macarons at a time, for 15-17 minutes each. Take the sheet out of the oven and let the shells cool completely before touching or trying to remove them from the pan.
Make the Vanilla Cake Buttercream:
- Add the softened butter to a medium bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, cream, and salt, and mix until smooth. Mix the rainbow sprinkles into the frosting.
- Once the macaron shells have cooled, use a piping bag to pipe a dollop of frosting onto the bottom of one shell, then gently top with a second shell.