For the vanilla bean buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sifted powdered sugar and mix at low speed to moisten the sugar. Increase the speed to incorporate fully. Add the vanilla seeds and salt, then beat at high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy. If the frosting seems a bit stiff, add some milk, one tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.
For the vanilla macaron shells:Return the egg whites to room temperature at least an hour before making the macarons.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the almond flour, powdered sugar, and vanilla powder, if using, then process until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated, 30 seconds to a minute. Sift the mixture in a fine mesh strainer to make sure no lumps or bigger bits of nuts are left. Discard the larger bits that remain in the strainer.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium/high speed until frothy, about 1 minute, then slowly pour in the granulated sugar. Keep beating until the egg whites are stiff, dense, and creamy, about 3 minutes more.
Add the almond and powdered sugar mixture to the egg whites and, using a silicone spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients: slide your spatula all the way to the bottom of the bowl and comes back up to the top. Do this about 6 times to incorporate the dry ingredients, then keep folding for a total of about 14 times until no pockets of dry ingredients remain and the mixture drops from the side of the spatula in a slow, lazy ribbon. Start testing early to make sure not to overfold.
Transfer the macaron batter in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe 1 1/2-inch (3.8-cm)rounds of batter, evenly spaced but still close to one another as they will not expand much.
Carefully slide the macaron templates off the baking sheets, if you used them. Let the shells rest on the baking sheets for 20 to 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C) with a rack set in the middle position. Bake each sheet of macaron shells for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the shells are firm on their feet when you lightly tap on them with the tip of a finger.
Repeat the steps above to bake all the macaron shells.
Let the shells cool completely to room temperature before assembling them, about an hour.
To assemble the macarons: If you prepared the vanilla bean buttercream in advance, bring it back to room temperature at least 1 hour before using.
Pair same sized shells together and set side by side on a work surface. If you prepared the vanilla bean buttercream in advance, give it an energetic stir, then transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a round tip. Pipe some filling over half of the shells. Close the macarons, gently pressing the second shells over the filling.
STORAGE: Store the assembled macarons in an airtight container and refrigerate for one night before indulging. French macarons will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. You can also freeze assembled macarons in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
SERVING: Always bring the macarons back to room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving.
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