Nut-Free French Macarons

For those not familiar with a french macaron, they are a sandwich-style cookie, made with egg white, sugar, and almond flour, and typically filled with a buttercream or ganache (though I have to say, lemon curd is also a delicious filling).

I know there are some purists out there who will say that a nut-free macaron isn’t really a macaron – and maybe they are right, but since I’ve grown up with an almond allergy I have nothing to compare them too. I love that so many people are developing nut-free macaron recipes, because I was able to have them for the first time last year.

I’ve tried out two nut-free macaron recipes so far, and I’ve definitely had my ups and downs. Macarons are known to be a finicky cookie, and often first-time bakers are plagued with incorrect consistency, cracked macarons, or just plain flat macarons that don’t rise. I’ve made four batches of macarons now, and this is the first one where an actual majority of cookies turned out properly.

I’ve learned three main things about macarons through this experience:

  1. A good, stiff peak consistency for egg whites is much thicker and takes much more time than I initially thought. Often my problem has been that my batter is too thin, even when the dry ingredients are just barely mixed in, and I think this is the cause.
  2. You need to tap the baking sheets on the counter to release bubbles. In the first recipe I followed, this was stated in the video but not in the written instructions, so I missed out on the step by only following the recipe as written.
  3. The cookies need to sit before baking. For quite a while. Not everyone seems to put this step, but I think it’s a huge part of why my cookies finally worked. This allows the tops to set slightly, which helps the cookies grow upward and not spread out when they are placed in the oven, and it helps them get that characteristic shape with the feet (read: layer of bubbles along the bottom).

First, because I think failures are just as important as successes, this is how some of my macarons have turned out in the past:

IMG_20151023_212416619

 

Cracked, flat, AND hollow. This first recipe I used replaced the almond flour with grated white chocolate, which is super delicious, but it didn’t quite turn out for me. I think with my first batch, I didn’t grate the white chocolate quite finely enough, and  I didn’t get the right consistency to my batter. This is also when I learned that you are supposed to tap the baking sheet before baking. I did get a few decent cookies out (and they were delicious!), but they didn’t have that characteristic macaron shape:

IMG_20151123_194518350

I tried this recipe a second time, and this time I had a few more successes:

IMG_20160226_112424
Getting closer!

I had about 5 or 6 full cookies that turned out alright, though they still didn’t have the nice flat top, so they were pretty big for macarons.

Though I didn’t quite get these to work for me, I think that’s due a lot more to my inexperience with macaron baking than to anything with the recipe, and it is super delicious so I’d highly recommend it – check it out here if you want to make your own nut-free macarons, but be sure to watch the whole video and follow all of the instructions; macarons require a lot of precision.

So, finally, I will move on to my successes. I tried out a different recipe this time, one that uses ground toasted pumpkin seeds to replace the almond flour. The pumpkin seeds give these cookies a much more earnest, nutty flavour (as opposed to the very sweet, sugary flavour of those made with white chocolate), but it mellows out once paired with a buttercream or ganache, since the cookies tend to take on the flavour of their filling.

I tried these once without success (my batter was too thin and it just spread and cracked), but finally, yesterday, I was able to get an entire baking tray that rose properly with feet and no cracks (plus the tops are pretty flat!):

IMG_20160806_160359018[1]

These cookies also have a bit more structure than the white chocolate ones, which came out more hollow, so I found them easier to handle and to frost because they felt a bit more sturdy.

For the frosting, I opted for a reduced-sugar Swiss meringue buttercream. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love sugar, but my boyfriend and I are trying out a high fat, low carb diet these days. The cookies themselves aren’t exactly low carb, but I can save a lot on the buttercream and still make something with an awesome, silky texture. The Swiss meringue really helps with this; a traditional buttercream really relies on the icing sugar, but the lovely light texture of a Swiss meringue is due to the whipped egg whites.

I know not everyone is a huge fan of raw egg whites, but we usually have pasteurized egg whites on hand, so it’s easy for me to add egg whites to baking without any worry (though I think the yolk is really where bacteria worries lie). I used a modified version of this recipe. For my version, the ingredients were as follows:

Reduced Sugar Espresso Swiss Meringue Frosting

Ingredients

  1. 165g softened, unsalted butter
  2. 60g browned butter (heated in a saucepan over medium heat until it turns amber in colour and gets a nutty aroma)
  3. 1 tsp honey
  4. 1 tsp vanilla
  5. 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  6. 3 egg whites (3/8 c. of the liquid egg whites)
  7. 3 tsp instant espresso powder
  8. 1/8 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Brown the butter over medium heat, then set aside to cool.
  2. Mix the butter over medium heat, add in the softened butter in stages (1-2 tbsp each) and mix until smooth
  3. With a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and sugar until they form soft peaks
  4. Add in the butter in stages (~ 1 tbsp at a time), mixing on medium speed. This will look super gross, but have faith – it will come together!
  5. Whip on high speed 10-15 min until smooth
  6. Add the vanilla, honey, espresso powder, and salt and mix until well combined

 

This frosting is definitely far from sweet, but it gets an interesting flavour from the browned butter, which is complemented well by the espresso powder. The egg whites and whipped butter give it such a smooth, light texture, and I think that leaving out the sugar helps keep the texture super light. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a sugary buttercream, but this actually pairs quite well with the cookies; the cookies themselves are quite sweet so they aren’t wanting for sugar, and the espresso and brown butter help mellow out the flavour of the pumpkin seed in the cookies. I should say here that with a reduced carb diet, I’ve found myself more sensitive to sugar (i.e. veggies and fruit start tasting much sweeter, so if you have a huge sweet tooth, this might not be the frosting for you).

I used a small star tip to pipe the frosting in between two cookies of similar size to form the macarons:

IMG_20160806_163024954[1]

Unfortunately, I don’t have a macaron sleeve to store these in, but I made do with a narrow tupperware, because I love how these cookies look stacked sideways:

IMG_20160806_172700607[2]

French macarons always taste better after sitting overnight, because the cookie softens and takes on some of the flavour of the buttercream. After eating one today, I can say I don’t miss the extra sugar one bit, and the texture of this cookie is so much better than my previous macarons (which were probably 90% air on the inside; here I actually feel like I’m eating some cookie!). Now that I’ve figured out how to get macarons to work, I’m looking forward to trying all sorts of flavour and colour combinations. They are a frustrating cookie to come to terms with, but definitely worth the work!

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