A few years ago macarons were all the rage all over the world. Chefs were making particularly interesting filling flavours and brought macarons to the forefront of everyone’s mind. They were even selling at McDonald’s…..
These naturally gluten free light and chewy little almond meringue biscuits can be a little tricky to make and are prone to failure; if your oven isn’t at the right temperature they will crack, if the egg whites are not beaten enough feet won’t properly develop. Is my bowl spotlessly clean or should I use a metal bowl? Do you use the French Technique or the Italian Technique. Is it really necessary to sift out all the lumps from the powdered sugar? Can I use regular food colouring? And on and on it goes.
Though once you have mastered the technique of macronage you will have oodles of macarons ready to be filled, or frozen for later and enjoyed by everyone with a sweet tooth.
Macarons historically started out as a single biscuit with no filling involved. Though no actual conclusive records exist as to their genesis, they were likely to have been made in Italy by the chef of Catherine De Medici who then brought them to France for her wedding with Duc d’Orleans who later become King Henry II of France. My favourite article states the macarons were made in Venetian monasteries where they were known as ‘priest’s bellybuttons’.
I have made many batches of macarons using the traditional recipe over the years. Some tray batches have had cracked biscuits on them until I worked out that my oven was to blame due to uneven heat. No matter how fancy and expensive your oven might be, don’t be disappointed if you have the odd cracked one. They still taste great unfilled, or use them in a sensational dessert like Eton Mess. There are tonnes of recipes out there for Eton Mess but basically it is a ‘mess’ of broken meringue aka your macarons, thickened cream with vanilla and sugar or booze added and whatever fresh fruit your heart desires. Berries are fabulous but anything nice and seasonal is great. Layer it up in a pretty glass to a nice height and voila.
When I was in Paris a few years ago I attended a macaron making class at a lovely little cooking school called La Cuisine Paris near the Town Hall. During class I mentioned my issues with cracked macarons (the whole class nodded) and, aside from my oven being temperamental, our lovely chef suggested I blast the tops with a hair dryer set to COLD to dry out the tops and prevent cracks forming. Genius! If I was not such an impatient cook I could also leave them to dry out naturally for about 20 minutes somewhere cool but on a stifling hot Brisbane day, there IS nowhere cool so hence the hair dryer. If you have a small table size fan this will work too.
Being as I like to play around with recipe conversions, I decided to try out an idea with the macaron. Now in my gluten free cooking school I cater for many things other than gluten intolerance. I have looked after vegans, those who can’t eat eggs, those who are dairy free and those with nut allergies. It’s always fun for me to stretch my recipes as far as they will go. So I decided to embark on making a macaron without nuts.
It may be sacrilegious to play with a recipe that has essentially not changed since the 1500’s but they probably didn’t have all the food intolerances we have now either. I elected to use black sesame seeds and put an Asian spin on them.
Certainly I could go and use ground regular white sesame seeds but they would still look like the traditional macaron and I wanted to make something that looked really different, so I opted for black sesame seeds. You could try any seeds you like and they would probably mostly work but I really wanted to venture into something slightly Asian inspired and the fillings I chose are a testament to that. Lychee white chocolate ganache and yuzu pastry cream.
Using my recipe from the macaron class I set about making these little spotted black beauties. Essentially the only change was the omission of the almond meal for the ground black sesame seeds weight for weight, so if you have a favourite macaron recipe yourself, use that.
I use the French Macaron method as opposed to the Italian which uses sugar syrup to make the meringues stable. The French method is the same as if you were making a pavlova while for Italian you need to pour the very hot sugar syrup onto the whites.
There are some rules that you need to follow when making macarons.
- Have a scrupulously clean mixing bowl free of any grease or wetness – metal or glass is best
- Have a digital scale and piping bag ready
- Have the correct weight of egg white ready and preferably at room temperature
- Weigh out and sift both the ground sesame seed and the powdered (pure icing) sugar then sift them both together
- A macaron template is handy but not essential
- The macronage process is vital to the success of your end product as is getting your whites stiff enough to clump around your whisk
- Thumping your trays 3-4 times on the bench to release any air bubbles and letting the tray sit for 20 minutes to dry out the tops
- Only powdered food colouring or gel paste allowed (though this is not important for the black sesame seed ones)
- Correct oven temperature in a preferably conventional oven
- Let them cool completely on the trays before removing
The recipe for Black Sesame Macarons is as follows:
180g ground black sesame seeds (note below)
150g egg whites at room temperature (from around 4-5 extra large eggs)
100g caster sugar
270g pure icing (powdered) sugar
It is essential to have all the ingredients prepared before you start.
Sift the black sesame seeds and icing sugar into separate bowls them sift them together and set aside. Separate the whites and weigh out 150g into a clean mixing bowl from a stand mixer. I use a metal bowl. Reserve the yolks for the pastry cream, cover and put them in the fridge.
Using a whisk attachment, start whipping the whites until they begin to foam on a medium to high speed. Add the caster sugar gradually until all is incorporated then increase the speed to high until you get a very stiff meringue that clumps around the whisk. This usually takes around 3 minutes.
Remove your bowl from the stand mixer then dump all the combined and sifted sesame and sugar mixture to the stiff whites. Using a rubber spatula, begin to fold and deflate the meringue starting your count from the first fold. The aim is to knock out the air, ensuring you wipe the spatula around the sides and the base of the bowl so that all ingredients get fully incorporated. You do not want any unmixed dry ingredient sitting in the bottom of your bowl.
A count of 39-40 folds is usually sufficient but the aim is not the number but the consistency of the batter. Macaron batter needs to mound up then sink back down into the mix after 20 seconds and resemble lava. When you get to this point stop folding or you’ll run the risk of a runny batter. No going back from that. Go slowly from the 30th count and observe what the batter does. If you over mix at this point and cause the batter to be runny, you have ruined the batter.
Get your piping bag ready with a small tip or cut a small section at an angle off a new piping bag. Also get 4 oven trays ready lined with baking paper. I like to place a template under the baking paper for evenly sized and spaced macarons. You can download a template off the net.
Fill the bag only half full of the batter so you have better control of the bag. Twist the top to encourage the batter to go down the bag but leave an inch of space at the bottom. Hold the bag at the top with your thumb and index finger in the shape of an L. You drive the bag with your other hand while squeezing from the top.
To pipe the macarons, place the tip straight down onto the circle or tray and squeeze the bag to pipe onto the circle. Then flick the bag with your wrist to release the batter cleanly off the tip. If you are not using a template, count to 3 for a good sized macaron. Piping can take a little practice but you will get into a rhythm. I like small macarons personally but you can make larger ones if you like.
After each tray has been piped, whack the tray hard onto your bench to pop any air bubbles that may have formed. Set the tray aside and keep piping. Once you have 2 trays piped and set aside, preheat your oven to the conventional setting of 150°C.
A conventional oven is better than a fan forced I have found, but if that is all you have then set the oven to 140 or 145°C. You may need to play around with the temperature and time. You don’t want the macarons to brown but they must be cooked through. Also get familiar with the hot spots in your oven. After my first tray baked, I noticed the far right side macarons had cracked as I had the tray in the middle of the shelf. I then put the next tray to the far left of the oven and then I had no cracks at all.
You want the let the macarons age on the tray in a cool spot for 20 minutes. This will ensure the tops are dry and the possibility of cracking will be prevented. You can hasten this process by using a small fan or hair dryer set to cold and it must be COLD. This will dry the tops as well.
Put the trays into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Resume piping the rest, remembering to thump the trays each time. Cool on the trays before removing them. You can reuse the trays if you need to, lined with fresh paper once the trays are cold and macarons are removed.
If you find the macarons have stuck to the paper, they haven’t been baked enough. You can pop them back in the oven for a short while.
You can now fill them or freeze them as you desire. There are many, many fillings you can pipe into macarons but as these are Asian inspired I opted for yuzu which is a Japanese fruit that comes as a juice. I have also filled them with a lychee and white chocolate ganache. Other flavour ideas along the Asian line are ume plum jam or green tea.
Yuzu Pastry Cream
500ml whole milk
20g caster sugar
4 eggs yolks from your reserved stash
100g caster sugar
30ml yuzu juice or to your taste
Place the milk in a saucepan with 20g of sugar to heat.
In a small bowl combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the yolks lighten to white in colour. Add the cornflour and yuzu juice to the yolks and whisk until well combined. A small hand blender makes the job easier than a hand balloon whisk.
When the milk begins to come to a boil, remove from the heat and add about a third to the yolk mixture to temper it, whisking vigorously. Then pour this back into the hot milk, again whisking vigorously. Return to the stove and whisk until mixture begins to bubble. At this point cook it for a full minute, whisking, and taking care to whisk into corners of the pot so that no mixture burns on the sides or base.
You need to place the pastry cream either onto a plastic wrap lined tray (quicker to cool) or into a bowl to cool before use. You also need to cover the surface of the pastry cream completely with plastic wrap so that no skin forms. Once you are ready to pipe, briefly whisk the cream again to loosen it then place into a piping bag to half fill.
Lay matching pairs of your macarons onto a tray and pipe the pastry cream on one side to completely fill. Place the lid on top and keep going. Macarons are best eaten the next day as the flavours will meld, but who can resist waiting?
This pastry cream will last up to 4 days in the fridge due to the yuzu citrus juice in it. Normally pastry cream lasts around 7 days
If you’ve never made macarons because you have a nut allergy, give these a go. They are not the sickeningly sweet macaron that you usually get but something slightly savoury. Try different filling flavour combinations and enjoy.
A note on the ground black sesame seeds. You can buy the ground seeds in an Asian grocery store in a packet ready for you to use. If you can’t find them ground, you can mill them yourself in a coffee grinder or mill but I find the end result to be a little wet. You could lightly dry them out on a tray in the oven. This makes it easier to sift them without clumping.