I'm a big fan of recipes that can be modified to accommodate dietary restrictions. I'll be the first to admit that I used to make light of it, make fun of it - but I've come to learn that there's a big difference between a food intolerance/allergy that causes hives or for your butt to hate you and some prick that "doesn't eat gluten because Jenny McCarthy says it causes cancer but let me grab a few bites of my boyfriend's pizza." I've learned that my dislike is actually of that person that wreaks havoc on the kitchen staff of the restaurant that they force their dietary restrictions on while simultaneously being a condescending jackass to their poor server versus the person that orders the thing on the menu that's easily-made gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free and quietly says thank you. Anyway.
Macarons are perfect gluten-free snacks. They're excellent to make ahead (and are actually better if left to cure, especially in the freezer, for a few days) and are practically fat-free.The only fat you'll see in them are in the buttercream filling, but you don't even have to use buttercream - you can use jam or apple butter, just like in my Green Apple Macarons! There's one problem with the traditional macaron, however: they're made with ground nuts. Oh yes. Ground almonds are traditional, but you can also use ground hazelnuts, pistachios...I've even heard of people using walnuts or pecans. My favorite recipe in the world, though, is one I snagged from a blog I love: BraveTart.
BraveTart is a most-wonderful food blogger that's written a spectacular book called Iconic American Desserts. I love them for their scientific approach, their poignant writing style, and great photos. I will gladly say, any day of the week, that it is their recipes I use for the difficult stuff, just like nut-free macarons. In fact, find the original recipe and post right here!
The macaron is a wonderful French cookie that's essentially a whipped-then-deflated meringue cookie bound together with ground nuts(or in this case, pepitas) and baked. They are an admittedly finicky cookie to make with lots of technique and that take a lot of practice to get consistently perfect. I don't get them perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I do them well-enough, though! And I have made enough to know at least a few things... If you want to go through in more detail of an original recipe, find my basic how-tos tutorial here.
I love using East Asian flavors in Western applications. Pandan is a very popular flavor in the Philippines; it's essentially the flavor of these leaves from a plant called - I swear - "screwpine", but tastes quite a bit like young coconut. I especially love the flavor on pandan in angel food cake, and you can't beat Pandan Macarons. Pandan is a mild coconut flavor, and gives a lovely green color. You can find the extract at most Asian grocers, or through Amazon Prime.
- 115 g pepitas(hulled pumpkin seeds)
- 230 g powdered sugar
- 130 g (4 large) egg whites
- 72 g granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp pandan gel extract
- 1 fat pinch kosher salt
- 2/3 vegetable shortening
- 1 tsp pandan gel extract
- Powdered sugar A/N
- Kosher salt to taste
Grind the pepitas to a fine powder in batches using either a food processor or a spice grinder/coffee grinder. Make sure to add in a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar, of course, to your grinder to make sure that the fat in the pepitas don't make everything cake. You can run the stuff through a sieve, but you can also use a whisk. The important thing is to get as many lumps out as possible and to get as fine a powder as possible. Meanwhile, let your egg whites come up to room temperature.
Whip the egg whites, salt, and granulated sugar together in medium-low speed for about 2 minutes, or until quite foamy. Turn off the machine, add in a heaping spoonful of the powdered sugar, and whip on medium-high speed for another 2 minutes, or until they become shiny. Add in your extract and whip up on high for about 30 seconds so it's shiny, pale green, and still stiff without being dry.
Fold in a heaping spoonful of the meringue mixture into the dry ingredients. I know it seems sort of counterproductive, but do your best to get all the dry ingredients mashed in to this egg white mix to make it into a sort of paste. Add in another spoonful just to lighten it and "wet" it, folding in further and further, then finally dumping all of your meringue in to your mix. You're essentially folding it until everything is well mixed and the consistency of your macaron batter is like flowing molten lava.
Here's a tip: you're far more-likely to under-mix a macaron batter than to over-mix. If it's a stiff batter that doesn't flow, then just fold a little more, pressing the sides to ensure that you're getting all of the lumps out. Please try not to overmix it, though. It'll be overmixed when it runs thin like icing and won't hold its shaped when piped. Seriously, try not to get this far.
Fill your piping bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe them in consistent rounds on your baking sheet. Do this on a silpat mat if you have one, but parchment paper will do as well. Please do not use wax paper - this is for making chocolate dipped strawberries or something of the like, and not for baking.
Pipe the rounds and please - oh please - don't forget to give the bottom of the pan a very good whap on the counter. I know this sounds weird, but you'll regret it if you don't. A big troubleshoot with macarons is that they're often quite full of air, and it's this good rap from the bottom that knocks out the bigger, more uneven bubbles from your cookie. Let them sit for 20 - 30 minutes on the counter while your oven heats. This allows a skin to form, which will give you that signature shiny top that every successful macaron has.
Heat your oven to 300 degrees F. I have an oven thermometer that tells me that my own oven runs about 25-30 degrees hot, so I only heat mine to 275. Oven temperature is crucial to successful baking, so I highly recommend that you invest in an oven thermometer of your own. You can find them at just about any grocery store for about $6.
Bake for 11 minutes and evacuate to cool completely. While that's happening, whip up your buttercream. I used vegetable shortening to make what is known as an American buttercream. It's simply your standard buttercream of fat and powdered sugar! This one is just until you feel it is stiff and sweet enough. I used the whisk attachment to first add in the salt and pandan extract and make sure that's entirely incorporated before adding in the sugar. Add it in, just a spoonful or two at a time, just until you reach the consistency you desire. The best part is that you won't even need any artificial coloring, as it'll become this lovely green!
Fill a piping bag fitted with a tip of your choice (I chose a plain tip but a star tip is pretty, too) and gently peel away the cookies from the sheet. Take a moment to match up same-sized cookies with partners if your piping skills aren't perfect, like mine aren't. Pipe a small ring of buttercream inside and sandwich. You can now freeze these to store them, or just let them hang out on the counter, covered, for a few days to let mature. Or, you know, you could eat them outright. Up to you.