A fact about me: I am allergic to tree nuts. I’ve never paid much attention to this and simply dismissed the foods I could not eat, even though my friends would always lament when they discover I can’t eat Nutella, honey roasted almonds, carrot cake, or Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Honestly, I don’t remember what nuts taste like, so I just laugh and pretend to sympathize with them… for myself. However, the real challenge came when French macarons became wildly popular: cute, meringue-like cookies sandwiching buttercream in flavors from grapefruit to lavender. The dessert-addict inside myself screamed at me to risk it and just take a bite! However, the minute I even step into a Ladurée store, I start to react. So, when I was with my friends in New York and Paris, I lounged awkwardly outside the store, eyeing the long queue of fashionable women, trying to seem nonchalant about one more pastry I cannot eat.
I should explain. French macarons are made with almond flour. Please don’t ask me why – I think all purpose flour will glutenize or something like that. There are many articles online about this issue. The point is, I can’t be too close to those cookies. I can hold a box with the macarons safely stored inside, but put me in a Ladurée store with almond flour floating in the air? Nope. Since two years ago, I’ve been wanting to take a crack at nut-free macarons. I scoured the internet and discovered that pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds can be used as a substitute. The online consensus seems to be that pumpkin seeds have the least flavor when used as a replacement. My sister Lucy (who is also my identical twin and is a phenomenal baker – she should really start a food blog) recently mastered the art of the macarons, so I implored her to teach me how. Finally, after two years of dredging up the courage, I made nut-free macarons.
Alright. They are pretty yummy. I think I understand why the world is obsessed with them. They are light, delicate cookies -crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Add some earl grey to them and they are aromatic and somehow more classy. 😉
If you’ve ever made meringue, you know that technique is very important. Macarons are similar, because, well, they are meringues: piped onto a baking sheet and baked to perfection, with the top crispy and the presence of a “foot”. As much as I could, running around preparing ingredients, baking sheets, and staring unblinkingly at the egg whites + sugar to make sure I did not over-mix, I took some step-by-step photos to help you through the process.
*I’m not claiming to be an expert at these. Not by far. In fact, my macarons were imperfect circles and a little lopsided and my technique obviously needs work, but that didn’t matter to me. Not now, anyways. This post is for anyone with a nut allergy – you can eat macarons too!
Step 1: Toast Pumpkin Seeds
If you haven’t done so already. Preheat oven to 325F. Toast for 10 minutes on a baking sheet. You’re going to need 3/4 cup, so make sure you have more than that.
Step Two: Grind up pumpkin seeds.
I use a coffee-bean grinder, but do it however you want. I think food processor works too.
Step Three: Sift pumpkin seed flour with powdered sugar and earl grey
Measure out 3/4 cup pumpkin seed flour and combine with 1 cup powdered sugar. Sift two or even three times. Make sure there are only powdered pieces in there. This is the time to add in additions, such as ground up earl grey tea leaves.
Step Four: Make meringue.
Used aged egg whites at room temperature. One way you can do this is to separate egg white the night before. Cover with paper towel and let it age overnight. Whisk two egg whites until foamy. You want to see the foam. Then, add 4 tablespoons of sugar in 4 batches. This will help the sugar dissolve and not bombard the egg whites all at once. Whisk until a meringue forms. It should be glossy, stiff, and firm, but not dry. One way I have of testing it is to remove the whisks and see if a peak forms and stays. The photo below is similar to what you should be getting, but I would go even further.
Step Five: Fold pumpkin seed + powdered sugar mixture with meringue.
Fold 1/3 of the flour mixture into meringue. Do not add flour mixture all at once. You may have too much flour. There is a technique called “fold and drag”.
Take the spatula and fold as you would normally fold, then you drag it across the bottom, gently. Do this until all the mixture is incorporated. Then, do the 2nd 1/3 of the mixture. Repeat. At this point, check to see what the consistency is like. If it is already thick, then you are done. If it is too runny, then add the remaining 1/3 of the mixture. I think I used almost all the mixture.
The batter should be like lava.
Not too thick, but not too runny. If the batter is too thick, then peaks will stay after you pipe (mine was a little bit too thick). If the batter is too thin, then you will find it difficult to pipe the cookies out.
Step Six: Pipe onto baking sheet.
Now you can relax!! The trickiest part is done. Scoop batter into a closed pastry bag (no tip needed). Cut off the tip to create an opening. On a parchment lined baking sheet, pipe in circles (start from outer edge):
Some people like to draw on circles or have a template to create perfectly round macarons. I’m more rough so I just did it by eye. Imperfections are welcome in my kitchen.
Step Seven: Remove peaks.
Ok. This is a bit scary. My mistake was using my nice, heavy baking sheets – so use a light one if you have it. Similarly to how you would a pre-baked cake, raise the sheet with both hands and drop it 5-6 inches onto a surface. This smooths out the peaks and stabilizes the meringue.
Step Eight: Let it rest for 30 minutes.
They are ready when the tops are no longer sticky.
Step Nine: Bake.
Remember the oven is preheated to 325? Now place the sheets inside the oven and bake for 8-9 minutes. Mine were done in 8 minutes. Let it cool. They are done when cookies can easily slide off parchment paper. Do you see the feet?! You’ll notice that there are still peaks present. My batter was a little bit too thick – I think I will need to fold more next time. But hey, it was my first time – give me a break!
Step Ten: Assemble.
This is the fun part! You should have your buttercream (slash marscapone cream or jam or ganache) ready in a pastry bag. In a similar technique, pipe along the rim of the cookie first then spiral inwards.
YAY!! You’ve made macarons!!!! Obviously I need to perfect my technique, but the point is, I finally got to try macarons. My sister and my husband were there to testify that these had the same consistency and texture as macarons made with almond flour. I did, however, taste a little bit of pumpkin (but is this psychological?). I’m excited to continue making these in rose, lavender, and grapefruit (at least).
RECIPE: Nut-free Earl Grey French Macaron
adapted from my lovely sister Lucy
Earl Grey Macaron
3/4 cup pumpkin seed flour (directions below)
1 cup powdered sugar
2 egg whites, aged
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon earl grey tea leaves, ground into a fine powder
1| Pumpkin Seed Flour: Preheat oven to 325F. Toast for 10 minutes on a baking sheet. Using a coffee bean or spice grinder (or food processor), grind seeds into a fine powder.
2| Measure out 3/4 cup pumpkin seed flour and combine with 1 cup powdered sugar. Sift two or even three times. Make sure there are only powdered pieces in there. Add earl grey tea leaves.
3| Meringue: Whisk egg whites until foamy. In four batches, add in 4 tablespoons of sugar. When peaks are glossy, stiff, and firm, set aside.
4| Fold 1/3 of the flour mixture into meringue. Do not add flour mixture all at once. You may have too much flour. There is a technique called “fold and drag”. Take the spatula and fold as you would normally fold, then you drag it across the bottom, gently. Do this until all the mixture is incorporated. Then, do the 2nd 1/3 of the mixture. Repeat. At this point, check to see what the consistency is like. If it is already thick, then you are done. If it is too runny, then add the remaining 1/3 of the mixture. I think I used almost all the mixture.
5| At this point, your batter should be like lava.
6| Scoop batter into a closed pastry bag (no tip needed). Cut off the tip to create an opening. On a parchment lined baking sheet, pipe in circles (start from outer edge). When everything is piped, raise baking sheet about 6″ from a flat surface, and let it fall. This will knock out some more air and get rid of peaks.
7| Rest for 30 minutes.
8| Bake for 8-9 minutes.
Honey Vanilla buttercream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
1 pinch salt
1| Beat butter with honey until smooth. Add in powdered sugar and salt. If frosting is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If it’s too stiff, add in a splash of milk.
2| Assemble macarons: Pipe frosting using a pastry bag and a round tip (or just cut a hole in the bag), again starting from the outer edge. Gently place the other macaron cookie onto the frosting, and you have your “macaron sandwich”