As far as being a food blogger goes I’ve seen the trends come and go and occasionally attempted to insert myself into them – from the cupcake ubiquity of 2007 to the tiresome bacon-as-personality thing that happened around 2012 to our current fixation on superfoods. However, the great macaron phase that really gained traction around 2009 (not to be confused with the great macarena phase which both emerged and peaked in New Zealand in 1996 which was, if my maths is correct, forty three years ago) largely passed me by not because I don’t like macarons but I am absolutely not built for them. Macarons require patience and attention and non-heedlessness and I am an axiomatic slapdash shortcut-taker with ADHD who wants everything now and who shuts down at detailed instructions (I also respond badly to brief, succinct instructions, basically being told to do anything makes me anxious.)
But I live in the countryside now.
I mean, I still hate reading instructions. But rushing? To what end? I’m entirely unconstrained by the pressings of temporality.
And so, at last, I devoted an entire day to try making macarons, and I mean really try. I’ve given them a go three times in the last twelve years and each time I jumped over certain instructions and pretended that the laws of science did not apply to me by ignoring other instructions and thrice I ended up with something that was more or less edible but absolutely not a macaron.
And you might think, with macarons being 80% egg whites and me being 100% vegan, that I’d left it too late, but in fact – as you can see from the photos – a very lifelike vegan macaron can be yours with only seven hours of sustained effort and a can of chickpeas. That’s right, the chickpea brine known as aquafaba rears its smug head once more, is there nothing it can’t do? If there is I certainly don’t plan on acknowledging it. It’s honestly quite incredible to behold, as the plain and charmless liquid whips into aerated, glossy, gleaming white peaks that genuinely taste like meringue.
You may also think I am exaggerating both my inability to sustain attention on one instructional task and the amount of time that macarons take but I promise you on no fronts am I messing with you. I started making these needy little delicacies at 10am and finally sandwiched the finished macarons together at around 5pm. Unlike my previous attempts I actually sifted all the ingredients and I actually let the mixture rest for the prescribed length of time and I actually used a piping bag and I actually listened when the instructions told me something, and as a result I got actual macarons. Admittedly, because I’m still getting to know my parents’ oven, these weren’t French Patisserie perfection. Several of them were a bit crooked and bulging – but are not we all. The important thing is that they were delicious, and they represented the more or less desired outcome of the most effort I’ve ever put into a single baking venture.
Importantly, after all that faff, these macarons really are delicious, with this incredibly texture that’s both light and delicate yet chewy, almost like nougat, from the nubbly ground almonds. The simplicity of vanilla and chocolate together is pretty unimpeachable and the hint of salt in the filling gives a rounded richness and balances the airy sweetness of the macarons clamped around it. They just taste like something that required some significant behind-the-scenes work, you know?
Vanilla Chocolate Vegan Macarons
A recipe entirely indebted to this recipe from Floral Frosting
- the brine from one can of chickpeas
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 cup ground almonds
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pink food colouring (optional)
- 4 tablespoons vegan butter (make sure it’s good stuff that you actually like the taste of, I used my homemade butter)
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 3/4 cup icing sugar
- 50g dark chocolate, melted
- 1 tablespoon almond milk (or similar)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch sea salt
(alternately: melt 200g dark chocolate and stir in 3 tablespoon of coconut cream for a more simple ganache-style filling)
1: Bring the chickpea brine (aquafaba) to the boil in a small saucepan. Let it bubble away until it has reduced in quantity to 80ml or 1/3 cup. Most cans of chickpeas contain around 160-180ml of liquid so this will take around five minutes, and you can keep an eye on its reduction progress by occasionally pouring it into a glass or other heat-resistant measuring cup and then back in the pan until it reaches that 80ml/third of a cup point. Remove from the heat, pour it into a small bowl or cup and refrigerate it for about ten minutes.
2: While the liquid is cooling, place the icing sugar and ground almonds into a food processor and blitz it a few times until it’s even more finely powdered than when you started. Sift this into a small bowl and set aside. Because I started off with whole almonds there was quite a bit of rubble left that wouldn’t go through the sieve, so I returned that to the food processor to repeat the step again until I’d managed to sieve as much as humanly possible. Once you’ve done this, discard whatever doesn’t go through the sieve.
3: Place the cooled chickpea brine in a mixing bowl and using electric beaters on medium speed (or an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whisk if you have it) start whipping the liquid until soft peaks form. This means that when you turn off the beaters and lift them out, a small “peak” of raised up mixture is left below which quickly deflates and disappears. As in, the mixture is getting thick and has some body but not enough to hold a shape.
4: Tip in half the caster sugar and continue beating until it’s incorporated and then add the rest of the sugar plus the vanilla extract and beat on a higher speed until the mixture is very thick and shiny and fluffy. Allow a good five to ten minutes of beating for this. I held the bowl at an angle to allow the beaters to really get into the mixture and also used a spatula to scrape down the sides twice.
5: Tip in half of your almond/icing sugar sifted mixture and switch to a spatula to energetically mix it together, followed by the remaining almonds and icing sugar.
6: Use the flat side of your spatula to spread the mixture across the inner walls of the bowl, then scoop it all off with the spatula so it drops back down into the centre of the bowl. This needs to be done twenty times and is called macaronage. It seems entirely the opposite of what you should be doing after all that whipping but it’s a crucial step so get flattening and spreading. The mixture will start to feel thicker and harder to manipulate or maybe it’s just your arms getting tired, but keep going.
7: Set the bowl of mixture aside and prepare a piping bag. You don’t actually need any specific equipment here, a solid sandwich bag can do the trick. I find it best to prop it up in a glass or cup. I used a toothpick to put drops of pink food colouring on the inside of the piping bag in order to create a marbled pink effect on the macarons but this is entirely optional, you could use a different colour or effect or just fold the food colouring into the mixture itself or keep the macarons plain and colour-free. Either way, carefully spatula the macaron mixture into the piping bag, squeezing it down carefully and sealing the end by spinning it around a few times.
8: Get two baking trays and line them both with a large sheet of baking paper. Snip the tip off your piping bag and start to pipe small circles onto each baking tray, using one smooth movement starting at the centre of the macaron and lifting the piping bag up and away from the tray. The recipe I followed suggested a total of thirty (fifteen on each tray) but I made mine quite small and got around twenty for each tray.
9: Bang the trays on the bench or wherever they’re sitting two or three times – this gets rid of air bubbles and will encourage them to rise evenly with what’s called the pied or “foot”, that puffy layer under the main shell. Now leave them at room temperature for AT LEAST two hours to dry. If you live in a humid area or it’s really hot, place an electric fan near them.
10: After the minimum of two hours has passed, place one of the trays into a cold oven (it must be cold, not recently used) on the shelf that is second from the top. Immediately turn the oven to 100C/210F and bake the macarons for 20 minutes. At this point, check that they’re done by carefully peeling the baking paper from the base of one of the macarons. If it comes off easily, they’re good to go, if it sticks, bake them for another ten minutes (but no more than that.)
11: Once this time is up, turn the oven off and leave the macarons in there for fifteen minutes, then open the oven door slightly and leave the macarons in there for another fifteen minutes, and then finally remove the tray and allow it to cool at room temperature.
12: When your oven is COMPLETELY cool again, you may repeat this process with the second tray of macarons. I am lucky that my parents have one actual oven and another mini oven so I was able to do both trays at the same time, all that waiting might’ve been the undoing of me, but you’ve come this far, so y’know, why not keep trying.
13: While the macarons are cooling, make the filling. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and beat in the butter, golden syrup, and vanilla. Gently melt the chocolate (I put it in a ramekin and microwaved it) and beat this into the mixture with the sea salt. Refrigerate until needed. If it’s too solidified from the fridge by the time you need it, a bare ten seconds in the microwave should bring it back.
14: Carefully sandwich pairs of macarons together by spooning a small amount of chocolate filling onto the upturned base of one macaron and joining it together with another. Immediately place them in an airtight container and refrigerate to allow the filling to set.
15: You can finally eat them.
I would have been absolutely nowhere without this recipe from Floral Frosting which I used as a base, and if you’re planning to try these yourself I recommend you read her site. Normally when I post a recipe I have any number of work-arounds at the ready but unfortunately this is one of those rare occasions where everything is crucial and that’s just the way it is. And I hate when that’s just the way it is! But that’s just the way it is.
But to put a positive spin on “trying,” there’s something quite meditatively serene about moving slowly and deliberately through a recipe’s demands, trusting in the process, allowing the macarons to come to you rather than trying to force them into existence. And they really taste good. I think I’m even going to try making them again soon, since I’m still in the countryside and all. Not that I’m desperately looking for diversions, I have in fact been remarkably focussed on driving forwards with my writing projects (which you can read more about here) but I swear to you it’s a scientific fact that the days are longer here and as such I finally feel ready to do things I’ve never done before, like reading instructions.
(In case you’re like wait but Laura don’t you love cooking and reading cookbooks? How can you not pay attention to recipes? To that question I say yes absolutely I love reading cookbooks and I love making food and I’ll always pay attention to the list of ingredients but generally my eyes bounce off the minutiae of the method itself like you’re trying to hold two opposite-ended magnets together and instead I kind of take in the method as a whole, as though I’m seeing it in the form of a picture of words instead of individual words, and then I usually ignore it anyway and trust my instincts, perhaps half-heartedly consulting it if it’s something really complicated, and the only methods that I can properly read without drifting off immediately are Nigella Lawson’s because for the most part she tells them like a story, I also can happily read anything that I’ve written over and over again, but that’s possibly just ebullient vanity as opposed to a style of learning.) (And I’m sorry if you’re now sorry that you asked.)
Ironically since I’ve gone all bucolic there’s now less animals around (I mean Kate and Jason had one cat and one dog and my parents have two cats but clearly a cat and a dog is just mathematically MORE) and the cats were much less interested in modelling for me, indeed, much less interested in anything I have been doing, than Ghost the dog was. This photo was my go at recreating that, but where Ghost had unbridled enthusiasm, Poppy (pictured) emanates a distinct vibe of “I shall laugh upon your deathbed, heartily and without compunction.”
Obviously, I love her.
title from: Oh by Sleater-Kinney, it’s kind of grungy and surfy and 60s girl group at the same time, I love it.
The One To Wait, by CCFX, it sounds decades older than it is, with that shuffling drum machine beat and Icicle Works-style jangling guitar. It’s so beautiful, all mellow and sorrowful but with these uplifting swooping vocals from Mary Jane Dunphe whose voice is gorgeous, somewhere between Robert Smith of The Cure and Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. If you like any of these words I am very sure you’ll love this.
Straight Boy, by Shamir, whose music is like the sparkliest electro crossed with Daniel Johnston. This particular track is more the latter than the former with this immense warmth to its production and a real driving urgent energy, I adore it.
Monkeys and Playbills from one of my very favourite Broadway musicals [title of show], it’s this nonsensical song that takes half its lyrics from titles of flopped Broadway musicals but the four-part harmonies and minor key chord progressions are so tight and even though the whole song is essentially very silly (“see the monkey sail away on his speedboat, it’s simply heavenly to ride the wind”) I get genuine shivers every time I listen to it. If you’re still paying attention I recommend watching this performance of the song from an American university production, all the projections of the actual Playbills from which the song gets its lyrics makes it all fall into place and their singing voices are excellent together, when they all join in on the “Oh, Kay/okay” part at 1.50 in it sounds incredible.
Next time: I mean it could very well be more macarons, now that I know I have it in me.
PS: I bring this up every time but who knows if this is the time that will cause you to finally part with $4? So – I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing and where you can receive monthly exclusive content written just for you, and it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.