Aquafaba, or, 'the water left over when you drain a can of chickpeas', has been taking the world of vegan baking by storm recently. This miracle ingredient can be whisked up with sugar to create a meringue virtually indistinguishable from the traditional egg-white variety, so it was only so long before intrepid vegan bakers started using it to make french macarons, the pretty little almond meringue cookies with a crisp outer shell and soft chewy centre.
I have to admit I was skeptical at first of the potential for aquafaba macarons with quite the same qualities as their non-vegan counterparts; the traditional variety being tricky at the best of times to turn out. But I was surprised (and very pleased!) to find that substituting aquafaba for egg whites was a fairly seamless experience, and resulted in macarons that you'd be hard pressed to distinguish from the 'real' thing! This recipe is adapted almost wholesale from the egg-based variety with which I honed my macaron-making skills in the past, with the technique for making these virtually unchanged from the traditional sweets.
Macaron making is a personal challenge for lots of bakers, and I'd encourage beginners to try out a few of the many slighty-varying techniques found online to find their own personal way of bringing these together (egg-based recipes included!) While the ingredients of the meringue change here, the technique is the important part, and what works for egg whites will generally work for aquafaba, when it comes to the mixing, deflating, and piping of the batter. As you continue to experiment, you'll learn what works for you and what doesn't; with macarons more than most things, practice really does make perfect!
Blueberry Sesame Macarons
with tahini icing and blueberry jam
(yield: around 25 sandwiched macarons)
For the macaron shells:
- 140g ground almonds
- 125g icing sugar
- 100g reduced* aquafaba (from unsalted chickpeas)
- 105g caster sugar
- Sesame seeds, for decoration (optional)
* First, you need to reduce the aquafaba. For this recipe, I used the liquid from 2 tins of chickpeas; the amount you get will vary by brand, but I got around 280ml. Pour 230ml of this into a saucepan, and simmer on a medium heat, measuring occasionally until it is reduced down to 100ml; this took around 20 minutes for me.
- I find it's best to have everything ready to go before beginning to prepare your batter, so start by lining 2 flat baking sheets with greaseproof paper, and measuring out your ground almonds and icing sugar into one bowl, and your caster sugar into another.
- Ideally, you have access to a food processor; if so, whizz up your almonds and icing sugar together, to get a nice fine mixture, which you can then sieve back into the bowl. Don't worry if you aren't able or just don't have the time/inclination for this! Your macarons won't look quite as smooth, but they'll taste just as good, and I don't find it affects the bake too much - just be sure to give these 2 ingredients a good stir together, and make sure there aren't any big lumps.
- Put your (cooled) aquafaba into the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment, and start whisking! It'll take a few minutes to get to a nice, frothy texture; I like to get it up to the point where it's all foam, with no visible liquid, before adding the sugar. With the machine still running, add the sugar in a slow stream, and continue whisking. The meringue will become glossy and thick, and is ready when you can lift the attachment out of the mixture and a big blob remains inside the whisk (it should look something like this) Add any colouring you like at this point, and whisk a little more to incorporate.
- Add half of your almond/icing sugar mixture to the meringue, and fold gently with a rubber spatula to incorporate. Once there are no dry bits left, add the second half of your almond mixture, and continue to gently cut and fold into the batter. Once your ingredients are all incorporated, it's time to start deflating the mixture. A lot has been made of the process of macaronage; if you'd like to see all the different ways of going about this process, a search on youtube should give you some pointers, but essentially you're knocking some of the air out of the mixture until the texture is just right. Don't feel that you have to be too delicate at this stage; you shouldn't be beating the mixture violently, but the purpose is to deflate the mix, so don't be scared! Press the mixture with the flat of your spatula, against the sides or bottom of the bowl, or simply give it a few good firm folds, until you're at the right level of deflated...
- ... what is 'the right level of deflated'? This is something you'll get to know with practice, but the way I test it is by lifting a bit of the mixture out of the bowl, and dropping it back down in a thick ribbon, which will rest on top of the rest of the batter. If this 'ribbon' has mostly incorporated back into the mixture after about 20 seconds, you're read to start piping. The texture will be thick, and the mixture will ooze slowly outwards if gathered into the centre of the bowl.
- Now you're ready to pipe! To make this process a bit less messy, I like to prepare my piping bag, first by fitting a circular piping tip, and then putting a small food saver clip just above it, as pictured below (please excuse the blue thumb!); this allows you to fill your piping bag up without worrying about dripping macaron mix all over your kitchen.
- Once your piping bag is filled, start piping small blobs of the mix onto your prepared trays, holding the piping bag still, with the nozzle vertical and the tip a centimetre or so above the paper. Try to get each blob roughly the same size (this comes with practice), and release the pressure on the bag before lifting the tip away from each circle. The surface of each macaron will be slightly uneven at first, but should smooth out after a few seconds. Sprinkle sesame seeds onto half of the macarons for decoration, if you like.
(Note: each blob will spread out a little after piping, so make your circles a little smaller than you'd like the finished macaron to be; I aim for roughly an inch across. If your macarons spread significantly, and turn into imperfect circles, your mix was over-deflated; if the peaks on top refuse to smooth out, it was under-deflated. Don't worry too much, they're still worth baking! Just note for next time, and adjust accordingly.)
- Once you've finished piping, lift the trays up a little, holding them level, and let them fall back down onto your counter top with a good smack. This breaks any little air bubbles hiding in your mixture, and helps to smooth out any peaks that might remain. Repeat this a couple of times for each tray and then leave the macarons alone to rest before baking. Aquafaba macarons need to rest for significantly longer than 'normal' ones before they're ready to put in the oven, around 2 hours. This time allows the mix to dry out a little, and the domed shell of the macaron to develop, ensuring a crispy bite to the tops of the cookies and aiding the development of the signature 'feet'.
- Once your macarons have rested for 2 hours, preheat your oven to 100°C (210°F). This is really the only step (other than the resting time) where the process of making macarons with aquafaba diverges significantly from the traditional egg-based method; they cook at a much lower temperature than the 'normal' kind. Depending on your oven, you may have better success baking each tray individually, but with mine I find it's fine to put both trays in at once; once your oven is preheated, bake the macarons on the upper-most shelves of the oven for 30 minutes, then test them by placing a finger on top of one and 'jiggling' the top a little - if it stays in place, not wobbling on its feet, you're ready for the next stage; if not, bake for 5 minutes longer. At this point, turn off your oven, leaving the trays inside for 15 minutes, then open the door for another 15 mins while the macarons cool inside. Remove from the oven, and peel your macarons from the paper only when fully cooled. (Thanks to Charis of Floral Frosting for this baking method!)
For the filling:
- 100g vegan sunflower spread
- 250g icing sugar
- 2 tbsp light tahini
- 3 tbsp blueberry jam (I used shop-bought, or follow a recipe like this)
For the tahini icing, slightly soften your vegan spread of choice in a mixer, before adding 200g of your icing sugar and beating until fluffy. Add in the tahini, according to taste. The icing will probably be a little runny once you've added the tahini, so bring it back up to a stable consistency with a little more icing sugar at this stage, and beat well to incorporate.
Now you're ready to sandwich your macarons! Pick out matching pairs of tops and bottoms (they'll vary in size, a little!), and pipe a circle of icing onto each 'bottom' macaron, before spooning a little blueberry jam into the middle. Pop the sesame-sprinkled cookie on top and you're done!
... Almost. Macarons taste much better if left overnight after filling, but if you have one just now to celebrate, no one needs to know.