A Letter to the Elusive Vegan French Macaron

An Overworked Kitchen
Toronto, Canada
February 13th, 2017

Dear Vegan Macaron,
Bonjour!
You have seemingly become one of the most profound culinary discoveries this decade, much to the delight of enthusiastic vegans & vegetarians such as myself. A riveting creation with bloggers and foodies responding maniacally(again,such as me). Stalwarts in veganism have challenged & battled the ‘Egg’ to recreate the delicacy that bears little forgiveness to it’s maker. You surprisingly imitate not just the supremely elegant,tantalizing looks of your non- vegan friend but thoroughly infatuate the taste buds too. The chewy goodness and melt in the mouth factor have indubitably been captivated. You are no fake my dear, rather, an identical twin…
Allow me to abate the flattery so I can come to the point. It is of my opinion that no baker is satiated well enough until he/she masters or at the least, attempts the task of conjuring the glorious French Macaron. With this, I  begin this intense, heartfelt and veritable account of my journey with you. Please allow me to bare my heart and I pray you take no offence. I have no intention of appearing impertinent or petulant. I’m just a mad, incorrigible baker that has discovered an authentic, calming remedy for insomnia,  a learner that is on a tranquil quest to decipher the cryptic myths & mysteries of baking, and, at the bottom of it all, I’m just a soul that loves insanely, to eat, experience & live….

“What will be, will be…”
One blazing afternoon in the soaring summer of 2016, as Doris Day crooned to “Que Sera Sera”, I arduously jotted down the recipe from Blog #1. Many hours were spent reading, re-reading & registering a detailed instruction manual, to the point that it was indelibly ingrained. The author, a kind lady must have spent tedious hours drafting the inner workings of it all for the benefit of her readers. I was captivated and floating in nervous elation.

To some I may seem a tad impatient but set me to do a creative task & I am instantly overcome by the patience of a saint. Aquafaba was whipped to a snowy white meringue and powdery almonds were sieved painstakingly. Le macaronage was done without an ounce of care or concern for my aching biceps. The batter flowed like thick ribbons of hot lava, delicately amalgamating with the remaining batter. The Pipe-wait- bake-wait drill was unduly carried out as well. Soft words of encouragement came from my eternal cheerleader, the hopeful husband. Yet, I failed, miserably. The shells were lopsided!

Backing to the drawing board the following day only to be struck by disaster. The adage, “Third time’s a charm” is preseumably a myth since the catastrophe occurred again. I won’t go on my dear, for 6 attempts within a span of one week led to a similar ordeal. Where was I going wrong?
Well, the chapter finally  came to a close, not without the utterance of a seething string of profanities.

“Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection….”
Despite the series of disappointments, the winter of 2016, instilled in me a desire to take a chance. Winter inspires in a myriad of ways. The liberating chilly breeze, the gray skies. The night in question was a snowy one, snowflakes descending like cotton fluffs. My heart was full, spirits high. Gwen Stefani sang a soulful “Rainbow Connection” , emphasizing the magic of wishes, the tangibility of dreams….
I bet my hopes on a new recipe from Blog #2 and the miracles spurring from a flurry, wintry night. This particular recipe involved the making of a French Meringue(vegan of course) as opposed to the Italian Meringue done previously. Three times my heart was blown to smithereens. The shells were lopsided! I will confess, two of those fateful attempts, the batter was a pathetic mess and I had to toss it out before it was even piped.

Blog #3 had a much more detailed plan with definite reasons for lopsided shells/Uneven feet and pictures accompanying literature. Another glimmer of hope. Another brand of almond powder. Another round of tinkering with the oven temperatures. This recipe employed the Italian Meringue technique and it was the best macaron batter I had achieved, even if I say so myself. The result you ask? The shells were lopsided.

Now, intense research has taught me that of all reasons that are have been attributed to lopsided shells, the one thing that is not in my control is an oven that heats unevenly. At the risk of sounding petty, I have to say, it is conceivable that this is perhaps true. More than that, the other reasons attributed have been scrupulously checked for. After 11 valiant attempts, enormous expenses at the grocery (although I never resorted to making full batches), an unhealthy amount of  sugar intake and countless nights scrubbing unkempt utensils and kitchen sinks, I think I deserve to place the blame elsewhere!

That said, this is not Au revoir my friend. The curious case of the Vegan Macaron will be deciphered. If this tumultuous ordeal has taught me anything, it’s that I can be a fighter. I’m not quitting, just indulging in a long break.
Maybe someday you will appease this chagrined baker, maybe someday I will seize that ineffable joy, maybe someday I will bake the perfect French Vegan Macaron…..

Until then,
A Despaired Baker
P.S – Here’s a picture of my imperfect vegan macaron. The entire flawed area I.e with no feet is hidden behind owing to some smart photography by the husband;)
img_2066

(Thank you for reading this article. I just want to take a moment to thank those wonderful bloggers/bakers who have put in enormous effort in bringing those recipes. Successful or not, I will forever be grateful to them.)

Ode to an Indian Summer – Wholewheat Eggless Elaichi Cupcakes with Mango Custard & Shrikhand Frosting

I read somewhere that..”An empty stomach and a full mind do not let you sleep” or in the likes of it. Obsession, Passion, whatever you choose to call it, the mind refuses to believe in logic and the results are insomnia and groggy mornings. You must wonder how this is pertinent in an article regarding cupcakes & frosting, let me clarify. It is when the sun hides in the horizon, paints the sky with a dark navy blue and the night is saturated with silence, that my brain ostensibly decides to plug the switch on. Ideas flash like light bulbs, sometimes riveting, sometimes not and refuse to abate until appeased. If not for my husband who is constantly wary of my whereabouts in the kitchen or my art table, I wouldn’t  make the effort to sleep for 8 hrs a day. I’ve always been in my opinion that 24 hrs is far too less….why spend prized moments in dreamland when you can paint a prettier picture with reality.

Just a brief halt before we get on to today’s food journey, I’m happy & humbled to share with you all that I’m now officially a Cake Decorating Instructor (Wilton Method Instructor)! What excites me most is that this is synonymous with the few things I love aka Art, Baking & Teaching! Although I have been teaching art & craft for about 3 years now this is a new arena for me to explore and I’m beyond excited…Here are some of my creations….
An official website is on the way but please do check out my page on INSTAGRAM
Collage

Now, we go back to this summer recipe!IMG_1779
It was on one such night when my mind was hovering around my caking obsession,  that it dawned upon me make these cupcakes. I’m all for chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut & oreos but a large part me & my food come from a land where every flavour is infused with the richness of spices. Be it a savory or a sweet dish, we are almost lost without them!  Therefore,  I decided to stick to my roots & conjure up something that included my love for baking with an Indian twist. The result….Elaichi Cupcakes with Mango Custard and a Shrikhand Frosting aka a recipe that screams an Indian Summer! Let me elaborate…
IMG_1818
Elaichi/ Cardamom with it’s sweet, pungent taste is a mandatory in most Indian desserts and nothing can contest a piping hot cup of Elaichi tea/chai after a tiring day at work. They work up their magic in these cupcakes too and the entire kitchen is suffused with the aroma they emanate.
IMG_1787

Mangoes are a part & parcel of Indian summers. Grandmothers pickle the raw ones while the ripe ones are demolished by the grandchildren! My mom erased the boredom out of regular humdrum dinners by indulging us in a particularly decadent yet simple dessert…she squeezes out pulps of the raw mangoes and mixes it with a little milk, sugar & Elaichi to eat with chapatis/rotis & summer dinners suddenly became exciting! The Mango Custard I’ve used in this recipe is inspired from that and it makes for a delicious filling in these elaichi cupcakes.
IMG_1785
Shrikhand is a creamy, delicious dessert made with hung yogurt & sugar and risen into added vigor with the addition of Saffron! Now, Saffron,…reputed to be rather expensive but, aside from bringing in a natural “golden like the rising sun” tinge to the food, the aroma it exudes is beyond ordinary. It’s no surprise that my mom always insists that I incorporate saffron in the sweet dishes I offer to the Gods! The BEST accompaniment with Shrikhand has to be Pooris ( very bluntly, deep fried rotis) and weekend breakfasts with my grandma were synonymous with this but I’ve used it to dress up these cupcakes!
IMG_1773
IMG_1764
Like Helen Keller said, “Alone you can do so little, together we can do so much.”
The union of Elaichi, Mango & the Shrikhand is divine but I take no credit because the discovery goes back ages to my forefathers and all I can is that I’m beyond grateful. I’m thankful for the inspiration and the chance to experiment with creative diversity.
Also I’ve used wholewheat in this recipe given it’s health benefits and as always it’s eggless too. Not to worry about the cakes being dense and all. They are super moist, spongy and the golden yellow luscious custard and the creamy aromatic frosting make this a perfect dessert to indulge in.
IMG_1801IMG_1805IMG_1818
I’m going to stop my chitchatting and get on with the recipe….I do hope you try this dessert and do let me know if you liked it!


RECIPE FOR EGGLESS WHOLEWHEAT ELAICHI CUPCAKES WITH MANGO CUSTARD AND SHRIKHAND FROSTING(Makes 8 regular sized cupcakes)

INGREDIENTS
FOR ELAICHI CUPCAKES
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp oil
1/2 white vinegar + 1/2 tsp
1/2 cup milk( I used skim)
4 green elaichis/cardamoms + a pinch of sugar
FOR MANGO CUSTARD
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder
4 tbsp milk + 1 cup milk
2.5 – 3 tbsp mango puree
1 tbsp sugar + 1 tbsp sugar
FOR SHRIKHAND
2 cups thick curd ( I used 3%) hung overnight in a cheese cloth
1-1.5 tbsp granulated sugar
1 green cardamom+ a pinch of sugar
a good pinch of saffron strandsMETHOD
To make Elaichi Cupcakes
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line the tray with cupcake liners.
2. Preparing the elaichi powder – Remove the seeds from the elaichi pods. Add them to a mortar & pestle along with a pinch of sugar and crush them into a fine powder.
3. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients- wholewheat flour, sugar, baking soda and elaichi powder.
4. Make buttermilk by adding 1/2 tsp vinegar to the milk. Add this to the large bowl (with the dry ingredients)along with oil and vinegar. Mix well and ensure there are no lumps.
5. Fill 2/3 rds of the cupcake liners with the batter and bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool Completely.
 To make Mango Custard- 
1. Heat 1 cup of milk with 1 tbsp sugar over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small cup, mix the custard powder with 4 tablespoons of cold milk.
2. Once the milk is boiling, put off the stove. Add the custard-milk mixture to the hot milk while whisking in one hand. Make sure there are no lumps. Let it cool.
3. Add the mango puree to the custard along with 1 tbsp sugar and blitz using a hand blender.(SEE NOTES BELOW)
4. Transfer to a piping bag and keep it ready. If the mixture is too thin, just keep it in the freezer for 5 minutes.
To make Shrikhand- 
1.Transfer the hung curd from the cheesecloth to a medium sized bowl.
2. Make elaichi powder with 1 elaichi as explained above.
3. Prepare the saffron- In a tiny cup, heat 1 tsp of milk or add a tsp of hot milk and add a good pinch of lightly crushed saffron strands. ( You can lightly crush them using your fingers as you add them into the cup). Let it sit for a minute or 2 and you will see a beautiful yellow-orange colour imparted to the milk.
3. Add this milk to the hung curd along with sugar and elaichi powder. Fold them into the hung curd very gently for a minute.
4. Transfer to a piping bag and keep in the freezer for 5-10 minutes so that it firms up a little.
TO ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES
1. Using a large piping tip, just core out the centre of the cupcakes. ( I used my piping tips to do that)
2. Fill with the Mango custard.
3. Frost the cupcakes with the creamy Shrikhand and garnish with elaichi powder and saffron strands. ( I’ve use a Wilton 2D to pipe the rosettes).
NOTES:
1. Instead of homemade Cardamom/elaichi powder you can use readymade cardamom powder too.

2.The amount of sugar in the custard can be increased if you like. I have used only 1 tablespoon. Taste it and if you feel it’s less, add more.
3. Again, I’ve added a tbsp of sugar to the mango puree as well because the mangoes I used were a little sour. Depending on the sweetness of the mango, you can reduce or increase the sugar.
4. Readymade mango puree can be used as well. I just squeezed the pulp of the mango into a bowl and used it.