Every month me and several of my friends who shared the amazing experience of baking “in a certain tent” face a little group challenge. This month our challenge was set up by Marissa, a finalist in the Great American Baking Show. Her brief could not be simpler: BAKE YOUR STATE. We could do pretty much anything in all areas of baking, but the theme would be the state we grew up or live in. I coupled the state where I live with my usual state of mind. And the outcome was obvious: Macarons! Kansas is The Sunflower State, so a bit of sunflower seed “flour” went into the shells. And black walnuts grow wild here, so the filling was a black walnut buttercream. A little dressing up, and here’s my contribution for this month:
KANSAS SUNFLOWER SEED AND BLACK WALNUT MACARONS
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)
For the shells:
200g Icing/powdered sugar
100 g almond flour
15 g sunflower seeds, ground to a fine powder
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
green food color (I used green, brown and black to get a forest type green)
for the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese (half a regular package), softened
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon black walnut extract (or vanilla)
225 g powdered sugar
1/3 cup ground Black Walnuts
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1 + 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
Make the decorations, the day before. Beat all ingredients with a KitchenAid type mixer and the paddle attachment for about 7 minutes. Let the icing rest for 10 minutes, adjust consistency if needed. For piping rosettes, it must be thick but soft enough to squeeze through a small piping tip.
Color most of the icing yellow, color a small amount brown. Use a small leaf tip to make the petals. Add the center with a small icing tip. Pipe your shapes over parchment paper and allow to dry. If desired, brush some of the petals with bronze dust.
Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.
Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla and the food color. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.
Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip. Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size.
Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.
While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking.
For the black walnut buttercream: Add the cream cheese, butter and vanilla to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and beat until very smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar, whisk until smooth and fluffy, then fold in the black walnuts.
Assemble the macarons: match two shells similar in size and add buttercream to the bottom of one of them. Place another shell on top and gently squeeze to take the filling all the way to the edge.
To decorate the macarons, add the Royal icing flowers on top using melted Candy melts or royal icing. Store the macs in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: I tried using exclusively sunflower seed as the component of the shell but it did not work. So I went with Plan B: added a small proportion to my regular recipe. It does bring a very interesting and noticeable flavor, I liked it a lot. As to the filling, black walnuts can be a bit of an acquired taste. They almost have a perfume quality to them. I am not too wild about extracts, but this one from Beanilla had nice reviews and worked well in the buttercream. If you cannot find or do not like black walnuts, use regular ones, slightly toasted.
The decorations were a lot of fun to make, although I realize the sunflower “look” is quite elusive. I used a very small leaf icing tip (this one) to pipe the petals, and a small icing tip (Ateco #2) for the center. It would be very hard to make the flowers without a little gadget to hold and rotate as you pipe. I made a template with parchment paper, clear acetate over it, and then glued squares of parchment on top with double-stick tape. Make a bunch of squares and have them ready, so you can pipe many flowers and then choose the best ones. Some will look like cabbages after a rabbit attack. Those you don’t use.
I find that the hardest part is getting the consistency of the Royal Icing right. It needs to be thick, but soft enough to flow smoothly without breaking, so it might take a few trials. Be patient. Once you get it all going, it’s quite mesmerizing to see each flower shaping up.
Marissa, thanks for choosing such a cool theme! Amazing that we are publishing this on the 1st year anniversary of each of us stepping on a plane to the UK to start that incredible journey…
For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends baked for their states of choice… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.
ONE YEAR AGO: Curry Turmeric Sourdough
TWO YEARS AGO: Black Olive Tapenade and Deviled Eggs
THREE YEARS AGO: Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake
FOUR YEARS AGO: Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Bundt Cake
FIVE YEAR AGO: Quinoa Salad with Red Grapes and Avocado
SIX YEARS AGO: Strawberry Coffee Cake
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins
EIGHT YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Brownies
NINE YEARS AGO: Salmon Tacos
TEN YEARS AGO: Cinnamon Turban Bread
ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Summertime Gratin