Long time no see, readers! It’s been an extremely busy few months, but I’m happy to report that I’m back in the kitchen. ‘Tis the season to be eating!
Holiday times are a blessing for a foodie’s palate. There’s nothing better than an entire month filled with turkey, stuffing, pies, cookies, and other holiday goodies.
For most people, anyway.
Food allergies are on the rise for the majority of the population. Fifteen million Americans suffer from food allergies, and allergies in children increased by 50% from 1997 to 2011 (1). For these unlucky individuals, the holiday season might be a scarier time than one filled with joy.
Our immune system naturally protects us against harmful substances like bacteria and viruses. An allergy is caused when our immune system overreacts to a relatively normal foreign object like pollen, medicine, and latex. The immune system sends out histamines that cause common allergy symptoms (rashes, itching, wheezing, etc.).
That’s why we take antihistamines when we have allergic reactions.
There are eight foods that cause over 90% of known allergens. These include milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires all food companies to list any allergens that are found in their products.
Food allergies and food intolerances should not be viewed the same. An intolerance is an adverse reaction to a specific component of a food, but a histamine is not released. For instance, a person who has lactose intolerance is not allergic to milk. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body cannot use the enzyme lactase to break down lactose (milk sugar) into glucose and galactose. This leads to uncomfortable bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Both allergies and intolerances should not be taken lightly, since they can cause serious health concerns. Allergies, if strong enough, can lead to death. It’s vital that food companies sanitize their production equipment appropriately in order to prevent cross contamination with any allergens that are not going to be listed on a product’s label.
I developed a French macaron recipe free of allergens that is perfect for any holiday event. The macaron was a cookie invented in Italy in 1533 by the chef of Catherine de Medicis. The original recipe consisted of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. The dessert made its way to France, where many towns developed their own recipes for the treat. The cookie became a “sandwich” during the 20th century. The grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree (of the famous Laduree bakery) came up with the idea to fill the cookies with chocolate panache and to stick them together (2).
Since French macarons are traditionally made with almonds, how are they made without allergens?
Use coconut flour!
Coconut flour is made by pressing coconut meat from coconut milk. These pieces of solid coconut meat are then dried at a low temperatures and ground until a fine flour is made. Coconut flour is used in grain-free recipes as a a gluten-free alternative to traditional flour.
Unfortunately you cannot substitute coconut flour for grain flour using a 1:1 ratio. Coconut flour absorbs water much faster than traditional flour. You can substitute at a ratio of coconut flour to grain flour at 1:4 or 1:3. Coconut flour also tends to become clumpy, since it is very absorbent, so it needs to be smoothed out before using it in a recipe (3).
To help stabilize the moisture content in the macaron recipe, I decided to add pumpkin seeds to give the macarons a little extra pizzazz. The cookies are sandwiched together with a coconut-based filling to avoid the dairy allergen.
Make sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize all of your utensils, pots and pans, counters, and kitchen equipment before claiming that the macarons are allergen-free! Microscopic portions of foods can still remain on the dishware, which will ultimately lead to contamination. Bake with caution!
For the meringue: 4 large egg whites at room temperature, 2 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
For the flour mixture: ½ cup of ground pumpkin seeds, ¼ Cup of Coconut Flour, ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground clove, 1 large egg white, ½ Tbsp vanilla extract
For the cinnamon frosting/filling: 1/3 cup coconut oil (softened), ½ cup powdered sugar, ½ tsp vanilla extract, ½ Tbsp cinnamon, pinch of ground clove, pinch of pumpkin pie spice
Start the recipe by making the flour mixture. Add the pumpkin seeds, coconut flour, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and clove into a food processor. Grind the mixture until a fine powder forms. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl, and set it aside. The egg white and vanilla extract will be added to the mixture after the meringue is made.
Make the meringue next! Please follow the steps listed in my post about French Meringue, “Two Ways.” Follow the recipe until piping the meringue onto baking sheets. You will NOT be piping or baking the meringue separately!
After the meringue has set, slowly and carefully fold it into the flour mixture until it is well incorporated.
Put the vanilla extract and the extra egg white into the dry ingredients while folding the meringue into the mixture. You should be able to make an indent with a spoon in the mixture that holds its shape for a few seconds before it smooths out.
Place the mixture into a piping bag (or freezer bag with the tip cut off) and pipe 1 inch discs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can also use a spoon if you don’t have either of these tools. Separate the macarons about a 1/2 to 1 inch apart.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Bake the macarons for 20-25 minutes.
Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely before taking them off the pan. This allows the macarons to set and hold their shape.
DO NOT overfill your oven with macarons, just like I did…
This will prevent even cooking, and some of the macarons will fall apart. I have a kitten that currently enjoys climbing on counters, so I couldn’t keep the macarons on the table for too long. I do not suggest rushing the process like I did. I made about 3 trays of macarons, but only one of them came out correctly.
While the macarons are cooling, make the cinnamon frosting. In a large bowl, cream the softened coconut oil into the powdered sugar. Mix in the vanilla extract, cinnamon, clove, and pumpkin pie spice.
Make little sandwiches with the frosting once the macarons are cooled.
Voila, your first batch of French macarons! You will be sure to impress everyone this holiday season with your allergen-free baking!
1. Food Allergy Facts and Statistics for the U.S. Food Allergy Research & Education. http://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=194. Accessed December 20, 2014.
2. The History of Macarons. MadMacNYC. http://www.madmacnyc.com/history-of-macarons. Accessed December 20, 2014.
3. Jenny. How to Bake with Coconut Flour: Tips & Tricks for Using this Gluten-free Flour. Nourished Kitchen. http://nourishedkitchen.com/baking-with-coconut-flour/. Accessed December 20, 2014.
This post is dedicated to my dad.