Raspberry and Pink Peppercorn Macarons

These little gems were actually a project I did for school. It was a simple project, just scale down an existing cookie recipe to yield a certain number of overall cookies. It wasn't really an exercise in creativity, but I decided to get a little creative anyways. As soon as Chef told us about the project, the idea for raspberry and pink peppercorn macarons immediately came to mind. I was inspired by a dessert I made a little while back - the raspberry and pink peppercorn mousse. I loved the contrasting flavours of the raspberry and the peppercorns, as well as the slightly spicy kick from the peppercorns. And so, I set about making the mousse into macarons.

I had my heart set on flavouring the macaron cookie itself, as many recipes have all the flavouring in the buttercream. I've seen recipes with freeze dried raspberry powder and asked Chef about, who said it would be perfect, but very hard to come by here in Canada, especially for an individual. I scoured the internet for possible places to buy it - health food stores, cooking stores, naturopathic stores. The only way to acquire it was to order it in from the states, which would cost me more than I really wanted to spend and take more time than I had.

I gave up on that idea, unfortunately, and tried to think of other options. I baked a batch with pink peppercorns in the cookie itself, but they were disastrous. It may have been the oils from the peppercorns or it may have been a mistake that I made. Either way, I gave that idea up too. Plain shells it would be.

To compensate for that, I decided to have a reduced raspberry puree as a "bullseye" filling, which ended up being a perfect fit. The puree isn't very sweet and still retains the tartness of the raspberries. This offsets the sweet, rich, buttery buttercream, but pairs nicely with the peppercorns. I'm not trying to brag here, but I'm pretty proud of these puppies.

Seeing as I can't bring my camera into the pastry shop, there are no photos of the macaronnage. I brought home some unfilled shells, buttercream, and puree so I could at least photograph the assembling process. If you've never made macarons before, I highly suggesting taking a look at my Vanilla Macarons, as I have pictures that will help with the process. While this macaron recipe is not the one I have used before, it is extremely similar and the only difference is the quantity. If you wish, you can just use the Bouchon Bakery recipe for macarons, which I use in the vanilla macarons.

Just to give you a little update on school, Chef Aron will actually be leaving in about a week! Fortunately, he has brought in a pastry chef that he has worked with in the past and really admires - Chef Christine. She has worked at Bouchon Bakery with Thomas Keller, among quite a few other places. She's been shadowing Chef these past few days and seems wonderful. So if I refer to Chef as a 'she' from now on, don't get confused. Other than that, school is wonderful and informative and busy. But I'm lovin' every minute of it.

Raspberry and Pink Peppercorn Macarons

240 g granulated sugar
50 g water
110 g egg whites #1
110 g egg whites #2
300 g ground almonds
300 g icing sugar
1-3 drops red gel food colouring (optional)

Pink Peppercorn Buttercream
Recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery
38 g (3 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon) granulated sugar
38 g (3 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon) granulated sugar
63 g (1/4 cup + 1/2 teaspoon) egg yolks
75 g (1/4 cup + 2 1/4 teaspoons) whole milk
250 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, at room temperature
10 to 20 g crushed pink peppercorns

Raspberry Puree
200 g fresh raspberries
20 g granulated sugar

10 g pink peppercorn for sprinkling over top

First, make the buttercream. If you wish, the buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Take the buttercream out of the fridge thirty minutes before you need to use it and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow it to soften and then mix on low speed until it is the proper consistency.

Whisk 38 grams sugar and the yolks together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the milk and remaining 38 grams of sugar in a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar. When the milk is just below a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and, whisking constantly, pour it into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for 1 minute, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent the mixture from curdling. It should be very thick.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer. fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, turn the mixture to medium, and whisk for about 8 minutes, until the mixture is completely cool. Fold in the food colouring to your desired colour.

Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, to the egg yolk mixture. If at any point the mixture looks broken, increase the speed to re-emulsify it, then reduce the speed and continue adding the butter. Check the consistency: if the buttercream is too loose to hod its shape, it should be refrigerated for a few hours to harden, then beaten again to return it to the proper consistency.

Fold in 10 g of the crushed peppercorns, then taste. Add more to your liking. 

The macarons need to be as close in size as possible and a template is the easiest way to ensure that. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a work sure with the long side facing you. Trace four evenly spaced 1 inch circles along the top edge (you can make them any size you wish). Make sure to leave 1 inch of space between them. Trace three circles below each of those four, to make 3 x 4 macarons. Turn the parchment over and lay it on a sheet pan. Lift up each corner of the parchment and spray with non-stick spray to keep it from blowing up while the cookies are baking. Repeat with a second sheet.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the ground almonds and the icing sugar together. Mix with egg whites #2 with a spatula or plastic bench scraper. Set aside.

Place egg whites #1 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the syrup reaches 203 F/110 C.

Letting the syrup continue to cook, add a pinch of sugar to the egg whites, turn the mixer to medium speed, and whip to soft peaks. If the whites reach soft peaks before the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, reduce the speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.

When the syrup reaches 248 F/120 C, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed and slowly add the syrup, pouring it between the side of the bowl and the whisk. The meringue will deflate. Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5 minutes, or until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Although the bowl will still be warm, the meringue should have cooled. If not, continue to whip until it is cool.

Fold one-third of the meringue into the almond mixture, then continue adding the whites a little at  time (you may not use them all) until when you fold a portion of the batter over on itself, the "ribbon" slowly moves. The mixture shouldn't be so stiff that it holds its shape without moving at all, but it shouldn't be so loose that it dissolves into itself and does not maintain the ribbon; it is better for the mixture to be sightly stiff than too loose.

Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. Hold the bag upright 1/2 inch above the center of one of the traced circles and pipe out enough to fill in the circle. Lift away the pastry bag and fill the remaining circles on the first pan. Lift up the sheet pan and tap the bottom of the pan to spread the batter evenly and smooth any peaks left by the bag. Repeat with the second sheet pan.

Let the macarons sit out for around 30 minutes, until they form a skin. The macaron will not be sticky to the touch and will have a matte-like appearance. 

Place the sheet pan in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until the tops are shiny and crisp. Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool completely.

While the macarons are cooling, make the raspberry puree. Combine the raspberries and the sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the berries have released some of their juices, increase the heat and bring the juices to a boil. Continue to cook until the liquid is fairly thick and has reduced by about half. Take off the heat, strain into a clean bowl, and let it cool completely.

Transfer the buttercream to the pastry bag with the 1/8 inch tip. Remove the macarons from the parchment paper. Turn half of them over. Pipe a ring of buttercream. Using a teaspoon, gently spoon a small amount of raspberry puree into the centre of the buttercream. Don't fill it too much or you'll have a blowout of the puree. Gently top with another macaron and press down gently. Repeat with remaining macarons and filling.

For the decorative brushstroke on the top, grab a pastry brush (the size isn't very important).  You should have a tiny bit of the puree left, maybe a teaspoon or so. Using the corner of the pastry brush, dip it into the remaining puree and quickly but lightly brush it over the top of the macaron. You can use different brushes and create different designs if you wish. 

Place 10 g of pink peppercorns in a small sieve. Rub the pink peppercorns with your fingers in the sieve, pressing down gently, over the macarons. This will sprinkle the tiny flakes of pink skin overtop the macarons.

The macarons are best if wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap and frozen for at least 24 hours or up to 2 weeks. Defrost in the refrigerator for 3 hours, then bring to room temperature before seving. They can be served the day they are made or stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 2 days.