Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Hidden Heart Hot Cross Bun Macarons (New Recipe for Low Sugar Macaron!)

Many of you may not know that I have been experimenting with super low sugar macarons for the past two to three years. I have tried a variety of substitutions and have always met with failures. Many have tried sugar substitutes but 100% of the verdict is it's bad tasting so don't bother trying. Those of you who have attempted cutting out sugar will also come to a conclusion that while zero sugar is not possible, low sugar is, but how low can you go?...That is the question which I think I have found an answer to. Presenting my version of hot cross bun macarons, with hidden heart candied cherry!

Before I delve into the topic of low sugar macarons, let me explain why I hid a heart in there. It's my personal preference to make something Christian themed for Easter. I thought of making simple spiced macarons hot cross buns style as a reminder of what Good Friday/Easter is all about -- God’s love for fallen mankind shown through the death of Jesus on the cross. And what better way to have both heart and cross in each macaron than what I did 😊. I filled the macarons with a spiced cream cheese based filling and used a delicious low GI sugar, so overall the whole macaron is not too sweet but oh so fragrant and flavourful!

Let me explain why sugar is necessary in macarons. Macarons are meringue based cookies and meringues need sugar for stability. Take sugar out and the meringue collapses easily. You may add an acid like cream of tartar, or semi cook the egg whites (Swiss and Italian meringues) to improve the stability of the meringue, but some sugar is still necessary.

You may ask then is icing sugar necessary as part of the dry ingredients? Answer is yes! I have made a couple of attempts with totally no sugar in the powdered ingredients and they fail miserably. If your meringue does not contain high amounts of sugar, your powdered ingredients portion needs the icing sugar to help the piped batter to form a membrane at the surface that is resistant to expansion during baking. This is necessary for feet formation. If the icing sugar proportion is too low, you will also end up with no feet, no matter how long or short you rest the piped batter before baking...

My attempt at hot cross bun macarons just before the successful ones

This is just a cookie, not macaron 😆

Icing sugar also gives macarons the melt-in-your mouth texture. The higher the icing sugar content, the more delicate the texture will be. As I reduce both icing sugar and caster sugar in my low sugar recipe, you can expect that the resulting texture will be less delicate but that's a small price to pay when the overall sugar content by weight is 35%! Most recipes have sugar taking up about 50% of total weight of ingredients. Some recipes have percentages that are even higher.

I have chosen the Swiss meringue method for creating low sugar macarons as it is more stable than French, and therefore requires less sugar in the meringue to be stable, but less complicated than Italian.

My older reduced sugar recipes for French, Italian and Swiss methods involve substituting part of icing sugar with rice flour and cornflour, which I adapted from for this low sugar recipe. How does this recipe differ from my older ones then you may ask. I substituted very safe amounts of icing sugar with rice and cornflour, while keeping the caster sugar amount relatively constant for my older recipes. In this recipe, my starting point is from my failed attempts, gradually increasing the amount of sugar until what comes out of the oven resembles a proper macaron with full shells.

Without further ado, let me share the low sugar macaron recipe, and a yummy low GI macaron filling! Feel free to upsize the recipe for macaron shells once you have adjusted the baking process to suit your environment and oven.

Disclaimer and important note: if you fail, it's not because the recipe doesn't work but instead, you need to tweak factors like drying time and oven temperature because my method here is very much oven dependent. Please also acknowledge me if you do publicise your work and people ask for the recipe because it has taken me a long time and countless failures to get here. Tag me on Facebook or Instagram with your results 😊

Hot cross bun macaron shell recipe
Ingredients (makes ten 4cm macarons, 20 shells):
Dry ingredients
55g almond flour
30g icing sugar (preferably with cornstarch already added)
8g rice flour
2g (1 tsp) cornflour
1/2 tsp cinnamon*
1/4 tsp allspice*
1/8-1/4 tsp cocoa powder*

Swiss meringue
36g + 1g (1/4 tsp) egg whites
24g caster sugar
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 drop orange gel food colouring*
1 drop yellow gel food colouring*

* Omit these items if making plain macaron shells.

1. Line baking tray with template and parchment paper. Stick parchment paper down with some batter later on when you have made it. Preheat oven to 60-70℃. Set oven to second lowest rack. I use top and bottom heat only.

2. Sift together all powdered ingredients. Set aside.

3. Make the Swiss meringue. Place 36g egg whites, caster sugar and cream of tartar in a clean metal or glass bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with some water. Make sure the water doesn't touch base of the bowl. Heat the water in saucepan using low or medium-low heat while whisking the egg whites. Use a candy thermometer or infrared thermometer to monitor the temperature of egg whites. I must stress that you should heat the egg whites slowly to make sure that all sugar is dissolved or your meringue won't turn out right. Heat the egg whites to 50℃. This should take about 5-8 min of continuous whisking over the stove. Remove from heat and beat the meringue with electric mixer on medium-low speed until stiff peaks form. Add gel food colouring and beat until evenly coloured. I don't use high speed to beat as a meringue that is built up slowly is more stable and has less large air bubbles in it. In fact for this attempt, I alternated between hand whisking (with the balloon whisk of my electric mixer) and beating with electric mixer to make sure that the meringue is always smooth and air bubbles are tiny.

This is how you test for stiff peak. The meringue should be upright at all points where you test, not just in the middle of the mixing bowl. Meringue should appear smooth and glossy, and the meringue should be able to form a foamy lump that keeps its shape when you use a spatula to gather it in the middle of the bowl.

4. Transfer the meringue into a bowl with wide base for an easier macaronage process. Scatter a third of powdered ingredients over the meringue. Fold gently until incorporated. Repeat for the other two-thirds in two batches.

Folding in sifted ingredients.

5. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, add 1g of egg whites and mix well. Those of you who have made macarons before will notice that the batter is thicker than your regular one. This is because there is a significantly lower percentage of sugar in the batter. Adding a little egg whites at the end will help to loosen up the batter a little. Continue by pressing the batter against the side of the mixing bowl to deflate the batter. You may refer to this video tutorial for the macaronage technique. Be careful not to overdo the deflating as the meringue doesn't contain a lot of sugar. Check the consistency after each round of pressing the batter against the bowl. Instead of your usual lava consistency that you look for in regular macaron batter, you check the consistency by creating peaks in the bowl of batter and tapping the bottom of the bowl. If the peaks melt back into the batter, you are good to go.

6. Transfer to piping bag fitted with a Wilton #10 or #12 tip. Pipe rounds. Rap the tray on table to flatten peaks. Use toothpick to pop any stubborn air bubbles.

7. Dry in the warm oven until a membrane forms that does not feel sticky when you run a finger across the surface. This can take 10-25 min. Check every 5 minutes after the 10 minute mark. You may ask if it is all right to dry in air-con room or out in the open (if you live in a low humidity area). It should be ok although I haven't tried it because it's really humid here even with air conditioning so it would take too long to dry for my liking for a macaron batter that does not have much sugar to stabilize the meringue. I try to keep drying time as short as possible for this batter to prevent hollows too.

8. Once a nonsticky membrane is formed, increase temperature to 130-140℃ and bake for another 18-23 minutes or until feet do not appear wet. This membrane should be able to provide some resistance when you press it gently but not hard like baked shells. Cool completely on baking tray before peeling parchment paper away from the shells. If you dried your shells in the open/air-con room, bake in preheated oven at 150℃ for 12 min and reduce temperature to 130℃ and bake for another 5-10 min or until feet no longer appear wet.

I was jumping for joy at this beautiful batch! Nice even feet, relatively smooth tops and full shells!!

With significantly lower sugar in the macaron shells, I wasn't about to spoil it by using a super sweet filling (definitely no American buttercreams for me! Way too sweet!). I chose a cream cheese base as it is able to hold its shape quite well in Singapore's hot weather, and its tartness compliments the sweet shells. I used relatively low amounts of sugar in the filling and chose a low GI source.

Spiced brown sugar cream cheese filling recipe (adapted from here)
115g cream cheese, room temperature
55g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
40-45g Masarang Arenga forest sugar**
1/8 tsp salt
15g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
Zest of an orange

** Replace with brown sugar if unavailable.

This is the sugar I used that is lower in GI but tastes great! It is similar to coconut palm sugar with a caramel flavour.

1. Beat cream cheese with electric mixer until creamy, smooth and soft. Set aside.

2. Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy and well combined. (I don't soften the butter much before beating as Singapore is really warm)

3. Add icing sugar, spices, zest, vanilla and salt and beat until well combined.

4. Gradually add whipped cream cheese and beat until just combined. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight before using. You may need to stir the mixture to make it creamy again after resting in the fridge.

I decorated the macaron shells with firm royal icing (somewhere in between flooding and stiff consistency).

Some people may find that hot cross buns are incomplete without sultanas in them so feel free to add some finely chopped sultanas to the cream cheese filling. In my case, I added a simple twist to it by inserting a piece of candied cherry in the middle. I halved the cherries and tried my best to cut it into a shape that will present a heart shape when you slice open a macaron.

A halved candied cherry with conical bottom. I carefully reshaped the top as well to make it a little more rounded. Use only the bottom half of the cherry for this.

Fill the shells!

Store filled macarons in the fridge in airtight condition for at least 24h. Let the macarons sit room temperature for 10 min before consuming to allow the filling time to soften a little.

I am happy to say that reducing sugar by this much didn't change the texture too drastically! It's definitely less delicate than higher icing sugar content ones but not any chewier than some of my regular attempts. Longer maturing time with filling will make the texture more delicate so do wait for a few days before eating if you prefer it that way.

With love,
Phay Shing


  1. Hi Puay Shing, tks for sharing this low sugar macarons recipe. I tried but not sure why my macarons has no feet?

    1. Hi Irene, did you make sure that a fairly firm membrane is formed before baking? You can try increasing the icing sugar by a couple of grams and see if it helps. I have tried reducing sugar drastically in the past and the most common thing I get is no feet. The sugar is necessary for feet formation.

  2. Hi Phay Shing, thanks for your prompt reply. Yes i did wait till membrane is formed. The texture is also cookie like and not hollow like macaron. Do u propose I try other simpler fail proof recipe of yours first as I am never successful in making macaron? :)

    1. Hi Irene, yes I would advise newbies to try something simpler as working with low sugar is challenging. Macaron shells are considered good when not hollow 😆! Start with French method as it's the simplest. You may refer to the penguin family macaron pops blog post for the recipe.

  3. Thanks for your advise. I will surely try anf let u know my results :-)

    1. You are welcome and yes I am interested to know if it works for you! Remember to bake macarons only when the membrane is no longer sticky to touch and you are able to run a finger across the surface without feeling any stickiness at all. Newbies I teach are surprised at how dry I let the macarons rest until. Singapore is simply too humid