Sunday, 29 March 2020

Hot-Cross Bun Salted Caramel Macarons (Low-sugar macaron shell recipe with video tutorial!)

Easter is coming in less than 2 weeks time so I thought it would be good to make hot-cross bun macarons again but this time round, I filled them with salted caramel cream cheese and salted caramel!

A few things why I am sharing a detailed blog post along with video tutorials of real-time macaron making process. Firstly, due to the Covid-19 situation, I thought many people would have time on their hands to learn something and work with their hands at home. So a detailed tutorial would be very helpful. The techniques in the tutorials here are applicable for other non low-sugar recipes too. Secondly, I have always wanted to revisit my super low-sugar macaron recipe that I developed after many failed attempts. I shared the blog post for it last year over here. Lastly, I was curious to know if Swiss meringue method can be done using icing sugar with cornflour already added, instead of the traditional caster sugar.

If you manage to try this successfully and share on social media, do acknowledge that it is from me as it has taken me lots of time and drawing from my experience to come up with this. Do check out both of my macaron books Creative Baking: Macarons and Creative Baking: Macaron Basics for a more systematic presentation of all you need to know about making decorative macarons, from basics all the way to more challenging projects, for more ideas and templates for different designs.

As mentioned in my previous low-sugar post, sugar serves very important structural functions in macarons. Without it, you won't be able to have the characteristic feet and it would be a serious challenge to make a stable enough meringue. Yes you may use sugar replacements but the results would still taste as sweet as regular sugar. My previous low sugar recipe contains about 35% sugar by weight (weight of sugar/total weight of ingredients x 100%). This new recipe has slightly less sugar than my previous one with only about 32% sugar! I made slight tweaks to my previous recipe by using a bit more egg whites, replacing caster sugar with icing sugar and overall using slightly less sugar in the meringue.

I did something in the bake that I used for the videos here which I don't recommend, that is to replace 10g of almond flour with pumpkin seed flour. The resulting piped batter took 2 hours of oven drying before I could bake it 🤣. In case you are wondering why are there darker specks in my batter, it is from the pumpkin seed flour. So just stick to the recipe I type here. If you would like a higher chance of success for a first attempt, do add 5g of icing sugar to the meringue portion. It comes up about 35% sugar, still way lower than regular macaron recipes which contain 50% or more sugar by weight. As a comparison, my almost fail proof recipe that I use for junior chef classes has about 51.7% sugar and my other reduced sugar recipes and those developed by others have about 40+% sugar. Working with significantly less sugar in the batter makes it more technically challenging so don't despair if you fail. Try my suggestion of increasing icing sugar by 5g in the meringue and follow the videos closely.

Why did I choose to use icing sugar instead of caster sugar? Because it is just white sugar that is even finer, and with cornflour added. Cornflour can act as a meringue stabilizer and helps piped batter to dry faster (plus point for low sugar recipe!) and finer sugar means it dissolves more easily in the egg whites (another plus point to produce good quality meringue!). But I was afraid to do this experiment on my paid work as I have no idea what will happen if you cook the egg whites with cornflour added. I was afraid it would thicken the batter too much. Now that I tried, it certainly rocks for low sugar meringues!

As mentioned in my previous post, I chose Swiss meringue as you can produce a more stable meringue than french meringue using less sugar. Italian method also produces stable meringue but isn't suitable for small quantity so I am not going there. Semi-cooking the egg whites is the key to improvement in meringue stability.

Recipe for low-sugar macaron shells
Ingredients (makes about 12 macarons, 24 shells) :
Dry ingredients
55g superfine almond flour (don't oven dry it or the batter will turn out too dry. Use straight from package that has been properly stored in cool pantry or in fridge)
8g rice flour
2g (1tsp) cornflour
30g icing sugar (with cornflour already added)
1/8-1/4 tsp cocoa powder (for colour, omit for plain shells)

Swiss meringue
40g egg whites (don't need to age)
22g icing sugar (with cornflour already added)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (to stabilize meringue)
1 drop orange gel colouring
1 drop yellow gel colouring

I know this adds up to be about 32.7% sugar but icing sugar contains cornflour so actual amount of sugar could be closer to 32%

1. Preheat oven to 60-70°C, rack on middle shelf. Line baking tray with template of 4cm circles and parchment paper.

2. Place all dry ingredients in mixing bowl and whisk together. Sift into another mixing bowl. Set aside. Do not mash the dry ingredients against the sieve just to get it through. Just scrape with a spatula. You don't want to release more oils from the almond than necessary.

3. Place all swiss meringue ingredients (except colouring) in heatproof mixing bowl over a saucepan with water. Make sure the water doesn't touch base of the bowl. Heat the saucepan with medium-low heat from room temperature water, while whisking the egg whites with a clean handwhisk. Monitor the egg white temperature with candy thermometer. Keep whisking until temperature reads 50°C. This step may take several minutes. It is important to heat the egg whites slowly to ensure all sugar is dissolved. Any undissolved sugar will cause the meringue not to whip up properly.

4. Immediately remove mixing bowl from heat and beat with electric mixer until stiff peak, adding gel food colouring towards the end of beating the meringue. As the amount of sugar is low, the meringue will be less stable and less stiff than regular recipes, and the meringue is also more easily overbeaten. Please watch the video tutorial below for how you should beat such a meringue. I didn't speed up the video so this is the actual speed of the process.

5. Transfer the meringue into a wide mixing bowl for easier macaronage. Do note that low sugar macaron batter is thicker than regular batter so we don't follow the traditional lava-like consistency rule. This method of testing batter consistency also applies for tricky macaron batter like chocolate or matcha batter that tends to be thicker than regular batter. Please watch the follow video to find out how you should do the macaronage and test the consistency. Use a table to hit the bottom of mixing bowl if you aren't comfortable using your hand as shown in the video. I didn't speed up this video too so this is the actual speed of the macaronage.

6.Transfer batter into piping bag fitted with wilton #12 tip. Pipe the batter as you normally would with regular batter, with the tip perpendicular to tray surface. The difference is, you bang the tray really hard for many more times to flatten the peaks because the batter is thicker.

7. Pop the tray straight into the oven for 10 min. Use your finger to gently check if the surface of piped batter is dry. If it still feels sticky, dry for another 5 to 10 min and check again. Repeat as necessary. This can take 30 min to even 1h, depending on how wet or dry your almond flour is. Higher sugar content recipes dry much faster. Use an oven thermometer to monitor the oven temperature accurately. This is highly recommended as oven temperatures tend to be off by 10 to 20°C. So how dry is dry? You should be able to run a finger across the surface without feeling any bit of stickiness. When you apply slight pressure to the membrane formed, it should be able to resist a little, but not so firm that it feels like a fully baked shell. Be patient with this drying step. If you don't dry it sufficiently, your shells will crack during baking as reduced sugar means the membrane formed is less sturdy. So you want to make sure that membrane formed is really strong and dry enough to withstand the expansion of the batter during baking.

8. When the shells are sufficiently dried, ramp the temperature up to 130-140°C without removing the tray from the oven. Bake for 18-23min or until feet doesn't appear wet.

Just to show you the awesome shells! Not as pretty as regular recipes but nicely full on the inside!

The texture is also a little different from regular macarons due to the low sugar content. It is denser and less crisp.

I used royal icing to decorate the baked shells.

I filled the shells with whatever I have on hand at home, so I chose to fill it with a ring of salted caramel cream cheese and salted caramel in the middle, both were leftovers from my junior chef class last weekend. If you want something tasting more authentically like hot-cross buns, please follow the recipe in this post.

I developed this low-sugar recipe partly as a personal challenge, partly because I know people out there want to know if there is a much less sweet macaron recipe. I would say, it is possible to reduce sugar significantly but not without its challenges. For my regular fanciful macarons, I would stick with my regular reduced-sugar recipes which are easier to work with if I have to reduce sugar. Have fun with this challenge!

Blessed Easter in advance! Stay safe! I am just thankful that God is still in control in the midst of all this madness.

With lots of love,
Phay Shing


  1. Dear Phay, I bought your books, translate for myself, I read your blog, I learn from your lessons. Thanks a lot for what you do. I want to ask you to include subtitles in YouTube lessons, I live in Russia and my English is not so good yet))). My first mice and hippos are already done. My grandchildren are delighted with them !!! Thank you again.

    1. Hi Rina,
      Thank you for getting my books and I am so happy that you are able to learn much from the content I released from the books and blog!

      As for subtitles, I do include them in the video tutorials as much as I can, unless the steps are obvious from what I show in the video. Feel free to ask me any questions if you have them.

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