Nut-free French macarons: a first attempt

Light pink macaron cookies on a sheet of ripped parchment sit on a marble surface. It is clear cookies have been removed from the parchment on the left side of the image - there are light pink circles of stuck cookie on the parchment. A small offset spatula with a dirty blade rests in the empty space on the parchment

Back when I was working at the bakery, I would make macarons about two or three times a week. It felt really good that my boss trusted me with them – they have a reputation as a fussy, technical cookie that requires attention to detail, and, at the time, I was still just the intern. Which is not to say things went well all the time – I had batches crack, rise weirdly sideways, brown too much, come out too wet, and, at least once, land on the floor. Honestly, I lost about one batch in five. 

But I loved making them. They felt like a challenge – for a cookie with only four ingredients, there were so many places where things could (and did) go wrong. No matter how many batches I made, it was always a little nerve-wracking, and when I succeeded it felt like a victory. Besides, there has always been something compelling about seeing those tiny, identical, pastel-hued sandwich cookies lined up on a tray. I have made thousands at this point, and it never stops feeling special. 

I have no idea what they taste like. 

Light pink macaron cookies on a piece of parchment. The parchment sits at an angle on a marble counter, and an offset spatula with a dirty blade sits on the space where cookies have clearly been removed. Some of the cookies have been flipped upside down to show the underside, which is wet and sticky looking. It is clear that the bottoms of the cookies stuck to the parchment and have been forcibly removed.

Macarons are made with finely ground almond flour – and I’m allergic to almonds. I’ve wanted to experiment with a nut-free version for a long time (the FOMO is so, so real) – but they are buried so deep in tradition and mythos of the French culinary establishment that I just assumed that any other flour base was probably doomed to failure.


Lemon-blueberry cupcakes

A platter of cupcakes with a smaller plate with a single cupcake. The platter has three lemon-blueberry cupcakes on it - one is fully in frame, and the other two are slightly out of frame. Each cupcake has a round of candied lemon stuck into a swirl of piped frosting at a jaunty angle. Crushed freeze-dried blueberries top each cupcake like sprinkles.

Spring in New York is an adjustment – we’re midway through April, and the trees behind my house are just starting to bud. In the last week or so the tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths started blooming – a welcome spot of life and color in a city that’s still mostly winter-brown. I’m finding myself quite homesick for spring in Georgia – I miss the blooming azaleas and forsythia, the green-gold cast of sunlight through new leaves, strawberry picking with Mom early in the day, evening thunderstorms, and the early-season March heat that catches you in the sun and slowly warms you from the inside until everything feels hazy and slow and perfect.  

Maybe that’s why all I want to make right now is bright, punchy desserts that remind me of sunshine. And these lemon-curd-filled, blueberry-studded cupcakes are the sunshiniest of all. 

A cooling rack full of decorated cupcakes. We can see 6 in-frame. Each cupcake is topped with a swirl of white frosting, a sprinkle of crushed freeze-dried blueberry, and a round of candied lemon. A used piping bag sits in front of the rack - the french tip still has frosting clinging to it.

They are based on my go-to yellow cake recipe, punched up with lemon zest, frozen blueberries, and buttermilk. Plain, they make a fabulous breakfast on mornings when I’m feeling a bit indulgent (after all, what is a muffin but an unfrosted cupcake?)


Strawberry swirl yogurt cake

A loaf cake sits on a sheet of parchment paper on top of an upside-down quarter sheet pan. There are two slices of cake lying in front of the larger piece - the insides of the cake are swirled in pale yellow and purply-red. Strawberries are scattered around the frame, and a stack of plates sits in the background

Do you ever wake up in the morning and decide that you’re going to do things the hard way? 

Because apparently I do. 

Last week the grocery store had decent-looking strawberries, and I was seized with the urge to make a strawberry cake. And not just any strawberry cake, but the strawberry cake I use for weddings – plush, finely textured, and rich with butter and egg yolks, filled with a strawberry-balsamic-black pepper jam. But I wanted it now, and I didn’t want to deal with my stand mixer, or with stacking, filling, and frosting a layer cake. 

A loaf cake sits on a white cake pedestal on the right side of the frame. The inside of the cake is swirled - yellow and red-purple. Two strawberries sit on the pedestal next to the cake. A slice of the cake is on a plate with a fork and another strawberry in the lower left corner of the frame.

I also didn’t want to spend time finding a recipe that checked all those boxes. 

So I decided to do it myself – partly because I’m apparently a masochist, and partly because the science of baking is just really freaking interesting. 

Coming up with a cake from scratch seems scary, but, as with most baked goods, successful recipes are based on simple ratios and rules. Batters need balance – flour, dairy, and eggs for strength, fat and sugar for tenderness. 

A half-eaten slice of swirled strawberry cake on a white plate. There is a napkin to the left of the plate, and another plateful of cake halfway out of the frame on the left side.

Jessi Spell

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.


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