Thursday, May 12, 2011

Living Colour

Since I started Lemon Tree a couple years ago, I've always maintained the policy that everything I bake should be from the most natural sources possible and of the best quality so that the finished product is nothing but delicious. I avoid artificial flavours and prepare most of the macaron fillings from scratch so that I know exactly what is going into them. The cakes I make have never seen the inside of a "mix" box and I use copious amounts of vanilla bean and extract in almost everything because I can't get enough of it myself. 

One thing I haven't been as scrupulous about, however, is food dye in the macarons. Until recently I didn't realize the adverse effects food dye could be having on us in excessive amounts. The FDA regulates and approves artificial dyes, maintaining that these products, in small doses, are safe for general consumption. But I have an uneasy feeling that many of us may be getting more than our fill of colour and I feel a pang of guilt now when I produce a batch of bright pink, or lemon yellow macarons.

So I'm on the hunt for natural alternatives. 

One of the most alluring things about macarons is their colour. Walk past a patisserie window in Paris and just see if you're not drawn to the array of pinks, greens, blues, yellows, and every shade in between that alight the displays and make your mouth water. 

I'm aiming to achieve this with as little artificial dye as possible and hopefully none when I've tested many alternatives.

My friend Claudia is the owner of Cruda Cafe in the market. Cruda specializes in raw organic lunch fare and desserts. She's the one who went to the trouble of dehydrating a bushel of beets for me get the rich reddish-purple powder pictured here. I haven't tested it yet, but my hopes for a richly coloured macaron are high.

If I can use beets instead of red dye, the bonus is that it adds phosphorus, fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, biotin, and folic acid to your macarons. You certainly can't hope to get any of those from artificial dyes.

The other replacements I'm testing are tumeric (yellow) which has a strong "pickled" scent and flavour when it's fresh, but that diminishes over time if dried out carefully. When mixed into the macaron batter, however, the colour isn't as intense as you might think. And adding too much means I risk imparting a flavour into the shell.

I've also discovered Chlorella which is a deep green powder of algae. Unfortunately, the application of this is very limited since it has such a strong flavour of seaweed. When used together with pistachios, the result is a beautiful mild green macaron, but anything darker is impossible because of the flavour. It does, however, add chlorophyll, protein, amino acids, vitamins A,C, & E, and beta carotene among other beneficial nutrients. 

It reminds me of parents who have to sneak vegetables into their kids meals to trick them into getting their nutrients. I'm going to start sneaking anti-oxidants into your macarons.

This week, I'll have the naturally coloured pistachio macarons with a raspberry pistachio filling as well as coconut macarons made, in part, with an all natural coconut sugar. This is what gives them their pale brown colour. 

Of course, the chocolate macarons are always naturally coloured with Vahlrona cocoa and any off-white macarons I make (sometimes salted caramel, sometimes vanilla bean or others) are colour-free as well.

So if this has been a concern of yours as well, bear with me as I test out new options. Any suggestions? 

With macarons the requirements are so specific. Liquid colours can't be used - the added moisture prevents a sturdy shell or perfectly formed "feet". I'm limited to powders or concentrated gels in small quantities.

If I'm speaking into an area of your own expertise or experience, I'd love to hear your input!

This Saturday's menu is:

Market Menu
Saturday, 14 May

vanilla bean
raspberry pistachio
toasted almond
dark chocolate ganache
salted caramel

See you at the Market!


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