Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bramley apple macaron recipe, and how to get your hands on Bramleys in Japan

Since my previous Bramley apple post, in which I described my delight in finding proper cooking apples in Japan, the grower who supplied them has retired and I’ve been redirected to other sources. As the apple-picking front moves across Japan again this year I thought I’d share the updated sources and things I’ve been experimenting with Bramley-wise. (Check here for additional exciting Bramley updates.)

Huuge cooking apples, in Japan!

The first place to grow Bramley apple trees in Japan was Obuse, Nagano, in 1991. The story, as reported here, is that apple grower Arai-san from Obuse fell in love with the taste of apple pie made with Bramleys while visiting England, and organised for them to be grown in Japan. A man after my own heart! Mr Arai and Obuse town representatives have just visited the original 200+ year old Bramley apple tree in Southwell in Nottingham in August this year, and you can see photos of the expedition and a write-up in Japanese here.

You can buy Bramley apples in Japan from Obuse-ya. They harvest in August, and sell until stocks run out. I had to email them in Japanese requesting a fax form, but they are in the process of updating their online shop, which will be much handier and seems as if it should be ready during October – I’ll update this post with the link when I see it’s live. The prices available when I ordered were 2,100 yen for 2kg, 3,150 yen for 5kg, and 5,250 yen for 10kg, including delivery. This is what 5kg looked like (the picture is a little deceptive, those apples are in fact very large! They weigh almost 400 grams each.)

From Obuse to Tokyo, right to my door

The Hokkaido distributor for the orchard that supplied my apples last year is now this company. These apples are available from October and are 2,700 yen plus delivery for 9kg.

Having ordered now from both Obuse and Hokkaido, I can say the quality (and size) of the fruit is tremendous, quite possibly better than you'd find in your local supermarket in the UK!

Apple pie is my favourite thing to make with Bramley apples, but they are also fantastic as part of a stuffing or sauce for roast pork, and are a key ingredient for making your own Christmas mincemeat. Recently, since I’ve been going a bit macaron-challenge mad, I also tried Bramley apple macaron...

Strawberry and raspberry jam are common macaron filling flavours so the idea of using Bramley apple jam isn’t too outlandish. I made the shells with yellow and green powdered food colouring, and cinnamon, and they are sandwiched with Bramley jam and faux French buttercream. Butter and Bramley apples are such a great flavour combination in apple pies, I wanted to see if the resulting macaron might remind me a bit of apple pie :)

Bramley apple macaron, dusted with cinnamon

Recipe: the macaron shells

Here is the base macaron shell recipe from BraveTart, adapted to become Bramley apple macarons:
- 115g almond flour
- 230g powdered sugar
- 144g egg whites (about 4-5 eggs, but do weigh them)
- 72g sugar*
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Powdered green and yellow food colouring. 3 scoops each of the tiny spoon that comes with the bottle, maybe 1/5 of a tsp.
- 1/2 tsp (2g) salt

* I’ve had best results so far from using imported caster sugar. The most popular form of caster sugar-style sugar here, 上白糖 / jyohakutou, is sweeter than regular sugar used in the UK and the US, has a higher water content and is less pure (lower calories though!). While it is fine in many cake recipes, even seems to aid in browning, when I've made macaron and pavlova using johakutou I had lots of crackage and strange behaviour. Granulated sugar / グラニュー糖 / guranyuu tou might give you better results if you can't get imported caster sugar near you as it is a purer sugar compared with jyohakutou (more information here in Japanese). I’ll try that next.

  • Prepare your baking paper with lots of identical and evenly spaced circles. Turn the parchment over to avoid pulling pencil marks off the paper with your macaron shell ;)
  • Sieve the almond flour and powdered sugar together in a large bowl. Stir in the powdered food colouring and mix it in well. You won’t see much colour difference while all the ingredients remain dry.
  • Tip the salt and the sugar into the egg whites in a large bowl and set your timer (iPhone) to whisk on 3 minutes at low speed, 3 minutes at medium and 3 minutes at high speed. I used an electric hand whisk. Add the vanilla essence and beat for a further minute (as BraveTart’s Stella says, “to show it who’s boss”).
  • Tip the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites and fold them together. This is the stage that needs practice, as they need to be neither undermixed (you’ll get cloud-like and hollow meringues) or overmixed (likely to crack on top, difficult to pipe and harder to peel from the paper). See my previous macaron post for pictures of what you’re looking for, but trying it out a few times will be the best way to know.
  • Wrestle the mixture into a piping bag with a wide nozzle and pipe uniform sized blobs of mixture onto your awaiting baking paper. This is where you find out if your batter is adequately mixed – your blobs might start off a little hershey’s kisses-shaped, but should ideally become quite smooth on top within a few minutes of piping.
  • Rap the tray on the work surface sharply a few times to burst the bubbles that will spoil the surface of your shell and potentially cause cracks.
  • Sprinkle them with more cinnamon powder through a sieve, and wait for the surface of the shell to become dull and farily dry. Stella says this waiting step is unnecessary, but I’ve found that the ones I left the longest had the best feet, and I've also heard that it can help make the shells shiny. In my kitchen at this time of year I need to wait at least 30 minutes and no harm has come to those batches waiting over an hour.
  • Preheat oven during this waiting period. I get the best results at 130°C you might find you need a little higher or lower.
  • Bake for 18 minutes. When they are ready to come out the feet shouldn’t squidge when you press them lightly from the top. Leave them on the paper to cool and they will come off more easily. Let them cool completely before filling.
  • Assemble the macarons by matching up similarly sized shells and spreading a little jam on one half and piping a blob of buttercream on the other (recipes below). Sandwich together and put in an airtight box in the fridge to set the filling. They’ll taste even better the next day, and you can also freeze them.

Recipe: the apple jam and buttercream fillings

Bramley Jam
- 1 biggish bramley apple
- Between 10-50g of sugar, depending how tart your apple is
- A few squeezes of lemon juice
- A splash of water to help get things going


Peel and core the apple, cut into chunks and heat over a medium flame with the rest of the ingredients, stirring frequently until the mixture has reduced into a thick puree. You want it quite thick and reduced so as to not make your macaron shells too wet - it took me about 30 minutes. Test the flavour along the way to see if you think you want more sugar for a less tart jam. Cool completely before using.

Faux French Buttercream (From BraveTart)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 100g sugar
- 100g egg yolks (from about 5 eggs)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 300g unsalted butter, room temperature

Method (see the original post on BraveTart here, with video!):
  • Scrape vanilla bean and rub seeds into the sugar.
  • Whisk the vanilla sugar into the egg yolks, along with salt.
  • Place the egg mixture bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, stir and scrape constantly until the mixture reaches 65°C. Do this slowly and patiently, it takes some time. Remove from heat and whisk at medium speed until the bowl is cool to the touch. It will roughly double in volume.
Add the very soft butter to the cooled egg yolk mixture, one chunk at a time. When you’ve added all the butter, scrape the bowl down, then mix for another minute. This amount is about a third of the batch size on BraveTart, but is still more than enough for 2 batches of macaron. Keeps for up to 6-months in the freezer in a ziplock bag.

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