As was the case across much of the world, sugar didn’t become widely available in Japan until the late 1800s- it was an expensive luxury ingredient exclusively for the kitchens of the wealthy and was used by artisan craftsmen to create elegant desserts and sweets. Outpriced by the upper classes, the sweet cravings of everyone else were instead satisfied by a uniquely Japanese ingredient; a mellow, toasty, nutty, yellow flour called kinako. Made from finely ground roasted soy beans, kinako has a delicate sweetness, much more subdued than that of sugar, but more than just sweetness, it imparts a wonderful flavour of its own wherever it is used- a distinctive, warming, caramelly mixture of freshly popped corn and roasted nuts. Typically used as a powdery topping for sticky rice cakes like daifuku, warabi mochi bracken jellies, or heaped atop a mound of snowy shaved ice, kinako also makes a fantastic flavouring for baked treats like airy chiffon cakes and impossibly light French style cookies.
When one thinks of French cookies, macarons are normally the first image that springs to mind- the perfectly round sandwiched confections, with their shiny, smooth outer shell and concealed creamy centre- and, while kinako does make for an exquisitely flavoured macaron, I’d much rather eat this humble powder in a gutsier, less delicate form. That form is in the macaron’s unassuming, rustic country cousin, the dacquoise. More straightforward to make than a macaron, the dacquoise uses much of the same ingredients and techniques- folding ground almonds and icing sugar into beaten egg whites- but produces a much cakier cookie, with a meltingly chewy centre and a craggy crisp exterior. The nutty aromatic toasted kinako pairs wonderfully with the almond in the cookie shell, and the brown sugar in the silky buttercream filling heightens the rich, warming, caramel flavours. Despite their homely appearance, these dacquoise make a fantastic addition to an afternoon tea or packed as part of a picnic for your next blossom viewing party.
- 115g ground almonds
- 70g egg white
- 280g icing sugar + extra for decorating
- 60g caster sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 30g kinako + extra for decorating
- 100g unsalted butter, softened
- 45g dark muscovado sugar
- Preheat your oven to 190°C. Cut sheets of non-stick baking parchment to fit two baking trays, then using a pencil and appropriately sized round object (we tend to reach for the lid from a spice jar, but anything approximately 5cm wide will do the job) draw yourself twelve circles on each sheet of parchment- these will act as a guide for piping out your dacquoise to ensure that you end up with uniform looking cookies. When you’ve drawn out your guides, flip the paper over so that the pencil marks are on the underside and use the sheets to line your baking trays.
- Measure the egg whites into a large bowl, making sure to add absolutely none of the yolk, then whisk the whites until they reach the soft peak stage. Add the caster sugar into the egg in three batches, whisking after each addition to make sure it is fully combined. Whisk in 120g of the icing sugar, again in three batches, this time mixing the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Fold the ground almonds, salt and 20g of the kinako into the beaten egg whites (try to do this as thoroughly as you can without knocking too much air out of the mixture), then gently pour the batter into a piping bag. We used an open star piping tip to make the dacquoise more decorative. Pipe the meringue onto the lined baking trays using your pencil marks as a guide- this should make twenty-four individual cookies- then place the trays in the oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 160°C.
- Bake for fifteen to eighteen minutes, until the meringues are a light golden colour and they are firm on the outside but still slightly soft- this will make the final cookies chewy in the middle rather than crisp all the way through. Leave the trays to cool for ten minutes, then carefully transfer the dacquoise to a rack to fully cool and firm up.
- Whilst you are waiting for them to cool, mix up the buttercream filling for the dacquoise. Add the softened butter, dark muscovado sugar and remaining kinako and icing sugar into a large bowl, then beat well to combine into a smooth icing. When the cookies are completely cool, transfer the buttercream into a piping bag and pipe onto half of the cookies, sandwiching each iced cookie and its counterpart with a delicate twisting motion. As a final touch we like to dust the dacquoise with a flourish of icing sugar and kinako to add a touch of elegance to these craggiest of macarons.
Makes 12 dacquoise sandwiches.