On a frosty morning in mid-January, Kyrstin Arellano was working in her kitchen on the outskirts of Dillingham. About three dozen perfectly round bright blue blobs rested patiently on a baking sheet.
“I have some vegan macarons here,” he said. “They look good so far, and when I was mixing, they felt so-so. So I’m very hopeful.”
The nationwide egg shortage has forced everyone to use fewer eggs, and bakers like Arellano are up to the challenge, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Arellano is a home baker. That is, he bakes from home for Bristol Bayking, a business he started last year. Along with signature, custom cakes, Arellano experiments with local ingredients like cranberries, salmonberries, and fireweed.
“I mainly make macarons,” she said. Macarons are small French desserts made from two delicate meringue shells sandwiched between a filling of jam, curd, ganache or cream. “Without a doubt they are my most popular and what I like to do the most. I also make cakes and cupcakes to order, for birthdays and others. But I really enjoy making the macarons.”
Egg based desserts in an egg shortage
Macaron shells are typically made by whisking together egg whites, almond flour, and powdered and granulated sugar and placing the batter in rounds on a tray. But how do you make an egg-based dessert without using eggs?
Arellano uses aquafaba, chickpea water that she gets from a can of chickpeas from the grocery store, whipping it into soft peaks like egg whites.
“The macaroni shells don’t really have much,” he said.
Arellano is no stranger to staples selling out.
“We go through this all the time,” he said. “Last year, powdered sugar and butter were hard to find. Sometimes milk is hard to find.”
Baking in the bush
Like many others, Arellano started baking after the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago. In rural Alaska, that requires some innovative flair. Arellano has honed his knack for finding substitute ingredients, such as using vinegar and baking soda as a leavening agent. And when she can’t find buttermilk at the store, she makes it herself, combining a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar.
“You mix it up and let it curdle a little bit, because that’s all the whey is: sour milk,” he said.
Arellano has three refrigerators at home, so she has been able to stock up on eggs. But she’s had to cut back, which means trying new recipes and better understanding why eggs are used in baking. They can provide structure, yeast, and flavor.
“Depending on your recipe, the egg may provide moisture, in which case you can substitute something like yogurt or applesauce to get that moisture,” she said. “You have to be a little more resourceful baking in the bush, because what can you do?”
When Arellano started his business, he shipped most of his cakes to towns like Togiak, New Stuyahok, and Manokotak.
“I really appreciate them,” he said of clients in other communities. “I’m also getting an idea of the big birthday months in Dillingham.”
Arellano has also shipped birthday cakes on fishing boats in the summer. She said her customer base is loyal; She does monthly pre-sales and her flash sale lots sell out regularly.
Rest, then bake
The first batch of macarons went into the oven for a total of 18 minutes while the second batch rested on the baking sheet. They need between 30 minutes and an hour before baking to develop a skin that protects them from the heat.
“If I put them in before they’ve developed the skin, they’re going to, it’s called ‘volcano’, literally appear like a volcano in the middle and the crater and they’re just horrible,” he said. “So it’s very important to let them sit and develop that skin.”
Arellano opened the oven door and turned the pan over, making sure the shells baked evenly.
“When they first come out of the oven, before they have any filling, they are hollow,” he said, tapping on a finished shell, which makes a delicate hollow sound. “And so when you fill them, the moisture allows the shell to expand on the inside and soften.”
When the shells came out, they had swollen slightly and developed little wavy edges, called “feet.” But none burst, each one still perfectly round, like rows of blueberry emojis.
Contact the author at [email protected] or 907-843-1002.