Keep Calm and Eat a Macaron

 

One of my favorite memories from my trip to Paris was discovering the sweet, chewy goodness that is macarons. I was strolling down the avenue des Champs-Élysées, doing equal parts people watching and window shopping, when I saw a line forming outside of a small green building that seemed to jut out from the base of a larger building.

The sign on the front said Ladurée.  It looked like a nice bakery, so I decided to join in to see what the fuss was about. Once I entered the building, I noticed that the shop was much bigger than I’d thought. There was space enough for a full service restaurant. Off to one side was a little section that housed a dizzying array of sweets. Buns, cookies, glazed croissants, and, yes, macarons. Since I was very budget conscious on this trip, I selected a small box of assorted macarons. To this day, my only regrets about that stop were that I didn’t get a bigger box and that I didn’t realize how fragile they were. By the time I had returned to the hotel that night, after a couple more hours of sight-seeing & museum viewing plus a night photography session, I was greeted with a box full of half crumbled cookies.

Since coming back home, I’ve often thought of those crumbs with fondness. So when I came across That Baker Chick’s blog post on making macarons from scratch, I knew I had to try it. (Please stop by her page to view her wonderfully detailed recipe if you want to try it out for yourself.)

The recipe seemed so simple. It had only 5 ingredients.

Almond meal
Powdered Sugar
Regular Sugar
Egg Whites
Water

So why did I feel like chucking the whole messy concoction down the garbage disposal and making do with store-bought sugar cookies instead?

The first little hiccup happened when I couldn’t find almond meal anywhere. I decided to make some myself with a blender and slivered almonds. That very quickly resulted in almond butter instead. After consulting with google, I decided to add in the powdered sugar and continue blending. It worked out okay, but I was a little bummed because I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get the almonds ground as finely as I wanted. I felt like I was already starting out on the wrong foot.

The next little (big?) deviations occurred when I realized that the recipe called for a stand mixer and a candy thermometer. I didn’t have either of those. I did have a hand mixer and a regular food thermometer, though, and I was confident that these would be adequate substitutions.

Yeah, no.

Maybe a more experienced and competent baker could have managed, but it absolutely did not work for me. My thermometer only went up to about 200 or so degrees, so I had to guesstimate when the syrup mixture would hit the right temperature of 239 degrees. When I added it to whipped egg white mixture it immediately began to cool and form a hard sheet of crystalized sugar along the bottom and sides of the bowl. Despite this setback, I persevered and tried to keep the rest of the mixture from falling to the same fate by increasing the speed on my mixer. All was going well until I noticed that my meringue wasn’t very meringue-y at all.

The white fluffy peaks that I was supposed to have were no where to be found. In it’s place was a warm goopy mixture that reminded me of melted marshmallows. No matter how long or how fast or slow I mixed it, I couldn’t coax those peaks to form again. I was left with two choices. Either scrap everything, throw away the whole mixture, and get started on cleaning up all the mess I’d created; or keep going with the hopes that I’d end up with something as least marginally edible.

I took one look around at all the goop that had splattered on the table, the trail of sugar on the floor and the pile of dishes in the sink and decided to keep going. At that point, I was hot, achey and tired. The thought of having worked so hard with nothing at all to show for was unbearable.

Once I had everything ready, I filled a piping bag with the mixture and got to work. Having to stop every so often to refill it and deal with the inevitable mess it made got old fast, however, so I replaced it with a spoon. This led to uneven and variable cookie sizes, but at that point I really didn’t care.

This recipe made a lot of cookies. It was so much more than I expected going in. I think I had enough for about 25 to 30 small to medium sized macarons (so that meant I had about 50 to 60 cookies to work with). The good thing about it was that they cook very fast. They were only in the oven for 10-12 mins.

After all of that, here’s the final product. I didn’t have the energy to make a filling for them, so I just used either peanut butter or Nutella in the middle. They aren’t much to look at, but they taste like diabetes. And I mean that in the best way possible. They are soooo sweet. I don’t remember if they were this sweet in Paris, but I got the airy, chewy texture part right, and I was proud of that.

IMG_7709 IMG_7702 IMG_7689  IMG_7672

Will I try this again? No. The end result was good, but I don’t think it was worth all the frustration and time that I put into them. They have a reputation for being finicky and now I understand why. I’m happy to pay a baker to do this work for me.

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