Macaron ManiaPosted: January 17, 2010
I’ll be honest: I never understood the macaron craze and had never tried it until mid-last year. And it was awful. It was nauseatingly sweet and it just tasted really strange. It was from a random bakery in Singapore that happened to sell a variety of flavours and I was so excited to see them that I had to buy a few flavours to see what the fuss was about. Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed especially because my friends would swoon at the mention of macarons.
I remember the very first time my friend asked me about them. “Oh my God! They are the BEST things. If I could make them, I don’t think I’d eat anything else,” she had a glazed over look in her eyes as her voice took on a wistful tone.
Wow, I had thought to myself. What is this macaron?!
Then I started seeing them on food blogs, and read about how Pierre Herme and Laduree make the best macarons. Last year I saw pictures of the macarons by Laduree in collaboration with Christian Louboutin (side note: I am a shoe fanatic!) and I figured it had to be something amazing that Monsieur Louboutin would choose that particular dessert to represent his shoes, and I must’ve ruined my first experience with them by tasting macarons from a bakery that clearly did not know how to make good macarons.
I did a little research and most food bloggers admitted that macarons were temperamental little things. Some complained that there was absolutely no guarantee they’d turn out perfectly. I read some recipes and noticed how much emphasis they all placed on sieving all the dry ingredients. I hadn’t found the cojones to attempt them but admired pictures of them all the same (they really are pretty little things!).
Vanilla Macarons with Vanilla Buttercream, Chocolate Macarons with Valrhona Araguani 72% Dark Chocolate Ganache.
Last weekend, I attended a macaron class by Joycelyn Shu. I’ve been reading her blog for years and am frequently blown away by her pictures of her gorgeous food. When I read on her blog that she’d be conducting a macaron class, I hopped right to it and booked myself a spot.
It was a 3 hour 45 minute class and I walked away with a cute little Chinese takeaway box of four different flavoured macarons, a twelve-page recipe booklet for macarons (and biscotti) and about three pages worth of notes on flavour variations. I walked away wielding important macaron how-tos and most importantly, stallion-sized cojones to attempt the recipe.
I reached home itching to dive right into it. It was tediously meticulous work. Setting up the mise en place for one batch of macarons (but for two flavour variations: vanilla and chocolate) took me close to 45 minutes! The process of sieving ground almonds had challenged my patience, and I only needed 250 grams of the stuff! By the time I had finished my mise en place, I discovered that the greatest form of torture to impose on a person would be sieving 10kg bag of ground almonds with a fine mesh sieve.
(FYI: I didn’t use a fine mesh sieve and you’re not meant to with ground almonds. I imagine it’d be much like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper – a little bit goes in but it’s mostly effort that gets you nowhere)
After I had made the macaron batter, I piped it out onto Silpat mats, then I waited for the skin to form. I prodded the surface of the macarons occasionally to test how dry they were. When I felt confident that they were at the right stage of dry-ness, I popped them into the oven. I plopped myself down in front of the oven, watching the little circles rise a little and… FEET formed! I did a little jig, gave myself a huge back-thump (a mere pat wouldn’t have sufficed for this glorious achievement) and when they were done, I took them out of the oven and made googly-eyes at my first attempt of macarons. I may or may not have muttered sweet little nothings to them, too.
I finally understood the fanaticism most bakers seemed to have with these little domed morsels of sweetness. They were such delights to watch in the oven and because they required a fair bit of work, I could only imagine the frustration if they didn’t turn out like they were meant to. I too am now aboard the wagon of People Who Are Unhealthily Obsessed With Macarons.
Whilst mine did turn out like they were meant to, and they certainly look and tasted like macarons; they weren’t without flaws. I had some minor freak outs in the kitchen (almost forgot the vanilla bean paste in the batter, my ganache separated and needed fixing), but the main issues for me were:
1. Not all of them turned out shiny, as you can see in the pictures, and they’re meant to be glossy looking.
2. I had major trouble with the vanilla macarons after they baked. They insisted on sticking to the Silpat mats and after wrestling them off, I had ended up with vanilla macaron shells. They were hollow in the middle. I must have messed up somewhere. I’m thinking it’s the baking time, or the temperature of the oven, or even the amount of moisture in the batter. I’m open to other tips, too.
3. Some of the chocolate macarons started looking a little wrinkled whilst baking!
I have to admit, I am pretty amazed they turned out this well on my first attempt. I was bracing myself for flat crisp discs that tasted like biscuits, not macarons!
I’ve been reassured that they look perfectly like good macarons but one of the trappings of being a perfectionist is that you just can’t let things slide. It may look and taste good to others but I know that it isn’t right and that’s what matters. I just need to fix this. I need to figure out WHY and not make the same mistakes again. I want whole macarons. I want them shiny. I want them with frilly feet. I want them perfect.
I’ll get there eventually. I plan on attempting them again some time this week, I just have to make sure I have nothing else to do on that day. What a time consuming treat this is!
Note: I apologize for the pictures because the macarons look slightly battered (pun unintended). They suffered from my lousy job of packaging them in individual cellophane bags and storing them in the refrigerator. They looked a whole lot prettier before their stint in the refrigerator but at midnight, there wasn’t much light to give me clear photographs.