*for nine days
Have you read a Laura Florand book? Have you met her chefs? Have you fallen in love with them? Which one is your favorite? Mine is Dominique, because he’s a burly badass with a molten, gooey center and some classic kitchen training (not just pastry) behind him.
Mmmm, I do love Dom.
I do not love Ms. Florand. Because Ms. Florand has RUINED MY LIFE! She, and Philippe, and these damned macarons.
Do you know what a macaron is?
I didn’t. Not really. I mean, I had seen them before. Who hasn’t? They really are little iconic cookies with their bright colors and pretty fillings. But I had never eaten one until a Mediterranean cruise in the fall of 2012. One afternoon we stopped in Cannes. After lunch at an Italian restaurant (as one does in France, bien sûr) a couple blocks from the pier, a friend and I wandered the little streets off Blvd. de la Croisette, the main road along the water. One of these streets held La Maison du Chocolat, a lovely little store with a gorgeous selection of chocolate. They offered small boxes of macarons, probably five or six per package, so I picked up one for myself and one as a souvenir for friends back in the States. I probably spent an entire paycheck on bite sized truffles and other chocolates as well, but that’s not the point of this story.
That was my first macaron. It was divine. Better than that perfect middle of the brownie pan where there’s a light crust and the just barely undercooked batter. Better than that, because EVERY SINGLE macaron is the ideal combination of crust and melt.
(Digressing: J’adore Google Maps. So much. I just found a business called “Sex and the kitchen” that’s listed as a wedding planner. It’s near the Marriott, if you want to check it out next time you’re in Cannes.)
So, for a little over a year, I’ve truly understood the transcendence of a macaron, that it’s so much more than just a pretty cookie. And then, this past March, I read my first book by Ms. Florand, The Chocolate Kiss. I adored the book. I thought it was sweet and beautiful and had the perfect touch of magic realism. It also made me want to learn how to make real hot chocolate. Not your average Swiss Miss with marshmallows or Starbucks Hot Cocoa, but chocolate. Melted. In a cup. With some milk. Milk infused with other flavors. And there’s the secret – infusing the milk. Also, not using cocoa.
Then Ms. Florand had to go and write a bunch more books about more hot, alpha/gooey pastry chefs. Damn her! And in each one, I read about more desserts I had heard of, some I had even tried, but none I had ever really considered making myself. Financiers? Oooh, I had one at Sequoia a few months ago and it was delicious. I should totally try to make that. All the chefs work with chocolate, and though chocolate isn’t my favorite, it does get the creative juices bubbling and it marries quite well with caramel, which is a favorite. Patrick does “sugar work.” What does that mean? I’m going to Google that. (Googling…) Oh, I’m not going to try that. That’s way beyond my capabilities.
But macarons. I can probably make a macaron. I understand they’re finicky and difficult and persnickety and a thousand other adjectives that scare people away, but it can’t be impossible. People make them all the time. It’s a cookie. I won’t let a cookie beat me!
I made my first batch last Saturday.
(^ almond shells with salted caramel)
These are not macarons. They are, however, delicious cookies, and my friends will eat them without complaint. I am not friends with any pastry chefs, and if I were, I would not offer them my not-macarons. I would make them something I’m good at, like risotto. Or Velveeta Shells and Cheese.
I made my second batch on Sunday.
(^ almond shells with vanilla bean, cinnamon, ginger and cloves; chocolate ganache infused with black tea and cardamom)
I used three different recipes (for ingredients and baking times/temps) trying to get it right. I didn’t get it right. The second half of the second batch looks okay, but it was a mistake and I couldn’t recreate it.
I made my third batch on Wednesday. Still nowhere near perfect, but Fairfax County’s finest were happy to plow through them. Thank you, detectives!
(< almond shell with [eventually] lemon curd)
I made my fourth batch last night. Still not right. I may have eaten eight of them for breakfast this morning – can you hate-eat a cookie for not being perfect? Kind of like hate-reading, but more delicious.
(^ almond shells with lemon curd; I had a lot of curd left over)
On my fifth try, nine freaking days later, after dreaming about these stoopid cookies, and spending a bajillion dollars on “just one more” item that might make the recipe work, and despairing that I would never figure it out, and considering giving up and going back to the financiers because the one I had really was quite delicious and what can be so difficult about sponge cake, I finally achieved success.
And I might have danced around the kitchen, taunting the oven and its beautifully-footed macarons with exclamations like, “boo-motherfuckin’-YAH!”
(^ almond shells with either bourbon buttercream or raspberry preserves [the only store-bought filling in this endeavor] and vanilla buttercream)
I had hollows, I had cracked shells, I had a disturbing lack of feet, I had overcooked shells, I had undercooked shells, I had tails. If you want to know how to mess up a macaron, I am your girl! I’ve run my oven temperature all the way from 200 degrees to 390!
You know what I think my main problem was (that led to me thinking it was other problems)? I was under-mixing. I was so worried about over-mixing, that I didn’t mix enough and screwed up the cookies anyway. Some of the later cookies in a batch accidentally came out okay because the batter I hadn’t mixed properly got the chance to incorporate more as I piped, or as I scooped additional batter out of the bowl and into the pastry bag.
After four failures and various recipes, a book and five websites, the purchase of a kitchen scale so I could measure more accurately, the idea that a mechanical kitchen scale didn’t measure accurately enough and I should exchange it for a digital scale, I realized…even my piped batter doesn’t look like any of the photos online or in the book, let alone the baked shells. Maybe I should watch a couple YouTube videos. Seeing the consistency of the batter makes it a lot easier to recognize than just reading that it should be “lava-like.” When I made the fifth batch, I stopped stirring when I reached the point I had the four times before, and I watched the batter glop off the spatula rather than ribbon off. I stirred three more times, watched, and folded a couple more after that. Then once more just to be sure. My chunks of rock had simply needed to melt a little more to make lava.
I made two sheets of identical macarons. Four hours later, I made two more.
So, in all my internet wanderings, here are some links that really helped me understand what could go wrong and ultimately my own problem.
I started with Les Petits Macarons by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride. This is the only cookbook I have on my Kindle and I spent so much time jumping around in the book to refer back to something, or move ahead to something else, that I don’t recommend an e-version unless you’re really comfortable using the bookmark feature. I’d much rather have a physical book with some actual bookmarks stuffed in it. Plus, the photography is gorgeous and probably not done much justice on an e-reader.
BraveTart – Stella is awesome. I want to eat at her restaurant and hang out with her and go have drinks after the kitchen closes because she seems like a pretty rad chick. This link goes directly to her macaron page, but check out her myths and commandments as well. They’ll teach you a lot!
Food Noveau was originally posted on Laura Florand’s Facebook page when a few of us caught the macaron fever last week and started sharing our mishaps and triumphs.
This morning, I rolled out of bed, fed the animals, and immediately did a search on YouTube for macaron videos. The first I watched was from Entertaining with Beth, and she gives a good rundown of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
The second video I watched was Honeysuckle Catering’s macaron tutorial. It was Dzung’s recipe I ended up using to make the fifth batch, which worked out so perfectly. Four simple ingredients, mix to the proper consistency, pipe, bake, et voilà! Plus, Dzung is beyond adorable and she’s a hometown Bay Area girl!
Are you making macarons for the first time? If so, I wish you patience, enjoyment of the process, and good luck!