Brace yourself. These cookies are scary.
I have been trying to bake proper macarons for years now. Okay, like a year and a half, but still. That makes me sad.
After so many years practicing and expanding my baking repertoire, I have gained a degree of confidence that is probably not appropriate to my actual skill level. I haven’t gone to any sort of cooking school. I haven’t even taken a class. YouTube videos and blog posts are my friends and somehow, things have just worked out. I figured I must have some sort of gift. I am a baking savant.
Then I met the macaron.
Yes, all the blog posts cautioned me that they are fussy, finicky, tricky little French confections that will come out pristine and lovely one day and the next day look like little explosions of almondy, sugary rebellion. I was told, time and again, by the baking aficionados of the internet that it can take ages to master the macaron.
I didn’t believe them. Baking savants don’t need to worry about the problems of mere mortals. Baking savants will get it right the first time.
The good news is macarons pretty much always taste good no matter what they look like or what the texture ends up being. You might end up with a tray of sixty little failures, but they will be tasty little failures, sweet and light and unlike anything you’ve ever eaten. Plus, you can make fillings and just plump them up in the middle and call it a day.
Unfortunately for me, I’m a perfectionist and macarons are torture for perfectionists.
I’ll get there, someday, though.
I whipped up a batch of macarons for my writer’s group’s infamous Dessert For Dinner get together that always happens around this time of year (so much sugar… so much joy… so much pain…). I wanted to try something new, so I picked up a set of edible markers and went to town on my little orange macarons.
This batch turned out a little hollow, but the feet are spongy and even, and the tops are smooth. So I can’t complain (much) about this latest macaron expedition.
The edible markers were delightful. I had way too much fun with them. Add a little pumpkin spice filling and voila! Pumpkin-themed macarons that are tasty and adorable.
Hopefully, someday, I will be able to approach the macaron with something close to confidence and will present my results with something nearer satisfaction. I certainly don’t intend to stop making them any time soon.
Down to Business – How in the Name of Fussy French Cuisine Do I Make These Things?
- If you want to go on a macaron baking adventure of your very own, do your research! I am not an expert, so the best advice I have to give is to go find the experts on the internet and talk to them. There are a few things I can tell you to get you started:
- Choose your method. There are two methods of making macarons – French and Italian. The French method is more common but the results, I have heard, are less consistent for your average novice. The Italian method takes more effort and has more steps, but it is reputed to have more reliable results. It’s the one I use and I find that I don’t often have random macaron volcanos or other issues (yes – volcanos. See photographic evidence below.)
- Stick with your recipe. Find a detailed recipe to try and then try it a few times before you move on to another one. Since macarons take practice, if you blame the recipe, a lot of times you’ll just have new problems with a new recipe. Keep practicing with the same recipe until you get it right. I use the recipe from Annie’s Eats. It has held up well considering my abuse.
- Follow the instructions exactly. The measurements have to be precise. Anything you change might be responsible for a mass macaron revolt. Most cookies will tolerate approximations and creative changes. Macarons are prissy little snobs and like things done their own way.
- Mixing consistency is a huge deal with macarons. You’ll hear a lot about the “lava consistency” which basically means that the macaronage (“macaron batter” for us lesser mortals) drips off the spoon in a thick, smooth ribbon and melts back into the mixture after about 20 seconds. You’ll know it when you get there. Usually. Looking up a YouTube video helped me know what it was supposed to look like.
- Learn your terminology. Not only will you sound super impressive when you talk about making macarons to the uninitiated, but it will also help you understand what some of the how-to’s are talking about (See: “macaronage” in the previous point. Don’t you feel fancier already?). For instance, the “foot” that I mentioned before is the foamy looking little part at the bottom. A good macaron has a nice, even foot. The shell should be smooth (so sift that almond flour and get rid of the chunks!) and should not be hollow when you bite into it (don’t get me started on hollow shells. They are the bane of my existence).
- Macarons are better the second day, so make them ahead of time. Plus, you’ll be so frazzled and exhausted by the end of the process, you’ll hate the sight of them and you’ll need a day to talk yourself down from tossing the lot of them out of the window to show them who’s boss (I am totally not speaking from experience). If you let them sit overnight, the filling softens the inside of the shells and turns them into this perfect combination of crisp and soft and melty and divine (and convinces you that making macarons isn’t so bad after all and maybe throwing them out the window would have been a rash decision which you are glad your husband prevented you from carrying out). So let them sit in the fridge overnight. That’s all I’m saying.
- Save the failures. They’ll still taste good and I guarantee that whomever you feed them to will not complain. No, they might not be gift-worthy, but you can console yourself by snacking on them while you make a new batch.
- Draw before assembling! If you want to use edible markers to draw on your macarons (think of the possibilities!) draw on the shells before you sandwich the cookies or else the filling will ooze out when you press down with the marker.
Most importantly, try to learn from your mistakes and accept that you are probably not a baking savant (and if you are, I am bitter and envious), so give yourself time. I know I still need it.
So, what are your plans for the weekend? What’s the most fabulous Halloween treat you have ever baked or eaten? And, if you are a fellow macaron sufferer, tell me about your best/worst experience or any tips that have saved your temperamental treats.