Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Macarons, The First Encounter

Macarons. They are the temperamental diva's of the baking world. Like Everest to mountaineers! Like the Doldrums to sailors! Like sand through the hourglass! No wait, scrap that last one. Macarons are the mythical unicorn of the blogosphere at the moment, fickle little pastries that require the perfect circumstances in order to come out just right.

My first encounter with the macaron was when the boyfriend and I were at the end of our study exchange and we were spending the last few weeks traveling. We were in Paris during a chilly November where we stayed in a youth hostel in Bastille. The room's heater was faulty and was always on full blast, we went from almost freezing outside to sweating madly the moment we stepped into the room. In the mornings we got chewy rolls and jam for breakfast and some coffee to wash it down with. After breakfast on our way to the train station we had to walk past a bakery which is where I had my first taste of macaron. I can't remember what flavours we had, or how much it cost, but I can remember the texture. The shell was just firm enough to hold the macaron together, giving way to a soft interior when bitten into. The filling blended seamlessly with the soft interior filling my mouth with the most wonderful sensation. After that one taste I was hooked. No mediocre macarons would ever appease my taste buds! From then on I required perfection!

This week I was baking Christmas cookies when I suddenly realised that I would have a few leftover egg whites, and that they would be about 2 days old when my cookie baking was over. "Should I try it?", I wondered. With my impending working career looming on the near horizon I threw caution to the wind and decided, the time is now! With the ingredients bought I placed everything that I needed at arms length, ready to be used the instant it was needed. I carefully weighed out all the ingredients in little bowls (and felt very TV chef-esque). As I started beating the egg whites I had a horrible realisation; the very plastic bowl that the egg whites were in was brim-full of cookie dough yesterday, buttery oily cookie dough. My heart sank even further as my egg whites failed to puff up and just lay in a sorry pool in the bottom of the bowl.

Panic mode kicked in, I remembered reading somewhere that egg whites can be aged by microwaving them for about 10 seconds. A quick google search confirmed this and soon enough I was on my way to beating wonderful fluffy egg whites in a meticulously clean glass bowl. The rest of the macaron making process proceeded smoothly with only a minor flaring of tempers when a certain family member of mine started sticking his fingers into my delicate macaron batter (oh the horror!).

Right at this very moment I made my first mistake. With no silicone baking sheet or parchment paper in sight, I piped my macarons on to an ungreased sheet of tinfoil. I know I know, hindsight man, the recklessness of youth, blah blah blah. I've learned from my mistake! After losing almost all my macs' insides I learned!

After piping the batter I left the mac shells to harden a bit, no problem. I heated the oven to 150degreesC, inserted the first batch after resting for 40 minutes and then I waited. I watched that batch like a hawk. After the 16 minutes baking time was up I dutifully removed them and tried to remove one but got only the shell on my hand, the foot was still stuck to the foil. "No problemo", I said (in my head), "I will simply bake them a bit longer". Well I baked them for another minute, then 2 more minutes, then another 2 more minutes upon which I finally declared, "These macs must be ready!" (they weren't ready).

With the one batch out I inserted the next batch, adjusted my kitchen timer for 5 minutes longer than the recipe stated and then I promptly got distracted. Ladies and gentleman, meet mistake number 2. When I smelt the toasty smell of almonds I knew that I was in trouble. When I got to the oven a batch of toasty brown macs greeted me with horribly split tops and no feet. :(
So I had to learn the hard way that my oven's temperature was not as consistant and even as I previously believed. I also learned that macarons should be watched and that I should stay away from the Internet if I do not want to be distracted.

At this moment the story sounds pretty dire, bleak, with a macaronless future. But fear not, all was not lost! While all the insides stayed behind on the foil of one batch, and the other batch turned out toasted and very unmacaron like, they still tasted good! I filled them with chocolate ganache and sandwiched them together and they still turned out pretty tasty! Not very pretty, not like Parisian macarons, but not bad either.

My future definitely holds more forays into the black magic that is making macarons. I have not abandoned hope! I will learn from my mistakes and try again (but this time after a trip to the store to buy a proper baking sheet and perhaps an oven thermometer...)

Post Script: The background color of the images were changed in photoshop for higher visibility and just for the fun. When my macarons are of a higher quality I'll post prettier pictures!


  1. I think we had pistachio and chocolate.

  2. Hmmmm C has a good memory for sweet things!! :) I have to agree that macarons are just divine to eat. I made my first towards the end of last year. They came out well but I think I was just so careful and followed instructions to the end. Well done you. Looking forward to your next ones. Clever of you to change the background! And thanx so much for displaying the Indaba logo. Hugs xx

  3. Hahhaahhahaha - loved reading this. And I will point anyone who asks why I have not yet ventured into macaron making to this post. :-)

    PS: LOVED the sands through the hourglass bit! So are the days of our lives...

  4. Colleen, I remember the twitter updates when you were making macs, was very fun to read :D Yours did come out superb!

    Marisa, glad you enjoyed reading the post! Dit maak my hart so bly :P