Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Did you know it is possible to become food-obsessed with a thing you've never even gotten to taste before? It totally is. I know this because before I came to my senses and made myself back slowly away from the Kitchen-Aid mixer, there was a week or so where I made (or attempted to make) dozens upon dozens of french macaron cookies. Unfortunately for me...I simply couldn't do it.

I only learned about macarons fairly recently, actually. They have become a "thing" with certain food blogs that I have started reading over the past year. They've been around longer than that, of course, but I had never heard about them before then. These beautiful, shiny, colorful sandwich confections (apparently, they aren't actually cookies) that come in literally an infinite range of flavors fascinated me. I decided that I must have one, or two, or three...(dozen). Unfortunately for me, there isn't a place in Huntsville where you can get them. Well, not one I have found yet, anyway. I've gone to independent bakeries while I've been out running errands, looked in grocery stores, and I've even done searches online for places that might have them, but I couldn't find anything. Sure you can order them online, but from everything I've read, macarons are delicate and easy to smash, and they are expensive. The last thing I want to do is order a box of them and wind up with nothing but expensive crumbs! So I did what anyone else would do: I decided to make them myself.

First off, it was important for me to understand what I was shooting for:

Exhibit A - Macaroons


I've had Macaroons before. These are the delicious, chewy, flourless coconut cookies we all know and love. I've made these before. These are not the cookies I was looking for. Move along.

Exhibit B - Macaroons

Not nom. Unless you are from Melmac.

As I introduced in my last post, this is Macaroons. I didn't name him. Steve mis-heard me when I said he was probably a Maine Coon and the name just stuck. As far as I know, he is also flourless, but probably not delicious.

Exhibit C - Macarons

Strawberry Macarons by Tartlette. She is French and
she knows how to make them correctly.
Probaby very nom.

THIS. This is what I was looking for. French macarons! These are made with 4 ingredients: powdered sugar, almond flour, egg whites and caster sugar. Anything that only requires 4 ingredients, two of which are sugar, can't be hard to make, right? Wrong.


Apparently, making these damnable cookies (I don't care, they look like cookies to me) successfully requires an advanced degree in chemistry or biology. You think I'm kidding? The woman uses scatter plots to determine how to make these things. SCATTER PLOTS! You shouldn't have to be that smart just to make cookies. I'm sure it helps, but still...

Before I even attempted to try making these, I did research. I read about how tricky these can be, and how hard it is for even seasoned pastry-chefs to make them correctly, but I thought...meh. 4 ingredients, recipe on the internet, instructions on how to make them, easy-peasy. First, I had to locate the ingredients. Powdered sugar was easy, as were the egg whites. However, finding caster sugar proved strangely difficult. It's really just the missing link between confectioner's sugar and regular sugar, a finely granulated, but not powdered, sugar. However, I think I had to go across town to Earth Fare to find it. Almond meal was just as difficult to find, but since I had a food processor and a bag of slivered almonds, it was easy-ish to make. Just a note, though, there is a fine line between almond meal and almond butter.

The first thing you have to do is let the egg whites age. Seriously, they have to sit out on the counter, preferably covered, for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the recipe you use. Um, ew. See, I've always been under the impression that eggs shouldn't just sit around the kitchen without being refrigerated, but I'm not a pastry chef, so what do I know? I left my eggs on the counter for 24 hours. The recipe I used said to sift the almond meal and confectioner's sugar together three times, which I did. It was a pain in my ass, too, because you have to get two bowls dirty to do this. Also, almond meal has lumps, and you are supposed to throw away the lumps. This means, unless you are measuring the amount you throw away and replacing the same amount of non-lumpy meal into the mix, you won't have the right amount of meal in the end. SIGH. Then to take the room temperature egg whites and start mixing them until they are juuuuuuuust foamy, and then you add in the caster sugar, then mix it some more. At some point, you are supposed to get soft, shiny peaks. If you've ever made meringue, you probably know what that means. I had never made meringue, so, I simply had to guess.

Then you gently fold all of the stuff together until you get a batter that is supposed to be a certain consistency. I'd explain what that is supposed to be, but I'm not sure I ever got it right. It's supposed to make "ribbons" but I don't know what the hell that means. Anyways, it got mixed.

After you get "ribbons" you get a pastry bag and fill it with the batter, pipe 1 inch circles onto parchment paper and bake them. Some directions tell you to let the batter set for a while before you bake them, some don't. Then while they're baking, some magical alchemical thing is supposed to happen where the cookies rise and make perfect little half spheres with "feet." The feet are the little bubbly, ruffly bit at the bottom of the cookie.

Well, my first batch didn't do this. At all. They didn't rise so much as they sort of flattened out. I wish I could have gotten a picture of my first, sad batch, because they were hilarious. It looked like someone took shiny, white spackle and made pancakes with it. I couldn't even get them off of the parchment paper! I managed to gnaw one off of the parchment. They tasted pretty good, if you don't mind eating small pieces of paper along with your cookies, but they were sad and flat. I couldn't even get enough of any of them off of the paper to make a two sided cookie. However, I was not too discouraged. I tried again.

I did everything the same, except this time I managed to get 8 cookies out of it. They were pretty, I suppose. I filled them with peanut butter filling and they tasted fine, but they still didn't seem right.
This was the only slightly pretty one.

So I tried again, this time making them chocolate with buttercream filling. I didn't follow the directions too closely this time, because I thought that quite possibly, my problem was that I was being too careful. So I just did everything pretty slap-dash. None of the tiresome sifting and all that. I managed to get enough off the parchment paper this time to make 16 or so complete cookies, but there was only one problem. They were as hard as hockey pucks.

Delicious hockey pucks with buttercream filling.

Fortunately, though, these cookies can be "aged" in the fridge, and by osmosis, they get softer as they leach moisture from the filling. However, that takes 3 or 4 days, and when you want a want a cookie. Who wants to wait 3 or 4 days?! I did manage to leave a few in there the correct amount of time, and they did get softer, but I still don't think they were right.

So, I tried again. This time I was super careful. I had located almond meal at Publix (which I'm beginning to believe has everything anyone could ever want) and I sifted these bad boys until you could have absorbed the dry ingredients through your skin, Anthrax-style. I aged the eggs, I carefully whipped the eggs, I let the batter sit in it's perfectly piped little circles before I put them in the oven, and I even rotated them half-way through baking, just in case the oven heated unevenly. They came out looking...weird. Like big lipped clams.

*sad trombone*

I think I actually shouted at these cookies. I cursed at them and called them terrible names. I curled up into a sad little ball on the floor, wailing and gnashing my teeth. To add insult to injury, I filled these with lemon curd - and I realized I don't like lemon curd. Somehow, I don't think something as soothing as baking should cause fits of tourette's syndrome-like outbursts.

At some point, I unfurled myself from the fetal position and cleaned the pools of sugary macaron batter from the counter-tops and floor. I quietly put the cookies into the freezer to get them out of my sight, and left the kitchen quietly. I admitted defeat.

My mission to try one of these elusive cookies still rages. My mission to actually bake a successful batch of these cookies has faded a bit, but hasn't completely fizzled out. I'm sure I'll come across a proper macaron one of these days to see what all of the shouting is about, but until then, I'll just stare wistfully at them on the internet from the safety of my office chair. But one day... One day I will prevail.

They will be mine. Oh yes, they will be mine.


Kenny said...


Or, as the word verification box says "mosuativ."

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Starbucks sell them? There's a food blog called "Not So Humble Pie" that spent weeks perfecting her recipe....and failing miserably along the you might check her out for tips!

The Hill Freeman Library & Spruill Learning Center said...

This is another great Kelly classic blog! Right up there with the feather pillow!

amy said...

argh I hate when I comment in my alter ego as a library