First batch: bad. Very bad! Disastrous! Don’t let the smoothness of the top of the macarons fool you! (see the 100 picture at the beginning of the post). They were all in all a disaster. I almost cried when these guys came out of the oven. Actually, I did not ALMOST cried. I cried.
December 27, 2010
Yes, this is the 100th post by CaffeIna! Can you believe it? Well, I still can’t!
To celebrate this big event, and not having to host any big event for Christmas, I embarked in a big adventure: a three-day French macarons marathon. Yeah, you’ve heard me! Now, before you start uuuuuuhing and wowing at the wonderful and absolutely perfect macarons I made (sigh), I want to make a couple of things clear.
First, I’m not going to re-write here the recipes for French macarons yet another time. There are hundreds of resources out there, by pastry chef and/or food bloggers that are much more experienced than I am in making macarons. I will, however, share some thoughts and the resources I found the most useful because, let’s say it….too many resources are not always good.
Second, don’t let other people comment “if you follow the directions and the tips you will easily get great macarons” affects you! It really bothers me when some people brag about something difficult they made by saying “it’s so easy to make that even a kid could make it” or stuff like that. Not everybody is a pastry chef in his/her heart. Not everybody can wake up one morning and whip up a perfect batch of French macarons (or any other dessert you might want to pick for yourself). For sure this is true for myself. That’s why I decided to spend three days on a French macarons full immersion and share with you my (mis)adventures.
Are you ready? Let’s start.
So, French macarons, huh? Uhhhhhh. Ohhhhhh. When I think about macarons, many things come to my mind. The first is that I never really understood what the big fuss about macarons was. I do not particularly like fashions, not even in food. I mean, I have had many and I found them very pretty (actually adorable!), fun (with so many colors, flavors, filling), and good…yes good but…that’s it. I had never been really wowed by macarons. Until I got to try Josie’s macarons at the Foodbuzz Festival. Those were the first macarons that made me think “uhhhhhh ohhhhhh”. But it’s rare. There are many decent macarons but very few darn good ones. And I’d rather have another treat than a mediocre macaron.
Then, why have I finally decided to make French macarons myself? Well, CaffeIna needed a holidays project. And this goes back to my second point. I knew that making French macarons was going to be a hard project for me. I’m definitely not one of those people that get pretty and good tasting stuff at the first try, above all not when it comes to petite patisserie or refined desserts. I knew I needed time to consistently practice, to go through several trials and errors.
And here are my trials and errors.
Advice #1: wait for a sunny day!
What went wrong? Well, possibly everything. First of all, just to cheer myself up and looking for something external to blame, I have repetitively read that you should not attempt macarons when it’s raining and/or very humid. On my day one, it was pouring.
Advice #2: get some darn good almond flour/meal
The majority of recipes calls for X amount of almonds, saying that you can ground them yourself. That’s what I did on day one. Now, unless you have a wonderful food processor (which, clearly, I don’t have) you will never be able to finely grounds almonds. And if you overmix the almonds, they will release their oil and that, too, will affect the final result. Do yourself a favor: buy almond flour!
Advice #3: sift confectioners sugar and almond flour at least 2-3 times.
All the recipes out there say so: do it!
Advice #4: read as much as you can about macarons making.
I had read a lot about French macarons even before attempting this first batch.
After crying over my first miserable attempt I put myself together and I spent hours reading and reading and reading again everything that I could find.
Here are the resources that I found more useful:
· Mélanger:: To Mix. has a nice post about macarons. Even if the focus in on the Italian meringue method, I found the post very useful.
· Tartelette has a fantastic (did you have any doubt about it?) tutorial about French macarons. You can find the link from her homemage. Also, hers is the recipe I have used in my macarons marathon.
· Syrup and Tang has a great great great series called La Macaronicite’. I totally love every single post of the series.
· Kitchen Musing also has a great Macaron Chronicles that I enjoyed reading.
· David Lebovitz of course has a long list of resources, posts, and book reviews too.
Armed with this additional knowledge and with a bit more of self-respect (after reading that even experienced pastry chefs fail at macarons), I adventured myself into the second phase of my adventure.
Second batch: better, definitely better but there still were many things to fix but the two most important things are: the mcacarons cracked and they did not have the famous “feet” that they are supposed to have.
I did not cry on day two. I felt better and I felt practice was improving things. There was still a lot to perfect, so I kept reading. But, as many others have remarked, directions are not always clear. They tell you that the batter should have a certain consistency, or that you should whip the egg whites until they are stiff and shiny. That is not enough information for me sometimes.
Advice #5: Watch somebody making macarons.
I felt words or step by step pictures were not enough for me. I needed to see people really making them. Being the 25th of December I figured it was going to be hard to find a macarons making class. But we all know that we can find lots on the web….here are the videos that I found more useful.
· Josie at Daydreamer dessert did a wonderful job for the Foodbuzz Competition video challenge in showing us how she makes her wonderful macarons.
· And of course, there are many videos on youtube, I found this one very useful! In 8 minutes you can see the whole process and….she has a pretty different way of doing her macaronage!
After looking at these videos, and practicing a few more times the macaroneage, I got the last conclusions I would like to share with you:
Advice #6: find your own way, through practice.
If Tartelette and others call for “quick strokes at first to break the mass and then slow down” or say that you should give 50 strokes, not one more, not one less, to obtain a perfect batter, others have a completely different method for macaronage. I feel that at the end of the day everybody has to find his/her own way.
See these three guys? They are part of the last batch I made on my third day. Alright, alright…they are still not perfect. See those brown dots? They are the almond flour that is not processed finely enough. But, honestly, I find them pretty cute anyway! It’s true, they were not all perfectly shaped and they even raise a bit too much (see those tall domes?) but they were damn good! Really good! I even converted Wally to French macarons…..he, who always said "I really don't like them"! After three days and over 100 macarons (not single shells! Entire macarons!), my macarons-making skills have improved a lot and, what is most important for me, I got super super good ones!
Advice #7: give yourself a break!
Once you have obtained a few good macarons, pat yourself on the back, sit down, enjoy your macarons (I suggest at least three!) and tell yourself you did a great job! Then, take a break from macarons making. You improved a lot. You will improve more and more with practice. But for now, take a break and be happy with yourself!
Have a sweet day!