Baking Adventures: Macarons!
So I love macarons, but they're awfully hard to find in Florida. It's easier, I imagine, to find a unicorn than a macaron shop.
Until one opened up at the mall.
When I went to the mall last weekend, I wandered in and out of the Hello Kitty store, tried on a mound of clothes at H&M, admired the displays at Nordstrom's, and ate spring rolls and noodles at the food court. You know, the usual business. This mall is indoors (ironic) and far from where I live, so every time I go to there, it seems like an adventure, a long expedition to an exotic land of overpriced purses and trendy people. But on the way out to the parking lot, I discovered a newly-opened macaron shop. I was enchanted.
The space was very open with wood floors and huge posters of pastel macarons on the walls. The display cases were lit up. For a minute, I thought I was inside Flour House's bakery, Sweet Crumblier.
Just a minute.
Then, I saw the employees and their sneers... and I couldn't leave the shop fast enough.
It seems counterproductive to turn your nose up at customers if you expect to have good business. When I entered the shop, I got chills and didn't feel very welcome. A lady with a power suit and clip board observed the flow of people in the shop (since when do you need a power suit to bake?) and the teens working behind the displays were unfriendly. The price, also, was extremely high for such tiny treats. Normally, such things wouldn't bother me... if the vibe wasn't so strong, you know?
So I left that day proud that I hadn't bought anything from the shop, but also feeling a gaping hole in my stomach where macarons should have been. I really wanted some.
Maybe I could make my own.
This wasn't a new thought - baking my own macarons - but seeing that shop finally spurred me to action. I cracked open the recipe book I had gotten a few months ago, grabbed my mom (the real cook of the house), and embarked on a wild afternoon of trying to create this mysterious French dessert.
Here's how it went:
The cook book I used is called Macaroons: For the Ideal Bite-Size Treat. The outside feels soft, like a baby book, but there's tons of macarons inside to choose from. I couldn't find the edition I have online, so I've linked to (maybe) the same book. For some reason... it's on pre-order. Well, weird. It's the same publisher, at least. The only unfortunate thing about this book is that they spelled macaroon with an extra o.
Come to think of it, Oleander from Flour House had to learn the difference as well between them. A macaron is the French dessert that, for lack of a decent explanation, is usually pastel, has a filling, and is worn as much as a fashion statement as it is something delicious and sweet to eat. A macaroon is the ugly, yet tasty, coconut dessert. Hence, the chart:
Since my mom and I have been enjoying rose water (we've even made vegan cupcakes with it!), the choice of which flavor macaron to make was simple.
|Maybe you can read the recipe directions? Hmm.|
|Almonds, Powdered Sugar, and Egg Whites|
|Pan Lining Paper|
Ah, the basic materials above. We gathered all of this together, along with a bunch of blenders and mixers. I felt like a mad scientist, haha.
Because we didn't have almond meal already, we had to put our diced almonds into the blender. After that, we put in powdered sugar and created a potent concoction, haha. The almonds and powdered sugar had to be blended for fifteen seconds.
But the biggest challenge was the meringue.
Neither my mom nor I have ever made meringue and so we had no idea what to look for when making it. So, the first time we tried, it ended up looking like this:
|Thin, bubbly. Not quite right.|
|Even after adding a ton of cream of tartar, sugar, and food coloring, it was still too flat!|
The almond-powdered sugar mixture and the meringue are supposed to combine to make the cookie part of the macaron, so we knew that this watery failure wouldn't work.
After wiping away a single tear, I flushed this down the toilet and we began again.
What ended up saving us from a second epic fail was a wonderful site called Food Nouveau. Not only was there a helpful, step-by-step video set to Amelie-like music, but there was also a troubleshooting page that allowed us to find out what we did wrong right away.
We probably had a bit of yoke that got into the egg whites, overbeat it in the process, and used too large of a bowl. Yep.
|Ah! Much better the second time! Looks like shaving cream, haha.|
As carefully as folding a spider's web, we worked the almond-powdered sugar mix into the meringue and then packed it into a pastry bag. As you can see, the almonds left speckles on the cookies - because they weren't finely ground, haha. But it's all good.
|Ready to bake!|
|Look at that!|
Do you see that perfect one? It's like... as real as one you'd get at a store. I almost cried when they came out of the oven ;_;
|... but the holes!|
Unfortunately, while they were baking, the paper on the tray flopped over - that's why some of them here were wrecked. The cookies are really delicate like that. You have to be careful when even eating them, haha.
As the last step, we had to include a filling for the middle. We went with whipped cream flavored with sugar and rose water.
They're so cute, all imperfect and everything. *pinches their cheeks and cracks them*
When we finally got to taste them, they were just, again, like ones you'd buy at a fancy store - with the added benefit of being fresh out of the oven. I wouldn't say that macarons are hard to make, but it's just that most of the techniques one would use to make them are, well, not part of everyday baking (at least, for me. I use the microwave).