Is anyone else a headlong, whim-driven person who puts a lot of research into things?
It might seem like a funny combination, but this month’s First on the First challenge just reinforced my self-awareness in this area.
I like to learn everything I can about something, freak myself out, put it off for too long, then one day, spur of the moment, just do it without thinking, and be pleasantly surprised when it works out just fine.
Examples, you say?
Getting married. Writing essays. Sewing pillow shams. Having kids. Refinishing furniture (my TV unit is still taunting me …). Going to school. Making phone calls. Going to the dentist. Going back to school. Moving. Going to the hairdresser. Making homemade bread. Opening a box of puff pastry.
I highly recommend, if you plan to make these, do NOT read all the scary warnings out there about how easy it is to fail at making these delicate, pretty little cookies. I was certain my cookies would have no feet (what?), be more cracked than my dry heels,be more tasteless than cardboard, have air bubbles to rival an Aero bar…you get the idea!
Now, I’m not going to say these are perfect, because, quite frankly, these are the first macarons I’ve ever tasted. I have no frame of reference to compare them to, but I can say they were easy, forgiving, and they taste delicious. Because I made them too big they could have gotten a bit crisper on the inside, but they were still totally devourable. And how cute would they be for Valentine’s Day treats?
For those of you who’ve made loads of macarons, please don’t cringe at my following description of how the macaron making went down.
As of January 1st, I knew I had to make macarons for today. I read troubleshooting lists online about how to fix the many and varied problems that could arise when making macarons (too humid, too cold, overmixing, undermixing, egg whites improperly aged, inaccurate weighing of ingredients, egg whites not accurate room temperature…the list goes on). I became suitably nervous, and determined to set aside the required 3 hour time block one evening to make them happen.
Carrie, one of the instigators of this lovely challenge, shouted out encouragement and I refocused and regained confidence. I also suggested to Chelsea that she make macarons as well, so we’d have a backup if I was a total failure. Then I promptly told her all the bad news about possible disasters, and she gracefully bowed out. I was on my own.
As of mid-January, I knew that we were going to be ripping out our kitchen near the end of January.
So, on January 30th, kitchen demolition day, I took the plunge, ignored all the possibilities for error, and decided I would make one batch from one recipe with no extra tips and it would make me or break me for whether this post could happen.
What I was supposed to be doing that day was emptying the kitchen cabinets so they could be removed that night.
First things first: find a recipe. I don’t own a kitchen scale (I know, I know, get on it already), so it had to be a recipe measured in cups. This, apparently, is a no-no in macaron making, as weights are much more accurate than volumes. Anyways, that’s what I needed to do. Onward.
I had to grind my own almonds, then pulse that with icing sugar. Gemma covered her ears and went to play in her room, while Kristopher took up residence on my hip and stayed planted there, in all his 30ish pounds, for the full remainder of this recounting.
My stand mixer bowl was dirty and, not having read the full recipe yet in my headlong whim, I opted to use my hand mixer instead of clean the bowl. I then proceeded to hold my hand mixer on varying speeds, with K-fer on one hip, for the next 15 minutes. I may have broken a sweat standing still. Well, as still as one stands when rocking, swaying, and singing to a toddler while working a whisk all around the too-large bowl you chose.
In “sifting” my ingredients through a sieve, I lost a good 1/4 cup of dry ingredients since I apparently hadn’t ground my almond fine enough to fit through the holes. I threw in a little more for good measure but it’s anybody’s guess how much really ended up in there.
I had just gotten the ingredients all mixed together and half scooped into my decorating bag in preparation for piping the cookies onto the sheet when the doorbell rang.
I kid you not.
My dear hubby was selling the cabinets that were yet to be emptied or removed, and someone wanted to have a look at them and measure whether they would suit his space.
My counter and table were literally covered in dishes, sieves, food processor parts, and all the other baking things I usually put away as I go but hadn’t been able to touch since I was stuck holding both the beaters and my boy. Not only that, half of the mess was pink due to my random idea that macarons should just be pink.
Fortunately, Ron could not have been nicer and more understanding, but there I was. Now, I’m holding my boy because he’s scared of strangers, warding off Gemma who’s trying to slurp the pink, raw egg mixture down in the belief that it’s icing, having flashbacks to everything I read about the sensitivities of macaron batter, realizing that my hot kitchen is making the batter pretty much melt it’s way back out of the piping bag…Oi.
As soon as Ron seemed engaged in measuring, I took the opportunity to return to my cookies. I now also realized my piping tip was several hundred sizes too small, I hadn’t drawn the recommend measured circles on the parchment paper for uniform cookies, my batter was getting meltier by the second, and something had to be done.
Well, I smushed all the batter back out of the bag, abandoned the piping tip, grabbed a couple teaspoons, and did what I know: scooped cookie dough. Except this spreading, shiny pink mess was like no cookie dough I’ve scooped before. I got 19 instead of the stated 35 cookies, so clearly I made them too large. At this point, I needed a jumbo cookie.
Now the cookies were supposed to rest for 15 minutes and be tapped on the counter to release air bubbles. Could my batter possibly need more time resting? Could it possibly have air bubbles left after all its manhandling?
Who knows. I let it rest, and I tapped that cookie sheet like an Irish dancer on speed. Then I put them in the oven and hoped for the best.
When they came out of the oven, Ron started weighing in.
“That doesn’t look right”.
“Looks like you bake like my wife – she never measures right and doesn’t properly incorporate dry ingredients and you can tell. Sometimes I get a bite that is all baking soda or all flour.”
“I think you need to put them in longer – see how the top looks different than the sides? Doesn’t look done.”
Thank you, it’s my first time.
Actually, coming from a 6′ something, 300 lb goateed sweetheart in a full reflective orange and yellow jumpsuit, I couldn’t help but smile.
I pulled out the picture to show him what macarons were supposed to look like. I explained the concept of feet on cookies. We talked about meringue. I listened and put them back in for a couple minutes. We both wondered where on earth Carl was and when he would save us from this pink mess (for the record, it was over an hour).
And somehow, something magical happened: I got 19 beautiful, tasty pink meringues. One was cracked, which we ate immediately to test taste and texture. So, when sandwiched, that makes for only 9 cookies.
Since I know very little about macarons aside from the fact that they’re really pretty and can be picky to bake, please shout out what is wrong with mine, I’d love to improve and do this without interruption in the future! I know one change I would make – I filled them with a vanilla buttercream because it was quick and easy and I was supposed to be emptying cupboards, but I found them a bit too sweet, so next time I would incorporate a tangy fruit like raspberry into the filling, or complement the vanilla macarons with a chocolate center. Or, as the original recipe suggests, mix raspberry puree right into the meringue.
But I was thrilled to have finished any at all, and relieved they were both edible and photographable (I’m making up words like it’s goin’ outta style today, I know). I am loving this First on the First thing as it really makes me step out of my comfort zone in the kitchen – I highly recommend you join us on the journey, and definitely check out the other participants’ efforts below!
Next month I’m hoping to be done before we’re down to the wire…our new kitchen is hopefully going in on February 13th so if all goes according to schedule I’ll have no excuse. :)
- 1 cup confectioners' (icing) sugar
- ¾ cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
- 2 large egg whites, room temperature
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- ¼ cup superfine (berry) sugar (I ground regular sugar briefly in my food processor)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-2 drops red gel food colouring (or any colour of your choice!)
- Pulse confectioners' sugar and flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture to remove any clumps.
- Whisk egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy.
- Add cream of tartar and continue whisking until soft peaks form.
- Reduce speed to low: add superfine sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time. Increase speed to high and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes.
- Gently sprinkle flour mixture over the egg whites and gently fold in until smooth and shiny. Fold in vanilla and food colouring, making sure everything is fully incorporated and there are no streaks left.
- Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a ½" plain round tip and pipe ¾" rounds 1" apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. (Alternatively, drop by small teaspoons onto baking sheet, keeping them as round and uniform as possible.)
- Tap baking sheet on countertop to release any trapped air. Let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. When hot, reduce temperature to 325 degrees and bake, rotating halfway through, until crisp and firm, about 10 minutes.
- If baking more than one sheet, bake them one at a time. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375, then, when hot, reduce to 325 before putting cookies in.
- Let cool on sheets for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Sandwich 2 macarons with desired filling (icing, ganache, jam, etc.) - these taste even better the next day once the filling softens the cookies slightly and the flavours meld.
- Makes 35 cookies, or 19 sandwiches.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart