I don’t fail. I epically fail. Which, if you’re going to fail at all is the way to go. No half-assed, wimpy attempts that inevitably result in disaster. If you’re gonna fail, go down in flames.
Failure is not all bad. Thomas Edison went through 10,000 incarnations of the light bulb before landing on incandescent genius. Scientific studies even show that the more you fail, the faster you learn. Makes sense. So- failure in this household is not only an option, it’s expected in the name of learning. What happens when we encounter colossal failure? Well as long as nobody has been injured, it generally results in lots of sheepish laughter.
As in this week’s Macaron experiment. Boy did I blow it. I tried a different recipe because the process was simpler, and as the youngest Kitchen Diva in Training wanted to get in on the action, I figured this would be more her pace than the in-depth versions of Pierre Hermé. Of the two young ladies, she is definitely the more passionate in the kitchen. And when she saw her sister making macarons ‘all by herself’ she insisted in choosing one to make on her own as well.
This week, we used Brave Tart’s basic macaron recipe, and went for the Champagne and Roses flavors variety. Sorry, Stella- our colossal failure has nothing to do with your recipe, and everything to do with user error!
Here’s what we learned this week:
This, in fact, was our number one issue. People always say baking is an exact science, which it is…..but, I’m finding it’s also highly intuitive, and you have to be bold enough to know when to trust your intuition.
For instance- one of the things I was very curious about with Brave Tart’s recipe is the meringue making process. Much easier for a 6yo, because you through all the sugar and egg-whites into the bowl and let ‘er rip. The addition of salt alters the flavor somewhat, but also helps stabilize the meringue (provided you don’t overdo it.) We doubled our batch, which was our first problem. Stella is very clear about how long to whip the meringue, and I went a lot longer because I wasn’t getting a big blob of meringue stuck in my whisk- the reason, I learned when I made a second attempt with the regular sized batch, was because I had too much meringue in my bowl. When I whipped again- I got an ENORMOUS blob..clue, that for me and my bowl, I likely went too long. I did, as the pictures sadly show.
2) You can simultaneously overbeat and underbeat your egg whites!
On batch two- I not only overbeat the meringue, I under-macaronaged! In layman’s terms, this means I over inflated the egg-whites in one step, and then failed to deflate them enough in another step. You can see this by all the little ‘nipples’ on the top of the cookies… sigh.
Brave Tart’s recipe also calls for adding the almond mixture to the egg whites, not the other way around. I’m used to adding the whites to the flour. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make a difference one way or another, but I think I was definitely more freaked out about over incorporating with the heaviest stuff on top. I think this is one reason why I didn’t macaronage long enough. In fact, the reason we salvaged any at all from the first batch was because the mini Kitchen Diva in Training insisted on mixing it herself. Apparently, she knew what she was doing!
3) Food Coloring Fades in the Oven
Who knew? No one was more surprised than me when the pretty pink circles came out brown, footless, and horribly cracked. Stunned, speechless. The second attempt was much pinker because I used a TON of red food coloring. Red is definitely less forgiving than yellow in the oven.
4) I really, really need a new oven
For the first time *ever* my oven temperature started fluctuating wildly. At one point it was actually the set temperature, which meant it was too hot for cooking macaron. I’m just going to have to deal with this little bit because I refuse to spend money on a new oven right now. If I buy a new oven, we will end up moving in less than 3 months. Guaranteed, and I will have purchased my dream oven for someone else. No thank you! Of course…what if we wanted to move? hmm….maybe a new oven is in order.
So I failed. Big Whoop. Were they delicious? Umm…… YES! Did we eat more broken, hollow, cracked ones than we should have? Hell yes. Am I going to curse myself for setting up a year of sugary, carbo-loaded, fatty baking challenges for myself? Probably. It’s too cold to run and I don’t have much self discipline to yoga on my own. A moment on the lips….
We did pick a few of the least ugly ones to try out the champagne flavored buttercream. The hollow batch still stated great- was kind of chewy, but again that’s a selling point for some. I prefer more pillowey myself, and the second batch (likely not over cooked), even in its under-macaronaged state, definitely softened to a more pillowey state.
Here’s the deal: For those of you reading this- don’t let this deter you from trying to make macarons- any macarons. Pierre Hermé is my macaron hero, but so is Stella Parks. Both are innovators, both have endeavored to simplify and demystify macarons, both are doing tremendous work by testing the boundaries of flavor and ingredients. I love this. I will probably go back to my Pierre Hermé Italian Meringue method, because for me, that feels more comfortable. Truthfully, if I had the time, I would continue to work on Stella’s method until I could perfect it-because it’s way less hassle. And, for the record (my sincerest apologies Monsieur Hermé) I don’t leave my egg whites out for a week. I don’t have the counter space. And I don’t use mineral water- I use tap water. They still taste great.
And that, my fellow kitchen adventurers, is the whole point.
Next Week: Tune in for the last installment of Le Macaron
Some friends and I will be venturing into foreign territory as we develop our own macaron. What will happen? It will be an adventure.
Have you been brave enough to attempt some macarons this month? Email your pictures to adventuresomekitchen(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll post them in our final installment. Feel free to post your stories and experiences here.