My Emotionally Taxing Adventure in Macaron Making
Who knew that pastry making could challenge your mental stability?
Be warned, this short story is way too long.
After making the pumpkin shaped cake last month, I decided that I must obviously be a Star Baker and that I could easily make macarons next. Although I’ve heard from countless people that macarons are the devil to make, I didn’t think twice about making them because I’m obviously on par with Paul Hollywood and why wouldn’t my first attempts at macarons be anything other than spectacular?
Turns out, I was very, very, very wrong.
-Let’s Get ready to rumble-
There I was, standing in my kitchen, ready to make the cutest snowman shaped macarons. Naturally, I decided that my first macarons would need to be more than just a plain, boring circle. I’ve watched every single season of Great British Bakeoff available on Netflix, have seen most of Holiday Baking Championship, and have just finished binging Best Baker in America. My pastry education could go no further and I was ready to show off my mastery over pastries to impress the world with my undeniable natural skill.
I sifted, I folded, I stiff peaked. I piped, I made snowman-ish looking delicacies, and I popped them into the oven. I waited those long and agonizing minutes, mentally preparing myself for the glory of my epic macarons. How many likes would my macaron pictures get me? At least twenty because, well - they’re macarons for crying out loud. These delicate French money makers are luxury!
My timer went off. I slid on my oven mitt with excitement. The glow of the oven met my eyes when I opened the door and for a brief, exalting moment, I could feel my heart beating like a slow and steady song. My very first macarons - the proof that I am a natural born baker with unparalleled skills - were absolutely and completely disastrous.
How could this be? I’m a Star Baker, damnit! In the words of my friend’s nine year old daughter, they looked like “boobie cookies with turds coming out of them”. My world started to crumble around me, my eyes began to fill with tears - my heart’s joyous song turned into the sound of cymbals falling to the ground and smashing in obnoxious, loud, and painful beats.
My pity party lasted for a solid five minutes until I decided that even Star Bakers fail from time to time. Honestly, it was only my first ever attempt. My second attempt would be WAY better because I am Star Baker and no cookie was going to best me! I’m tenacious to the point of masochism and I was going to make these macarons my b****.
More sifting, more folding - but this time, I piped them the proper way after doing some serious research on YouTube. This batch looked WAY better than my first and I could clearly see the errors I committed in Round One. This time…this time they would be absolute perfection. I knew that these macarons were going to be the crown jewels in my Baking Queen tiara.
What. The Actual. Fiddlesticks. My second round of macarons were without the quintessential “feet” and they were lumpier than my backside after the holidays! Not to mention, they were chewy and completely stuck to the parchment paper. What was happening?! Was it the oven? Was it the almond flour? It couldn’t have been me, could it? No, not me, the self proclaimed Baking Queen of Far West Dallas.
But…maybe, just maybe, I should have entertained the idea that macarons are truly as difficult as everyone says they are. Perhaps macarons can’t be mastered on the first go. Could it be that the problem was my complete lack of experience with macarons? Perhaps it was my incredibly limited experience as a baker? No way.
I could feel the fire burning behind my eyes - a fiery drive to show these macarons that I’m the Captain now and that this game had gone on long enough. My brain started playing Eye of the Tiger. I rolled up my sleeves. I was Rocky Balboa. Those macarons were the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It’s the thrill of the fight, risin’ up to the challenge of our rival, and the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night”.
What did I find when I opened the oven? Cracks. No feet. NO BUENO. I had officially been knocked to the ground. I was not the boxer/baker that I thought I was. I underestimated my competitor because I was arrogant and I got my rear end royally handed to me.
- Rounds Four through eight-
Black and blue in the face, I got back up. I took a weak swing with Round Four and I missed the mark entirely. I stumbled, disorientated and battered, and tried to throw my best groggy uppercut for Round Five. Again, my efforts were pathetic and I was going to pass out from exhaustion. Did I give up? No! I swung for Round Six and Round Seven. My eyes were swollen, my heart was numb, and I could distantly hear my husband calling for me but I couldn’t answer him. There was only one punch left in me and I was going to give it all I had. I mustered all my strength, popped Round Eight into the oven…and then…I forget to set a timer.
Thirty minutes later, with another batch of cracked and terrible macarons, I threw off my gloves and collapsed into the black oblivion of failure.
The next day, feeling bruised and battered, I went over every round, every technique, and wondered if I would ever win the Macaron Title Belt. Maybe I should have never joined the fight.
In the middle of my wallowing in misery, I received a message from Mr. San Diego’s friend who is a real bonafide Chef. It gave me a second wind. He shared his recipe with me (that I won’t share with you because it’s his, not mine) that took him a year to perfect and I suddenly felt like I had all the tools needed to get back into the ring and open a can of whoop-ie-pies on these demonic French cookies. All I needed was a Coach in my corner, Mr. San Diego as my hype-man, and I was ready for redemption.
It was a new day - a new me - a new sense of determination. Although slightly hesitant, I was determined to keep trying every single day until I got them just right. In front of my KitchenAid mixer and kitchen scale, I cracked my knuckles, put my head down, and went to work. This batch felt…different. Somehow it felt more refined and it was different than all of the other batches. Could it be possible that this batch was THE ONE? My heart leapt at the possibility.
But no, I wouldn’t get my hopes up - I was wiser now. My expectations had been managed. My sure-headed arrogance was violently butchered. If this batch didn’t work, I would be okay with that. I would just keep trying because the pain of failure would hurt less than the pain of throwing in the towel. So there I stood, with my macarons piped, tapped, and rested for thirty minutes. My oven was preheated and waiting patiently for me to pop them in. I took a deep breath, told my raw macarons that I loved them - and then I put them into the fiery inferno that is my oven.
-The Final Round-
I could hear the seconds on the clock ticking. It kept pace with my heart beat. After several minutes, I went to the oven to give them a turn and SWEET CHRISTMAS…my macarons were rising and there was not a single crack to be found. I had to reel in my excitement because I was only halfway through the cooking process. They still had several more minutes left in the oven and anything could happen between now and then! They could collapse - they could crack - they could spontaneously combust! Deep breaths. Think happy thoughts. I walked away and waited for the timer to bring me back. It went off! I was a bundle of nerves and was scared and full of anticipation!
I ran to the oven, swung open the door, and I squealed in utter delight at what was before my eyes! Macarons - real macarons! Smooth tops, perfect feet, not a single crack in sight. They were like the children I’ll never have - still a little flawed but perfect to me. I DID IT! I actually did it.
It has been several days since my macaron extravaganza and I am still overwhelmed by the happiness from that one success. That one success has trumped the emotions of all eight failures. From this experience, I have learned some valuable lessons:
Macarons are expensive for a reason. They really are the devil to make.
Even if you fail, cracked macarons are still tasty.
I’m not a Star Baker…yet.
Now that I’ve regaled you with my wildly wordy tale, I can proudly share my festive macarons with you all! As you can see from the exhausting amount of words above, these were a labor of love and am I thrilled to share these photos. Snowmen macarons! I still have a lot more to learn and I need to work on consistency, but I think I’m on the right track to master these beauties in no time!