Sunday, January 17, 2010

Developing An Unhealthy Obsession

So there I am in my kitchen with my bowl of almond flour and meringue and I grab a spatula and start to combine my mixture and it instantly deflates with a dramatic 'poof' and I'm left with a bowl of syrup. Confused, I look at my spatula and it's somehow slathered with butter... oil in my meringue...

Then I wake up filled with anxiety over my failure.

Oh come on! Macaron nightmares?! What is that nonsense!

They are just cookies, after all. Little blobs of egg white, sugar and almond flour, hard to get much simpler than that. Yet, they seem to be messing with my head already.

So full disclosure, before last week I had never made a single macaron. In fact, before delving into the food-blog community I had never even understood the significance of the cookie trend. I had even wandered around Paris, ignorantly passing Laduree without a second thought. Of course, within days of really delving into the food blogging community, I understood.

The first thing that pulls you in is their seductive rainbow of colors. Then you begin to understand the attention required to execute the perfect cookie anatomy: the frilly foot, the delicate egg shell like dome. You get a clear sense of the challenge reading the trials of other bakers and the euphoria of their successes.

I thought to myself: "I want that"

I wanted those cookies. I didn't want to eat them--I've always thought macarons were a little too sweet--but I wanted to make perfect macarons.

From then on there was no hope for me. I had the macaron bug.

So I started researching and reading everything I could find online to arm myself before attempting the notoriously temperamental cookie. Then late last week I started separating eggs. Preparing my bowl of egg whites to sit at room temperature on my counter.

My microbiologist husband and I discussed this:

Mr. Humble: Everything grows in eggs. This is not a good idea.

Me: It's basically standard practice. I don't see people keeling over left and right from macarons.

Mr. Humble: Everything grows in eggs! That slurry there can produce a complete chicken!

Me: I like chicken.

Mr. Humble: How about a big bowl of salmonella? Streptococcus faecalis... Escherichia coli?

Me: I knew you'd be like this...

Mr. Humble: Countertop abiogenesis! In three days something is going to crawl out of that ooze.

Me: Yea, and you're going to eat it!

Three days later I made my first batch of macarons.

I don't think I've ever sat in front of my oven and stared through the window the entire time something baked. I was terrified... what if there were no feet. Worse, what if they just turned into a heat-hardened blobs... What if I couldn't do macarons.

I had seen the photos, the failures, the cookies with awkward flat chests, the feet-less lepers, the pools of ooze. I'd have to post them, then everyone would know my shame. Ms. Humble can't make macarons.

Boy, I've never been so happy to see feet. I figured I might have a shot at making decent macarons.

I'll even share my first three attempts with everyone. Feel free to point and laugh! The pink ones are particularly sad.

Virgin attempt: 3 day aged eggs. Sucre-cuit method. Not bad, but not great. Do the feet project a little too much? Regardless the bottoms were a little too sticky. Need to get a better feel for my ovens...

Second attempt: 24 hour aged eggs. Worst yet.

For some reason I thought I could play with an Italian meringue recipe, adjusting the sugar syrup by reducing the amount and replacing it with rose syrup. Bad idea. The macarons were too flat. Tasty, but flat.

Master the basics before you start messing around, duh. The rose syrup might not of been the culprit though, I could have over-mixed these... or it could of been my meringue. This batch lacked the same volume as attempt #1 so I could also lay some blame there. No sticky bottoms this time though.

Third attempt: 24 hour aged eggs. Getting better. No sticky bottoms. Good shell, texture and interior.

My next attempt will be today, with 3 day old eggs. Doing both the sucre-cuit and french meringue method. We'll see how they turn out...


  1. I tried making macarons for the first time last christmas and was also really terrified of it, with all the same horror stories from the net scaring me and in the end, they were surprisingly easier to make.

    Sure, they weren't perfect yet, but I imagined they would be completely disastrous.

    Anyway - happy macaroning! All of them so far look delicious - no doubt because of all the happy colours you're using!

  2. The blue ones are a suspiciously viagra shade... a new science cookie, perhaps?

  3. i love the color! and they are perfectly smooth on top. i've yet to try the much hype surrounds them. thanks for always making me smile. love your blog.

  4. lol, ShonaK!

    Yes, apparently I used Americolor's newest gel hue: Viagra Blue.

  5. Love, Love, Love your blog!!! I live in Belgium and absolutely no eggs are refrigerated. Half the time, they still have feathers attached when I buy them at the local market or the grocery! I wonder if the age of the eggs makes for better or worse cooking success?

  6. I'm lost me after you said you were in Paris and walked past Laduree.

    You. Walked. Past. Laduree.

    *falls over dead with shock*

  7. We are so spoilage paranoid in the States. Even when we shouldn't be. Whole eggs are always kept chilled (outside of those you can buy at a farmers market). We even keep all our cheeses and cured meats chilled!

    Ah Belgium. I really need to come visit again and get my chocolate fix. You guys have my all time favorite Chocolate shop over in Bruges: The Chocolate Line.

    T. The Destructor... yea, I know. I'm really embarrassed to admit that publicly.

  8. The pink one? It's got a sort of defiant smirk on it's face I don't like one bit. That macaron is trouble. The periwinkle ones, though... are PERFECT.

    PS - Don't feel so bad. I also walked past Laduree in Paris and thought "Huh, that's really pretty." in my pre-blogger days. Although that probably wasn't a bad thing as I'm afraid the next time I'm in France I will probably go completely broke from all the "MUST try" items on my now bloated list.

  9. Wonderful blog - I like seeing the creative ideas you come up with!

    As for unrefrigerated eggs - I'm living in Mexico for the time being as my first attempt of many to broaden my horizons. As in Belgium, the eggs aren't refrigerated at all. The first time I saw that the eggs were kept in the drawer next to the utensil drawer, my jaw dropped leaving me speechless for about 15 shocked seconds. Since then I've eaten countless unchilled eggs and since arriving 4 months ago, I have yet to get sick, much less (obviously) die.

    Bravo on the cookies!

  10. I am scared of them. I will just buy mine. Yours sound wonderful
    Just thought I would let you know.
    We are having a just because giveaway
    $50 gift certificate.
    No need to folllow or twiiter, or blog, just say what you think you might like and leave a comment.

  11. When I was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, I didn't have a fridge at all, so eggs, margarine (or butter when I could find it-- very elusive in the fridgeless middle-of-nowhere bits of Guatemala) etc were all kept on the counter. I never got sick (well, not from my own cooking), but I did notice that the eggs and butter don't last as long outside the fridge, so I still refrigerate them here in the US.

    I also couldn't refrigerate leftovers and would just cover things in the pot to reheat the next day. Though doing so made me nervous at first, the practice also failed to kill me :)

  12. Aw those are pretty already!! Green is my favorite so far :)

  13. i never understood the macaron craze before entering the food blogger community, either, but now that i have... yeah. maybe it's because we like the suspense of sitting in front of the oven, praying that the macarons will come out alright.

    what *are* the blue ones flavored?!? the color is so intriguing.

  14. Your first attempts are much better than mine. I didn't even put mine on my blog I was so ashamed!
    The blue ones are beautiful. Also interesting to hear about the different methods.

    I love your blog btw, food and geekery is a fantastic combination.

  15. Those are looking good! I keep musing over macarons . . . maybe you have inspired me to finally give it a try. :) Of course, today would be a good day, since the sun is out and it might be dr - oops, never mind.

  16. I think the colors are just beautiful! I must get around a bit more in the food blogging community. I had no idea that macaroons were such a hot item. No, wait, I just researched that. Its macron, not macaroon. Haha! I kept thinking those beautiful colored cookies did not look like the sweet coconut macaroons that I am accustom to seeing. I have never seen these beautiful treats before. Off to research this a little more. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I had attempted macarons over the holidays and I will share my failure photos with you. I've had success using the LaRousse Gastronomique recipe.

  18. I need to attempt these. Maybe I'll wait until you perfect them and blog about it. I want to read your whole entire blog now.

  19. Since I live in Paris, I will go have a macaron for you tomorrow :) I love them and would love to make them, but I am completely intimidated by the recipe. You are very brave. Bonne chance!

  20. Food t-shirts - #14. They might actually be blue hamburgers, but I thought they looked more like your macarons!

  21. The trick with eggs is never to refrigerate them.
    Once they have been chilled they will quickly spoil if stored at room temperature.
    So if you buy them already chilled its best to keep them chilled.


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