I know what you’re thinking; “That blurry macaron in the foreground looks almost kinda normal! Well done!” Nice and smooth, frilly bottom, filled with chocolaty goodness. Don’t be fooled. The reality is the developmentally-disabled, broken, battered thing that’s in focus. Yes, that’s right: even when it looks as if I’ve succeeded, I fail.
My oven is where macarons come to die.
I poured the sugar syrup into the beater rather than down the side of the bowl, spattering half the syrup around the sides of the bowl, on PURPOSE. So there.
Batch number two was eggnog macarons: nutmeg-scented cookies filled with a dark-chocolate eggnog ganache (I’ve seen them before with ‘nog and white chocolate filling, but that sounded too cloying for my taste). For this attempt, I decided to try My Food Geek’s almost-foolproof macarons, a recipe he says “just plain works.” I normally stay away from recipes where I have to measure things in grams rather than pinches and handfuls, but I was lulled by the siren song of foolproof macaron.
Astute readers will note the “almost” in the recipe title, which could be interpreted as being at variance with the “just plain works” claim. Or perhaps My Food Geek is prescient and the “almost” was inserted to refer specifically to me, in preparation for the time when I would attempt and mangle this recipe.
Anyway, this recipe is different from most in that it uses an Italian meringue, one where boiling hot sugar syrup is slowly poured into beaten egg whites that are then whipped until they come down to room temperature, at which point you have an enormous bowl of sticky – but very stable – marshmallow fluff meringue (pretty similar to the base of my favorite buttercream*). I was pretty confident in my ability to master this step, although I’ve never measured water in grams to make a simple syrup.
*I’d only been blogging for 5 weeks or so when I wrote that post, so be nice about it.
While the meringue whipped up – it takes 10 minutes or so – I did the whole processing and sifting sugar and almond meal hoo-ha; My Food Geek isn’t a sifter, but I wanted to give myself every advantage. I added some freshly ground nutmeg as well, to echo the eggnog spice. I mixed the dry ingredients into additional, un-whipped egg whites, creating a substance with a texture and viscosity not entirely unlike library paste, and steeled myself up for the folding, or macaronage.
I have to say this up front: the more I type the word “magma” the more my fingers want to type the word “smegma.” I know it’s wholly inappropriate, but there’s not really anything I can do about it. I like to be candid about these things.
Anyway, the folding started out a little rough due to the extreme stickiness of the meringue and density of the almond-egg white mix, but things quickly smoothed themselves out and I ended up with a batter that I guess you could describe as “flowing like magma,” if you wanted to. It was viscous but not overly stiff, and bits of batter dropped from a small height took a bit of time to settle back into the whole mass.
The superiority of this batter was further evidenced in the piping. Unfortunately, I have no photographic evidence of the piping process, because my hands and most other surfaces in the kitchen were coated with the incredible sticky batter. Be assured when I tell you that it flowed smoothly out of the snipped tip of my ziploc bag, forming neat little circles that spread and flatted just a bit before assuming their final hoped-for diameter of about 3 inches.
And now: let the parade of failures begin!
Failure #1: The Unkindest Cut of All
Batch 1 went into the 320 oven on a heavy aluminum baking sheet lined with a silpat. I kept the light on in the oven, checking obsessively on the cookies to see how they were coming along.
There is no way to overestimate the joy I felt at minute thirteen, when my peek rewarded me with the sight of lovely, flat tops rising perfectly above frilly little feet. Possibly I sat down in front of the oven for the remainder of the baking time to be there lest the slightest thing appear to go wrong and I be needed to whisk the cookies to safety. I pulled them out after 20 minutes or so and pulled the silpat onto a cooling rack. When the cookies were cool, they slid smoothly off the mat with the merest prod of a little offset spatula.
My joy was short lived: these cookies had succumbed to one of the macarons fatal flaws, probably caused by overmixing. Between the smooth crunchy tops and the satisfyingly chewy feet there was nothing, nothing at all. My macarons were hollow shells that shattered to the touch. Their only saving graces were that (1) somehow I had managed to get the feet right and (2) the hollows in the cookies were a convenient storage location for my hubris.
Failure #2: I was misled.
I only have one silpat and was out of parchment, so I needed something to pipe the successive batches on. The author of one of the recipes I read, which I forgot to bookmark, noted that in her macaron trial-and-errors, heavy-duty foil had proven to be the least prone to sticking. That I had, so I piped the next tray.
I need not describe the ensuing carnage, which is all too apparent from the photo. The tops were still nicely flat and unmarred and they weren’t hollow like the first tray, but as with the chocolate macarons what should have been the frilly feet were hellbent on making a getaway. These feet seemed to be much more ambitious than those on the chocolate cookies because in many cases they weren’t under the cookie AT ALL, but had totally made for the suburbs and were clearly trying to figure out a way to get even further from the inner cookie ghetto. It’s what macaronieres call “white flight.”*
Also, my experience with the foil was, to put it mildly, somewhat different. That is, these cookies stuck to the foil like motherfuckers. They had to be forcefully pried from the foil, and every single one still left its bottom attached to the foil, leaving the cookies’ chewy innards exposed. I suppose it was a fairly effort-free form of suicide for them, and released them from their deformed earthly state so they could go on to macaron heaven where all macarons assume the form of a perfectly-created Herme salted caramel macaron.
Failure #3: What the fuck?
For the remaining batter, I went back to the silpat (which had cooled since the first batch had finished) and another heavy aluminum baking sheet. Piping again went smoothly.
This time, they failed in a TOTALLY NEW WAY. Not only were there no feet to speak of, but the tops of all but one developed gaping fissures and the cookies were crunchy all the way through. I’d saved some of the foil-baked match just for munching, since the chewy, nutmeggy cookies were tasty. This batch went directly into the trash can, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
So: Three trays of macarons. Same batch of batter. Same oven temp. Three failures, all unique and different snowflakes.
I am not quite ready to say that macarons can suck my ass, but I’m getting there.
Again, the shining light.
I’d hoped that at least a few cookies were salvageable, so I made the filling anyway – another simple ganache, this time using 60% Callebaut chocolate and eggnog instead of cream. It was smooth and rich and though I’d feared that the darker chocolate would overpower the eggnog, hints of cream and spice still came through.
The fruits of attempted assembly are visible in the opening photo and need not be posted again here now. Time and time again I would pipe filling onto one cookie half, put another cookie on top, and as I pressed ever so fucking gently to bond the cookies the crackly shells would shatter into a hundred thousand million tiny shards, many of which landed on the floor and needed to be painstakingly hunted down because my stupid dogs are too goddamn picky to eat food off the floor unless it’s a piece of filet mignon or asparagus tips.*
A single macaron – inedible because of the hollow cookie – escaped alive. It was all the more tragic because the cookie and ganache tasted really, really good together. I could have just taken a picture of that one and written a whole post lying about what a great job I did and it’s a Christmas miracle, but then I would be denying my very special Christmas gift to you, which is mockery at my expense.
*I am not even kidding. I don’t know where they learned this shit.