Adventures in macarons
In the past year, I tasted my first real macaron at a little bakery here in Austin. I had seen so many of the lovely pictures on the internet of candy-colored macarons in jewel box packages and I was curious what all the hype was about. With my first bite I understood. I loved the light, chewy, gooey, soft texture, not to mention the amazing range of flavors from salted caramel to coffee to lemon to pistachio, rose, even lavender and violet.
Of course in Paris I wanted to sample macarons from the place of origin. I never made it to Pierre Herme, but I did make it to Laduree and I so enjoyed what I ate that I decided I wanted to try my hand at making macarons when I came home. I thought it would make such a fun gift to share them with friends and family who looked at me with puzzle expressions when I said the word "macaron".
(Btw, macarons and macaroons are not the same. Macaroons are a sort of haystack meringue with coconut flakes, and if you're lucky, chocolate is involved. Macarons are a meringue made with ground almonds or other nuts, which are then baked in neat little circles and sandwiched with a filling of buttercream or jam or curd or ganache.)
But I was afraid of making macarons and I did lots of hunting and reading up on the internet before trying my first batch. Luckily I found some very helpful posts on Brave Tart that alleviated much of my anxiety and encouraged me to give it a go.
It wasn't as simple as baking up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I needed all the ingredients on hand - lots of eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla beans and the less common almond flour. Plus I needed a few tools - a Kitcheanaid (pretty essential), parchment paper (which is a godsend for baking if you've never tried it), an oven thermometer (wow, why did I never get one of these before), a foodscale (these can be quite useful too), and some piping tips and pastry bags.
I measured out all my ingredients beforehand and then went step by step. I went for a simple vanilla version. Did they turn out purrfectly? Umm no. But not bad. For all my attempts at precision, I didn't get the piping quite right. They cracked a bit and they weren't all the same exact size or perfectly round and smooth. For all that, they still taste quite good, in fact, amazingly so after a night resting in the refrigerator - so I've got the mix right, I just have to practice to make it prettier.
For years I've had this fantasy of having a bakery or being a pastry chef. It's nonsensical, especially since it's probably not nearly as glamorous as I imagine. But I've always loved bakeries that are worth eating at and looking at and anytime I'm somewhere new, I go out of my way to eat at a special bakery. I always find myself perusing the pretty little baking cookbooks in the bookstore. So I let these things linger, enjoying my silly dreams while I can. Sometimes a dream is just as good, if not better, than the real thing.