Macaron Mess, Part I

Up until this point, everything I’ve shared on pumpercake has been a story of recipe triumph and picture-worthy finishes.  It is a harsh reality that in the baking world, some stories do not end in success.  I feel as though it would be dishonest of me to share with my small, but loyal group of readers only the stories that end in the sweetest victory.  Now, I’ve been upfront with the fact that I am, by no means, a pastry professional and have had zero means of formal instruction in the kitchen, and it was inevitable that a recipe-flop was bound to take place at one point or another.  I was just really hoping that it wouldn’t happen at this point in the lifespan of my blogging career… barely one month after my first post.  But, then again, it was me who chose to take on the amateur baker’s worst nightmare, also known as: the French macaron.

Here was my thought process:  Cathryn, my sister-in-law, has a birthday coming up, and I wanted to bake up something special for her.  Cathryn is a terrific baker herself, my favorite of her specialties being her chocolate-peanut butter buckeyes that she whips up every Christmas.  Those bite-sized dreams could put peanut butter cups out of business.  I wanted to make her a batch of  something small with similar flavors modeled after her perfect candies, and I decided that this would be a good time to attempt French macarons.  Not to be confused with those swirly coconut chewies (macaroons), French macarons are tiny little sandwich cookies with an eggshell-thin crust, meringue-y cookie interior, and a variety of silky fillings to bind and sandwich the two cookies together.  And the feet, oh, the feet!  If all goes well, when the teeny tiny disks of cookie batter are piped onto sheet trays and placed into the oven, the heat from the trays pushes the top disks of the cookies up-ward, and creates, at the bottom of the cookies, pretty little flourishes called “feet.”  Now, macarons are notorious for being one of the most finicky and temperamental confectioneries one can attempt. The slightest blunder in over-folding, under-folding, or measurements (most recipes call for the ingredients to be measured in grams) can result it cracked tops, lava-like explosions, or lack of feet entirely.  A spin on Cathryn’s buckeyes, I decided I’d attempt  a chocolate macaron with a peanut butter filling to be shipped off to Cathryn and my brother’s home in Ohio.  And Cathryn, being a fellow baking-junkie, was sure to appreciate the time and efforts put forth to prepare for her the special cookies.

Chocolate batter

I studied and researched many a cookbook and blog for two weeks straight.  I bought the suggested brands of ingredients that work best, the correct size piping tip to use, and the specific type of cookie sheets that help the macarons to rise the most evenly.  I learned tons of tips and tricks to help the process go by super-smoothly, like exactly how many folds would incorporate the ingredients to the perfect consistency, and that I should age my egg whites for at least two days (I did mine for three!), and that tracing 1 inch circles onto your parchment-lined sheets helps to pipe symmetrical disks.  I gathered my ingredients, enough to make two batches in case the first ones didn’t work out, and planned every last step of the process a week ahead and set aside an entire day devoted only to these little buggers.

Regardless of my measuring and re-measuring and my sifting and re-sifting, my first batch of cookies were a nightmare, complete with lopsided feet and an inedible, raw center.  After quite a few tears and a little revamping,  I attempted a more simple, vanilla batch the second time around, and although this batch did turn out significantly better, they were nowhere near where they’re supposed to be.  In an effort to disguise their imperfections and also to make them a little more buckeye-like, I sprinkled the fragile little failures with some cocoa nibs and changed the peanut butter buttercream to a peanut butter and chocolate ganache.  I wrapped them in bubble wrap and dropped them off at the post office to be sent to the birthday girl in hopes that she won’t be too disappointed with what is sure to be a macaron mess by the time it reaches her.

Unfortunately, I have no recipe to share today… only a few sad pictures of my unsuccessful attempts during my adventure this past weekend.  But, I have made it my new mission to not only be able to create the perfect macaron, but to master the process.  I know, I know, I have a long way to go.  But, lucky for me, I’ve been able to get into contact with the ever-talented baker and blogger Heather Baird of the amazing Sprinkle Bakes, who has agreed to help me through this process and has already given me some words of wisdom, encouragement, and a few tips to start off with.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep you updated with my progress.  If there are any experienced macaron-makers out there who have any suggestions or advice for me, I’d love the input!  And although I’m too embarrassed to post any pictures of the first batch, there will be a day, hopefully not too far from today, where I hope to post them right alongside the pictures of my successful macarons.  But, until then, keep your fingers crossed for me!

To be continued…

*My more recent (and successful) macaron posts, including an extensive tip list and directions, can be found here and here.

3 Comments to “Macaron Mess, Part I”

  1. I thought they were delicious!

  2. Good luck!!! I am too scared to attempt them myself yet….can’t wait to hear your tips!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve been doing some more research and have ordered a couple little helpful tools (as suggested by Heather) and have scheduled my next attempt at these suckers for the end of this week! I’ll keep you posted!

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