Nothing has made me feel worse in the kitchen than macarons. I know they have plagued many a home baker but I thought I would tell my story anyway.
I am a perfectionist. Sometimes this is a great asset and serves me very well but often it just produces crushing dissapointment. Oxford is a punishing place to be a perfectionist. It just isn't possible - something had to give, and that was my confidence. I will be very happy when I finally finish at the beginning of June. Don't get me wrong - I love my degree and tutors and Oxford is a lovely place in many ways - but it has been tough for me.
I decided to tell you about my macaron failures (and even publish the awful pictures) as part of a plan to accept them and to be kinder to myself. I can strive for my best, but I need to stop beating myself up about failure in all parts of my life. Learning to bake should be a process of accepting failures and faults and understanding them so you can improve.
I first tasted a macaron sitting on the sides of the Arc de Triomphe in blazing sunshine. It was September 2009 and my housemate Sarah and I were on a trip to Paris. We had picked up a box each (above, though this was Sarah's) from Ladurée and after a slow walk up the rest of the Champs-Élysées we settled down to our tasting.
They were delicious, but I have to admit I had expected more after the hype. They're not my favourite pastry to eat.
The photo below shows my first ever batter resting before baking. It was last April and I decided that I finally had gathered enough courage and information to attempt a batch. A few days before I had admitted in this first blog birthday post that I wanted to train as a pastry chef. Now, surely, I had to show that I could do it and make macarons.
I bought special powdered food colouring for my berry macarons and flew it home. After much deliberation, I chose to make them through the French meringue technique as I wasn't experienced with Italian. I looked through many recipes until I decided to try Tartlelette's recipe from her useful guide. I was so excited - surely they would be pulled out of the oven with a flourish looking just like Helen's.
A lot of hope rested on them as I placed them in the oven.
Would you like to see what I pulled out? It still pains me.
Later that day I tried again with another batter, below. I have to admit that I cried - despite the slight improvement. I know it's pathetic to cry over a deformed macaron - especially only on your second attempt - but I did.
Mum pointed out that some of them look like human cheek cells, complete with cell wall and a nucleus. She always knows how to bring a smile back to my face.
Two more botched bright pink batches later, I tried a plain batter with no colour or flavouring. These came out mildly better again, with more compact feet. Yet still they were nowhere near what I wanted. For the first time I bothered to fill them with some raspberry puree mixed with yogurt. They were too sweet even with the filling.
At this point, Mum told me I had to stop. I was only upsetting myself.
This Christmas I tried again (after yet another attempt last term) and made some chocolate macarons with a bitter chocolate ganache. These came out better again. I actually let people other than my mum see and eat them.
Finally, I tried out the Italian method a few days ago. From the beginning it just seemed to work. I much prefer this method.
I chose to make lemon macs as I had spare curd and I thought I would prefer something that cut throught the sweetness. This is the first batch I actually enjoyed eating. Though I do have a sweet tooth (obviously), I like my food to taste of more than icing sugar (which, incidentally, is my main problem with a lot of cupcakes).
They're still not perfect.
Blogging has taught me to be incredibly critical of macarons. Even professional ones often have some flaws. With practice I'm sure I can remove some - and that should be part of the fun.
This time I used Ms Humble's recipe for lemon macarons and her three guides to Italian macarons. I then filled them with leftover lemon curd made with David's wonderful recipe.