Macaron Chronicles, vol. 2: Fourth attempt

Two batches in two days… I am determined to get this right!

I received TWO books on macarons for Mother’s Day, by the very best and most famous pâtissiers, and they are the most beautiful books.  Pierre Hermé’s “Macaron” is considered the macaron Bible, and even if the recipes are terrifyingly complicated for this macaron novice, the pictures are beautiful, the flavor combinations inspiring, and I know one day I will put these recipes to good use.

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The second book I received is the Ladurée Paris recipe book for macarons, which includes the recipe for the classic macaron shell, which allowed me to confirm that I had been using this exact recipe all along.  If I am going to perfect a recipe for macarons, it is going to be the best macaron recipe.

Here are my scientific notes on Batch #4:

Batch #4 on 5/15/17 (in lieu of a workout. Typical.):

  • Still measured out a half batch; wondering if this is why yesterday’s batch failed so miserably… Maybe the ingredients just don’t work at smaller measurements??
  • Still used my cheapy food scale – was extremely tempted to grab one at Walmart but decided to find one on Amazon that had good reviews, and to buy when I felt comfortable investing in a good one that I will have for a while.
  • Food processed the almond flour/confectioner’s sugar a little longer this time, instead of pulsing.
  • Whipped the meringue until “stiff” but not absolutely stiff (the peaks still bent a little – yesterday I whipped them until super stiff and I believe this is what made a more crunchy, hard shell.  At first I was scared to over-whip again so I stopped, then just before mixing with the dry ingredients, I decided to whip them another minute.  They were still a teeny bit soft. (Update: I now realize the stiffer meringue was fine yesterday, as I did not have hollow shells but did again today.  The hard, crunchy shell I believe was because they were slightly over cooked).
  • The egg whites I used were aged almost two weeks.  Not necessarily by choice, mostly because I didn’t get around to trying another batch for a while.  Not sure if this made a difference.  I suspect not, because my shells were still slightly hollow.  From what I understand, aged, room temperature egg whites results in a better meringue, not necessarily a better cookie.  So again I think I just need to whip my meringue stiffer.
  • Tried oh so hard not to over fold the batter; Dana’s Bakery says to fold until “molten lava consistency,” or until the batter falls from the spatula in a ribbon without breaking, and flattens at the bottom of the bowl.  I did this yesterday in the failed batch, but I think it was over-folded nonetheless (my shells barely had a foot at all, whereas in previous attempts I believe the batter was slightly under-folded but still produced feet (albeit small ones)).  I was super careful to start the spatula at 12 o’clock, circle to 6 o’clock, fold over, then rotate the bowl 1/4 turn.  Repeat.  Tested batter consistency several times.  Praying it was the right amount this time!
  • Realized after getting the batter correct that I forgot to add in the 1/4 egg white as I was mixing, which is said to loosen the batter just a wee bit.  I decided this was fine- what difference could 1/4 of an egg white make, anyway??  Gulp.
  • Did not rush the piping process.  Made sure to secure the piping bag so the batter wouldn’t splooge (one of my favorite words, and yes I made it up) out the tip before I was ready.  Don’t you just hate it when that happens?  wink wink.
  • Piped onto silicone mats (not parchment paper, as in failed batch yesterday).  Will bake trays one at a time on a doubled-up cookie sheet, as this is supposed to help form those infamous “feet.”
  • Discovered that if I set the trays to “harden” on the left side of my kitchen island, they are directly in line with the air conditioner vent, which blows lightly onto the shells to speed up the hardening process.  I turned down (up?) the AC a notch before starting the batch to keep the kitchen cooler, as it is hotter than Hades outside.
  • Baking at 290F this time, lower and slower to help those cookies rise, rise, rise (I hope).  I baked for 17.5 minutes at this heat before I took them out, which seemed just right.  You want to be able to gently pull the shell up and it should come up without any damage; I tried to pull one out after 16 minutes and the cap of the shell ripped off.  Oops.
  • Also, I piped both trays out at the same time, so the second tray sat for an extra 17 minutes.  The shells were very dry by the time I put them in the oven- wondering if this will help the feet growing or not, we will see…

Excuse me while I go sit in front of my oven and pray for rising feet and no burst shells….

RESULTS:

Tray #1:  

  • The shells looks lumpy and bumpy.  A quick check on the “Troubleshooting Guide” at Food Nouveau tells me I did not process the dry ingredients enough.  Hmmm.  I do tend to force the dry stuff through the sieve instead of discarding the larger pebbles.
    • SOLUTION: Try processing longer, and discarding the thicker pebbles at the bottom of the sieve, rather than forcing them through.
  • The feet look a mile high!!!
  • Still slightly hollow at the top of the shell, although not as hollow, if that makes sense.  Last time they were paper thin at the top, and these shells feel much sturdier. So that’s progress!
    • SOLUTION: I should have whipped the meringue even more.  So I’m thinking my problem yesterday was more that I over-folded the batter and perhaps did not let the shells sit and harden long enough before I put them in the oven.  Because now that I think about it, the batch yesterday had all sorts of issues, but ironically the shells were not hollow (the one thing they had going for them).

Tray #2:

  • The feet look even higher on this tray… So awesome.  This tells me that leaving the trays out to harden even longer will help grow those feet.
  • Shells are also slightly hollow due to the meringue I was too scared to whip enough.
  • Still taste delicious!

Things that worked:

  • Using my silicone mats instead of parchment paper.
  • Doubling up the cookie sheets.
  • Folding method – it appears I did not over fold!  No cracked tops this time.
  • Looooong drying out time – I will let those shells sit and sit and sit before baking them.

Things that didn’t:

  • Lumpy shells – never had this problem before so maybe I over processed, since that’s what I did differently.
  • Hollow shells – Must whip the heck out of that meringue and not feel guilty about it next time.

New things to try:

  • Beat the meringue to stiff peaks.
  • Discard larger pebbles of dry ingredients, and tap the tray harder to flatten out shells.
  • Will let the shells dry out for at least 30 minutes under the vent in my kitchen.
  • Bake at 290 and add a minute or so (18.5 minutes).

I am now waiting a day or two to age more egg whites, then I will be back at it.  The study continues….

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Don’t fear your dreams; they’re worth waiting for

You guys… I’m sitting in a salon with my hair painted various colors, all of which I’m hoping are the opposite of the end result. And I’m waiting and staring at the walls. So I thought I’d do some writing instead.

I’ve been thinking… I’ve never shared why my blog is called Café Geneviève, or why I am the Francophile I claim myself to be.


Well, it all started in high school. I was accidentally assigned to a French class as a freshman and decided to give it a whirl. Long story short, I fell in love with language, and discovered I had quite a talent for learning language. Fast forward to the summer of my junior year when my class took a 10 day trip to France, and I fell deeper in love with this glamorous, sophisticated culture that praised beauty, art and delicious food. Who can’t get on board with that??

In college I continued on with French, testing into senior-level advanced courses as a freshman. After a bad breakup, I decided I needed to “see the world” and applied for my university’s study abroad program. By the next fall I found myself having a panic attack in a hotel room in Paris with my best friend. We were all alone, jet lagged, and I had five months of living with a French host family looming ahead of me. What had I done to myself?! Though I yearn for adventure and travel, I am also a creature of comfort and resistant to change. I’m quite a conundrum, aren’t I?

The next five months were filled with frustration, frequent episodes of being lost in translation, adventure, so much travel, self-learning, overcoming fears, growing in confidence and a mastery of a language I was deeply in love with. As I sat in my host mother’s kitchen on my last day in Nantes, having a full conversation with her entirely in French, she pointed out just how far I had come. Wonderfully, miraculously, full circle.

To this day, though my life has been full of many other hurdles, arguably as challenging as this, it is the greatest personal accomplishment of my life. My own fears and lack of confidence almost got in my way of achieving an experience I wanted even more than how heavily my self doubt weighed on me. I overcame a great fear and I believe it made me into the woman I am today.

So, two years of graduate school later, I am armed with a teaching certificate I haven’t been able to use as intended. Being a military spouse hasn’t exactly landed me in areas of high demand for French language teachers. A variety of experiences in teaching has taught me, however, that my desire to indulge my passions will be better accomplished in other ways.

When my family is settled in one place, I have big plans. Until then, my dreams are under construction. I am learning and developing my goals so that I will be ready to hit the ground running with my business. It is often that I feel frustrated by my limitations of our nomadic lifestyle lately, but my husband recently pointed out that I have the gift of time to hone my plan and to learn as much as I can so that I will be successful when my time does come.

And I think the first step was reminding myself through this medium of who I am, what I’ve already accomplished and where I want it to take me.

Do you have dreams you may have had to put on hold at first? How do you keep the passion burning?

One things for sure, I’ll have a fabulous hairstyle when my time does come.