This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was so so so lovely. I was delighted. I had plans. To do several batches. Why? Because. They were French macarons. sighhhhhhhhhh.
Even if you’re not a foodie, a baking blogger or a follower of menu trends, you still probably haven’t missed the phenomenonal Rise of the Macaron. It’s like… Stieg Larson to the publishing industry; Brad and Angelina to the gossip mag trade; wide belts to fashion; Susan Boyle to TV. Such is the French macaron to baking in 2009. Little multi-coloured arrays of them adorn every patisserie from Paris to Cape Town. Lemon, chocolate, rose water … even green tea has become pretty standard as a flavour. There seems to be a worldwide trend to break into ever-unheard-of flavour combinations. I’ve seen recipes for purple ones crusted with sugared violets, for pumpkin and spice macarons, for blue cheese, pear and walnut macarons. It’s big, man. And a bit crazy.
But I was so up for it. And confident. ‘Cos I’ve made them before, and they were just gorgeous. It was around Christmas last year, and I packaged them up in gorgeous tins and purple tissue paper. They were lovely.
So this time, I couldn’t decide amongst all the adventurous flavour combinations that were making the rounds on the Daring Bakers forum. I figured I’d go relatively simple: one batch of lemon macarons, and one batch of chocolate. (In fact, I realised later that this was one of my mistakes: do plain macarons first. Master plain ones. Then try the flavours, which introduce a myriad of new problems. Ha.)
First problem: I didn’t trust all the seasoned macaron bakers that advised to age the egg whites for three days on a counter top. It just sounded… a bit gross. And more to the point, I live in a household where four other adults regularly poke around in the kitchen and throw away anything that looks difficult to identify (a reasonable strategy, but not one conducive to successful egg-white-ageing processes). Anyway, so I figured one-day-old eggs would be okay. No no no.
Then there was the glitch in egg white beating. For some reason, I lost faith in my egg whites. They were getting to a stiff-but-still-fluffy-looking stage. Not thick, glossy and meringue-like. Why I thought they looked done enough, I do not know, but when it came to piping out my little lovelies, they were less than lovely. They seemed to lack… something. Surface tension. Solidity. I don’t know.
Worst problem was the lemon batch. The addition of the lemon zest seemed to cause the mixture to … weep. Little droplets of water (or, to be precise, an unctuous watery liquid that resembled protoplasm) seemed to seep out of the piping bag, and all over each piped item.
I could go on. They didn’t rise so much as spread. They didn’t crisp up so much as turn into a sticky mess on the wax paper. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph them. My book club girls quite liked the sticky almondy cookies that emerged, but we agreed that they were about as epic a macaron failure as you can get, without burning down the kitchen. I couldn’t even bring myself to take out another 5 eggs and start over. Maybe this month.
So. That’s my Daring Bakers tragedy of the month. Perhaps of the year.