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Mac Attack: 3 months of blood sweat and tears

Posted on 10 November, 2014 at 16:05 Comments comments (2)

  Getting my macarons to work for me has been a long and very frustrating process. It all started with one of my favourite cook books to date, Bouchon Bakery. After flipping through the pages, I came to the cookie section and saw these beautiful french macarons. I thought to myself "Ooooh, I should try these, I bet they would be fun." Oops, little did I know. 

 


  Not knowing at the time about all the intricate detail involved with producing a macaron that fits all the requirements to be called a macaron, I plugged away with my usual style of winging it through a recipe as I go without reading ahead first, and then troubleshooting any problems my impatience creates. Every time I do this, which is pretty much every time, I can hear my teacher Chef Jullian in the back of my head when I was in school, "Did you read over the whole recipe before you started?" The answer is usually a big fat NO. The recipe said to preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then turn it down to 350 after I put the macarons in, so that's what I did. I never realized at the time how important this step would be in my success.

 


  As I stared through the window of my oven willing these little wonders of nature to work, I watched them all rise up with perfect little feet. I let them go for the recommended 12 minutes and took them out while patting myself on the back. Then, I watched all those feet deflate into flatness. I thought, "Oh well, I'll just bake them longer next time." That was the last presentable batch of macs I produced for a very long time.

 


   The thing with macs is, if all the planets are not aligned, they won't work. I use the Italian meringue method which consists of  grinding the almonds and icing sugar to the right consistency, aging the egg whites, letting the egg whites come to room temperature,  boiling the sugar to the 235 degrees, whipping the egg whites to soft peaks, pouring the heated sugar into the egg whites and whipping to stiff peaks, making sure not to over whip them, mixing the almond mixture and the meringue to the EXACT consistency, letting the macarons rest after piping until the tops form a skin. That's a lot of stuff that can go wrong. And it did!

 


  Batch after batch came out flat, or cracked, or both.


Sometimes they would erupt like little volcanoes,



or the batter would just explode out one side leaving a withered shell of disgrace.





Then came the lopsidedness.

Here


and here



AND AGAIN


I think I probably mutter this word in my sleep. After I fixed all the other problems with a severe case of OCD, my life revolved around lopsided macarons. I read 50 different sites that suggested about 100 things that could cause lopsided macarons. Here are some of those suggestions.... uneven oven heat, make sure your baking sheet is perfectly flat, stack 2 baking sheets, stack 3 baking sheets, rotate the pan front to back, rotate the pan top to bottom, don't rest the macs, rest them for 20 min., rest them for an hour, make sure you don't rest them on a slope, is your oven slanted?? I could go on and on. I tried different ovens, commercial ovens, and still slanted macarons. And to make things worse, every once in a while I would get a perfect batch just to confuse me more. I was sure the problem was uneven oven heat but no one seemed to have the answer. 

 


 So I came back to the first recipe I ever tried (which is not the recipe I use today), starting the oven at 400 and then turning it down. I turn it way down... to like 250. It solves the uneven heating in the oven because the elements are not on anymore to create an uneven air flow. Just beautiful, motionless, hot air. And because heat rises I put them on the bottom rack and no more lopsided macarons. 3 months later and roughly 100 batches and.... that was easy. 

 

  Lucky for me I now know I have a wife that will stand beside me through anything. 3 months of hearing me cry about macarons and she didn't bail tells me a lot. I've actually learned a lot about myself over that time, and it wasn't all good. Persistence does pay off, but it's a fine line between that and insanity.


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