The Little Macaron (er, Macaron-Baker) That Could

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

This phrase is a good one to remember when cooking… or in my experience, baking.  Whenever you try something new and challenging, there is a chance that you will fail.  So what?

Truth be told, I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters throughout the years.  A spinach-ricotta gnocchi that turned to glob, Crème brûlée that wouldn’t set, a chicken tikka that I had marinated in VANILLA yogurt, badly burned toast… you get the idea.  Still, strangely undaunted, I pressed on.

My co-author and I are currently testing recipes for a meringue cookbook we are writing (Gibbs-Smith 2012), which will include those sweet clouds the form of cookies, pies, pavlovas, vacherins and marjolaines… just to name a few desserts.

Which brings me to the other day.  I wanted to create a Violet Macaron recipe in honor of those I have eaten at Laduree in Paris.  I have a few recipes for macarons already, but for some reason, when I started baking, the violet macarons just weren’t turning out.  At all.

Test #1 – The meringue whipped up perfectly, and became a beautiful shade of violet from the few drops of food coloring.  The almond/powdered sugar mixture was ground finely and I made sure to fold it carefully into the meringue.  Perhaps too carefully, because the cookies came out lumpy. They also didn’t have enough violet essence.

No matter how I tried to style the assembled cookies, they looked awful.

A bit of research, and I had the answer.  I would sift my almond/powdered sugar mixture next time, and add a drop or two more of violet essence.

Test #2 – The second batch tasted better, but were ugly!  They had turned brown around the edges and didn’t have the pretty shine I was looking for.  Grr.  I set about separating more eggs and leaving them out to get to room temperature.

Test #3 –  I was getting frustrated by now.  How many eggs had I gone through, anyway?  Maybe my oven wasn’t calibrated correctly…  Never mind. I repeated the steps once again, whipping, sifting, folding, praying…  This batch wasn’t awful, but where were the coveted macaron feet?  I had left them sitting on the baking sheet for a full 15 minutes before baking them!  Not only that… they were also flat.

I called my co-author to suggest the possibility of dropping the violet macarons and substituting chocolate instead.  I had made chocolate macarons many times with great success.

Though she was perfectly open to chocolate, and I could have ended my misery there, something stopped me. Was I really going to let cookies beat me?  I got my eggs out of the fridge, ready to try again.

This time, after combining the almond/sugar and meringue, I gave the batter a few extra “folds” with my spatula.  As I let the mixture fall into the bowl, it seemed slightly more liquid.  I carefully piped perfect rounds onto my parchment paper liner, and this time I left them sitting out for nearly 30 minutes to get the desired “feet.”  For good measure, I placed another baking sheet under the first to make sure they didn’t brown.  I popped them into the oven and crossed my fingers.

The fourth try was a success!!  The macarons came out perfectly, with those darling little “feet” that the ones at Laduree have.  The color was pretty, too: violet, not obnoxiously purple.  The violet essence against the fluffy vanilla-violet buttercream was perfectly balanced.

I found an old Laduree box and couldn’t help myself.  I snapped a shot of my final product on top of the box (SEE PHOTO AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE – YES, THAT  IS ACTUALLY A MACARON THAT I MADE!).  While Laduree doesn’t have anything to worry about, I felt proud that I finally achieved success.



The violet macaron recipe will be in our new cookbook, but here’s a chocolate one to try in the meantime (see RECIPES FOR ADVENTUROUS YOUNG CHEFS).

Be brave.  And remember, if at first you don’t succeed… hopefully, there is a macaron shop around the corner J