Saturday, July 5, 2008
Remembrance of Things Past, or a Mistake Revisited
No, this post is not about madeleines, as the title so suggestively implied. This is about the first time I made French macarons.
It was December last year, when I finally got my bum off my seat and decided to make some of those wonderful little confections so many food bloggers are blogging about. They are the daintiest, prettiest things , and they are called macarons.
In those photos they looked so tame, so innocent that I thought I'd make them for a family christmas gathering at my J's parents' house. Three days to go, and I thought I would start with the shell, just in case things did not work out. I made the macarons in two ways, one batch of lemon macarons using the Italian meringue method, and another batch of pistachio using the French meringue method, borrowing the recipes that I found on Tartelette's blog.
The Italian meringue lemon macarons turned out just perfect. I was contented and pleased with myself. And then the horror began. My tray of pistachio macarons emerged from the oven as the ugliest things I have ever seen. Lopsided, cracked, and uneven. Not just one or two, but almost all of them. I consoled myself with soothing thoughts; perhaps I had misread the recipe, perhaps it is the humidity in the air (December is summer in Australia), perhaps I have forgotten to add a vital ingredient to the batter. With these uneasy thoughts in my head, I headed to bed.
The next night (I had to work from 9am-8pm that day, almost a double shift but not quite), I went on to make another batch of pistachio macarons. I made sure to add all the ingredients, follow the recipe down to every letter, switch on the air-conditioner in my apartment and let the piped batter stand for a good hour. I waited with my eyes closed my my hands clasped in a prayer.
I could not remember what I said or did when the first tray came out of the oven, looking exactly like their predecessors from the previous night. I must have gone through a shock, because I could not remember stomping or kicking or screaming or cursing, and I am a drama queen with a very hot temper.
What followed afterwards when I regained my memory was a frantically typed email at 1 am in the morning to Helen of Tartelette, whom I see as one of the authorities in macaron making. I was desperate and sent a plea for her to shine light on the art of macaron making. She replied promptly with suggestions in such generous details that I felt instantly reassured. But I have never since tried making French macarons again. Until now.
About two weeks ago J went for a visit to his nonna's house. He brought from there a citrus fruit which looks innocently enough like an orange. But peel the skin away and what greets your tongue is a flavour that has the unmistakable acidity of a lemon. This fruit grew on a tree in his nonna's backyard. It seems that she has grafted an orange tree into a lemon tree and married the pair (I am sure this is not the proper explanation, but it will have to suffice), resulting in this hybrid fruit.
I thought about what I wanted to make with this lem-orange, and decided to revisit my old fears of making macarons, mainly because I think that the sweetness of the macaron shell will foil the tartness of the fruit. This time, though, I made sure to take a few extra precautions (and read Helen's tutorial on the online Dessert Magazine).
When my first batch spread too much and became lopsided and uneven, I gritted my teeth and set my mind on making another one, and another one, and another one still, until I can get it perfect. It seemed that my determination managed to win over the macaron god, because I had the idea to cover my oven fan with a flat baking tray. And so my second batch, though a tad under-folded, yielded beautiful round macarons with perfectly even feet. And we live happily ever after.
I borrowed Helen's recipe for the macarons (Thank you Helen, and if you ever want anything from Australia, just let me know and I'll mail it to you!). The ganache I made, though, was a little too white chocolate-y for my taste, so I'll update the recipe after I develop one that I'm completely happy with. I already have something in mind, so stay tuned!