Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia's 100th Birthday Magic Macs

“...nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.”
― Julia Child, My Life in France

Great Julia's Ghost blessed me this morning.  I made my 5th attempt macaron batch on Monday evening, wanting to somehow succeed for Julia Child's centennial birthday. 

Because she reinvented herself, pushed herself, persevered with determination.  When someone said no, she said something like, "Oh hell, YES!"  I tried again.  New recipe.  Subtle changes to technique.  A wish and a prayer.

On Monday evening, I exhaled, and adopted Julia's "in cooking, you have to have a what the hell attitude".  What was the worst that could happen?  They'd be hollow?  Pfffbbt.  So?

Less whipping.  Lighter Meringue.
Careful, "Comma" Piped Circles.
Rapped Pans, Rested Macs
Tended In The Oven Like Newborn Babies With Cute Feet
I let them cool completely, and with great hope, carefully sliced through one pale Tiffany blue macaron.


I packaged them up unfilled & put them in the fridge.  I almost cried.  I went to bed.


Being totally honest here.  I messaged a local pastry chef who specializes in Macs and begged her to help me.  She offered a few suggestions in response, I considered.

Remembering Julia's "what the hell" attitude, I grabbed a jar of lemon curd and filled the macs, returning them to the fridge.  Either I'd find someone to eat yet another batch of hollow macs, or I'd sit on the couch on Julia's birthday Wednesday, alone, and eat the whole batch myself, sobbing while watching Julie & Julia on DVD.  Either way...

Very. Early. Wednesday.

I got up before anyone else, sun coming up.  I pulled the box of macs from the fridge and set them on the counter.  I showered, opened up the house to delicate fog chased by glowing sunbeams.  "Happy Birthday, Julia!"   I thought in my head. 

I grabbed a macaron and went to the front door to enjoy the quiet and sunshine.  Dust motes danced.

I bit into the mac and THERE WAS RESISTANCE.

After producing at least 125 hollow macarons, this was different.

Heaven help me, but Julia's birthday gift to me - the lesson - so appropos. 


Twenty four hours in the fridge sandwiched with lemony curdiness and a return to the world of room temperature had transformed my hollows into something so much closer to correct...something passable, something miraculous:
Perfect?  Nope.  But LIGHT YEARS closer!
I admit, I have filled hollow macs before and this has not happened in the past.  They stayed hollow and were brittle at first bite.  Macawrongs.

Not. On. Julia's. Birthday. Thank. You. Very. Much.

Magic?  Faith?  One hundred years of Julia Child's presence and influence upon cooks, bakers, and foodies everywhere?  We'll never know.

My entire body trembles with excitement typing this post.  If nothing else, I said, "what the hell" and tried again.  I held back the tears and didn't make excuses or explain away my failure.
 I went forward anyway.

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!
Thank You!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nick Nack, Paddy Mac

This old gal, she tried one, she tried macs and she got none
With a nick nack, paddy Mac,
Please, throw me a bone?
This old gal was all alone.

This old gal, she tried two, she tried macs - they were hollow, too
With a nick nack, paddy Mac,
Should I just have made a scone?
This old gal began to groan.

This old gal, she tried three, yep, they're hollow you can see
With a nick nack, paddy Mac,
To the French I must atone,
This old gal, she should have known.

This old gal, she tried four...


With a nick nack, paddy mac,
They're hollow and I'm thrown!
Please send a case of Côte de Beaune.

I tried again, friends.  A morning, entirely to myself.  Clean, peaceful, quiet kitchen.  Mise en place. 

I dressed comfortably. 
I had my coffee.
I streamed "La Vie En Rose" radio on Pandora.
I wore my lucky (signed) apron.
The Hubs kissed me goodbye before leaving for work and said,
"I know it, Hon, today's gonna be THE DAY."

I smiled.  Stared out the kitchen window.  Humble.  Determined. Researched.  Focused.
(Hit it, Edith Piaf!)

Is it me?  This doesn't feel or look right.  I feel naughty.

This is the fourth attempt of the same recipe (french-ish method).  I'm sorry, Stella & Mardi.  Four identically hollow batches NO. MATTER. WHAT.  This fourth attempt really hit home at the meringue stage.  Everything I have read talks about the meringue needing to be shiny and stiff at this stage.  I timed myself and used the exact speeds indicated for a Kitchenaid mixer.  Every single time this meringue is dull and able to split itself, looking like it was a cut marshmallow.  I know, I know, they say it's ok to beat the heck out of it, but I honestly think that I'm breaking the structure-ability out of them. 

They rise, they dome.  They have lovely lacy feet.

That glorious almondy steam.  The smell of failure.  Who knew?

They are expertly masquerading as perfect macarons until you turn them over or bite into one.

If the intent were to create a little natural hole in the bottom to sneak some pastry cream into a hollow shell, I AM A FOUR-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD WINNER.  Oh, bother.

I Have:

Adjusted temperatures rack positions, & baking time
Rapped the pans on the counter
Let them dry for 15, 30, 60 minutes
Tried colorless macs
Cracked the oven door
Dry days
Moderate days
Monsoony days
Various phases of the moon (kidding)
All ranges of Macaronage

What I have gotten in return?  Consistently. Pretty. Hollow. Macaron.


It's time to try a different recipe/method.  I'm sticking with French, just going to do something a little more traditional.  No more fancy shortcuts. I'm going to patiently wait for those egg whites to season 2-3 days.   I'm going to look for glossy meringue with stiff (but not marshmallow) peaks.  I'm going to wear lipstick.  I'm going to get this right.

(I'm probably going to still listen to La Vie En Rose radio on Pandora, though.  That was bliss.)

People who don't know any better would not call this failure:

Failure still tastes pretty good, actually...
Now is the part of the post where you All Comment Below, cheering me on, rooting for this underdog to succeed.  You know, sorta like, "Don't give up, Sweet Teeth!" or "Try playing Mac The Knife instead!"  and other such helpful hints.  With that support, I know I can go back into the kitchen when my next batch of whites has aged, all Rocky Balboa style (but less hairy, with lipstick) and report back to you that it is indeed possible to conquer your fears! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Practice: Marzipan for Slovakia

When my husbands parents saw the marzipan creations I made in Wendy's class, they asked if I could make up a dozen or so to take along with them on an upcoming trip to Europe.

I initially thought that these were headed for Germany, but learned that they are actually traveling to Slovakia as gifts for cousins Jozef and Maria.  I enlisted my sister for help, and together we crafted a dozen lovely little fruits destined for a trip overseas.

I think that I'm addicted to this happy little confection.  I've attempted a strawberry, but it needs work.  One thing is for sure, after modeling these fruits I have a sincere and awestruck appreciation for what nature appears to create so easily.  This may be my new favorite way of slowing down and appreciating the blush of a pear where it hung kissed by the sun, the shocking color and texture of a lemon's skin, and the dimpled crease that every stonefruit shamefully flaunts.

I am pouring over ways to package these pretties for travel overseas so they arrive to Jozef and Maria intact, reflecting all of the love and attention were put into their creation.

In the meantime, I'm giddy with visions of filled fruits for the upcoming autumn season - pumpkins, acorns, maple leaves, itty bitty mushrooms...stay tuned!