Mental for Macarons, Messing with Tradition

I went with this title because it reminded me of Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and that’s kind of where I find myself with the macaron right now. Now that it appears we’ve reached some sort of understanding and mutual cooperation, it’s all I can think about making. But that’s not the point of this blog – the point is to experiment with all manner of baked goods, wherever my whims or fancies might take me. But I do find it interesting – almost empowering, in a bizarre way – that the one confection that had eluded me for so long, to the point where I had become almost terrified of it, is now the bakery version of my BFF.

Take a good look at these macaron pictures side by side. One batch is baked in the Parisian tradition, with ground almonds and icing sugar sifted twice through etc. The other, however, is an experimental batch made with rice flour and dried lavender, adapted from this recipe by a New York City chef. And as a complete aside, isn’t there something extremely attractive about a young man who obsesses over making macarons? Or is that just me?

Anyways – I think it’s fairly obvious which ones are made with the lavender and rice flour combination. In hindsight I think that the texture would have come out much better had I just stuck faithfully to the recipe. But no. That’s just not the way I roll, it would seem. In fact, it would seem that once I managed to get my first ever batch of chocolate macarons to come out with the properly domed, uncracked shell and the all-important pied, that I started looking for other ways to create something that had been nothing but another failed dream for so long. To put it another, much more succinct way: once I did something right the first time, rather than continue to do it that way so as to become a master of it and then moving on to finding other options, I jump straight into looking for other options. So really, macarons are like a metaphor for my life. That might explain why they remained such a struggle for me for so long. It seemed that the harder I worked, the more painstakingly I followed the directions to the letter, the result was always the same: failure. I felt like I was going in circles and gave up on them altogether for quite awhile. Until I moved into my wonderful new house with my ancient yet insanely reliable Eaton Viking oven (that I am never, ever getting rid of for as long as I can help it) that I decided to give them another go with that David Lebovitz recipe. And the rest is blog history, really.

Wow…that got unintentionally deep there for a moment. But it’s true – as soon as I’d read about his own macaron attempts and his research from actual Parisian chefs who created them daily, I relaxed a little. Lebovitz is a world-renowned pastry chef, who has written a number of books on the subject of baking . If he had trouble baking macarons for the first time, then obviously someone like myself – with no formal training in pastry arts whatsoever and not nearly as much baking experience as him – would hit  few snags in the quest for almond-meringue perfection. And I think therein lies my problems in general: that I am my own worst enemy and that I have insanely high expectations of myself. I seek instant perfection, and if I don’t attain it then it’s automatically ‘my fault’ for whatever reason. Because I’m not smart enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not pretty or thin enough…the list could go on and on. Never does it occur to me that I may need some time to learn whatever skill or technique it is that I’m attempting to master. If I were good enough, it would just happen naturally. And when it doesn’t, it’s obviously because there is something wrong with me.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Yeah…when you type it all out like that it really is quite ridiculous to have such unrealistic demands of oneself. You wouldn’t expect that of your friends, your children, husband or wife. But I’m curious, how many of you out there feel kind of the same way? Because I know I can’t be alone in this.

Okay, so that concludes the impromptu therapy portion of our post today, and now back to the subject at hand: macarons. Part of me – the practical, non-crazy part – went looking for ways to create macarons with something other than almond flour, since that effectively denies most nut allergy sufferers of the joys of these little domes of heaven. A quick search in Google proved that I wasn’t the only one. I discovered that people were making their macarons, and achieving proper domage and pied, with such ingredients as coconut flour, ground pumpkin seeds and just straight up meringue bolstered with a bit of corn starch. But the main comment that links them all is that macaron purists would not consider these creations worthy of bearing the name since they have not been made in ‘the proper tradition’ .

To which I reply: You make your own traditions  as you roll along.