The Great Macaron Challenge, Part 1

French Macarons at Home
Macarons I made for a holiday cookie swap!

If you are unfamiliar with French macarons, they are delicate and delicious meringue-based cookie sandwiches. Famous makers include Laduree, Bouchon Bakery and Pierre Herme. I love these little cookies and in an attempt to create the object of my desire (not to mention save my wallet, these cookies usually cost around $2 each!) I decided I would experiment and perfect these little cookies.

There are actually a couple of different ways to make macarons. All the recipes have you creating a meringue and folding it with almond flour and sugar before baking and assembling. The actual meringue, and the technique for building these little sandwiches varies quite a lot. I started with the French meringue method, and thought I would be able to knock these beauties out.

First lesson - get a good recipe. Unfortunately, my first recipe came out of a book entitled "Macaroons." The misspelling alone should have tipped me off, not to mention that that the book called for the egg whites from 2 extra large eggs, with all the rest of the measurements being cup (vs gram) based. I know now that I made many mistakes, but attempt 1 taught me a thing or two. At the end of the day, I ended up with only enough shells to make a measly 6 cookies. Just so you understand my frustration, I piped 60 shells, which should've yielded 30 cookies.

As you can see, I ended up creating vanilla meringues. They were dry, crunchy, with big air holes, and almost no flavor beyond "sweet."

I did get feet in my first attempt, but most of the shells looked like deranged lumpy rocks.

My checklist of things to do after failed attempt #1:
1) Find a better recipe.
2) Learn how to pipe (in my foolishness I piped the batter using a swirling motion which left me with lumps and big points that I needed to squash down. Wetting my finger and flattening those out (as was recommended on some blogs I read) yielded a wet spot that baked funny and lumpy in the oven.
3) Get to know my oven.

Once you have a handle on those three things, macarons do leave the realm of professional bakeries and become delicious homemade treats. BTW, Getting to know your oven is really the biggest factor to overcome. I make macarons relatively frequently, and will still have some mistakes in there - but these almost always come during baking. Your oven is both your best friend and your archenemy.

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