The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Macarons are little French almond-y, meringue-y sandwich cookies, not to be confused with coconut-y American macaroons. They've become rather trendy lately, and I've been curious to make them for a while. From what I can tell, they're one of the holy grails of the baking world: simple on paper, but ridiculously complex in practice, with lots of little puzzle pieces that all have to fall into place correctly in order for it to work.
Like almost every other Daring Baker who tried this challenge, I failed the first time. I was a bit overambitious and took too many shortcuts, but the odds were stacked against this recipe anyways. The failure was so epically embarrassing that I didn't even snap pictures.
For my second attempt, I tried a different recipe. I've long admired Helen's (of Tartelette fame) perfect-looking macarons, they're one of her specialties, and many other Daring Bakers reported successes with her method. I felt confident at each step as I went along, and everything seemed to be going perfectly. I even did a happy dance when I saw the tell-tale "feet" appear (see photo above). In theory, when those ruffly edges appear, you know it's worked.
Not so much. Macarons are notorious for sticking to your silpat or parchment paper, and that's what my little buggers did. I'm pretty sure that I got overly excited about the feet and pulled them out of the oven too soon. They could have used at least a few more minutes, and they were completely ruined. Cracked, gooey, and just falling apart no matter how delicately I handled them. I even tried to put them back into the oven after they'd cooled in a desperate last-ditch effort to firm them up a bit, but that didn't work either.
The next day, I had one more egg white aged and ready to play with (I made small, 1-egg white batches knowing that I'd probably be messing up), so I tried again with Helen's method, determined to patiently leave them in the oven as long as necessary. Unfortunately, even with an extra 5+ minutes in the oven, I got the same results. Beautiful-looking, great feet, but the same sticky, crackly, and crumbly as soon as I tried to touch them.
Overall, I'd still call this a relative success. I feel like I've almost mastered the technique, and I got the feet twice, which I hear is the hardest part. This isn't necessarily the kind of baking I enjoy most, I don't tend to gravitate towards making dainty little bites of elegant-looking things, but I'm still really grateful that I had the opportunity to try making these.
My flavor combo was inspired by peach melba. The first time around, I ground up dehydrated peaches and scraped a vanilla bean into the batter, and was going to fill the cookies with raspberry jam. For my second attempt, I skipped the add-ins and just used a tiny drop of orange gel food coloring, and used raspberry jam as the filling. I still love the idea in theory, and if I ever make these again, I'll try again with the same flavors.
*For the original recipe, check out what our gracious hostess, Ami S. had to say here. Thanks, Ami, for daring us to tackle our fears and give these tricky little guys a try!
*And for a more tried-and-true method (and to see what perfect macarons should look like), check out all of the beauties over at Tartelette.