I don’t remember when my obsession with French macarons began.
What I do remember is my first attempt at making those delicate almond meringues. Looking back on it, I can see where everything started going wrong. Underwhipped egg whites, icing sugar and almonds not sifted thoroughly enough, too much folding. It was an unquestionable disaster. Actually, that’s not entirely true. They tasted nice, but as a self-confessed kitchen perfectionist, taste alone (though obviously the most important factor in cooking/baking) isn’t enough for me; I want everything to look good too. (As a result, my very understanding parents have spent a lot of time trying to cheer me up when a recipe hasn’t gone quite according to plan…)
Attempt number two. I’m armed with more knowledge and an array of tips and tricks gleaned from other bakers and macaron-makers on the Internet, though a little intimidated by all the myths I have discovered surrounding the art of macaron-making. It’s still not a success. Not quite as disastrous as the previous try, but not French macarons by anyone’s standards.
And so it goes for several more attempts, spread out over a period of approximately two and a half to three years. In all that time, I only managed one successful batch, followed by many more failures. I was baffled; my recipe, my technique, my equipment was the same every time, and yet I was getting different results. I’d never before struggled with a recipe as I struggled with French macarons. Everything told me that it was time to stop, to step back and forget about whether or not to age the egg whites, what temperature they should be at, how long to whisk them for to create the perfect meringue, the number of times you were meant to sift the icing sugar and ground almonds, the number of folding strokes required to reach the right batter consistency, whether or not to leave them to dry before baking, how long to bake them for…
So I gave up, and it must have been around nine months before I decided to attempt them again this past Easter holiday and finally, finally, I succeeded. For someone thinking that they would never be able to perfect macarons, it was a moment of triumph when that batch emerged from the oven, perfectly formed with their little feet and (almost) smooth, domed tops. I’ve never been so happy with a culinary success.
These macarons were unflavoured and filled with a dark chocolate ganache. Personally, I like to use 70% chocolate, because slight bitterness helps to balance out the sweetness of the meringue and complements the natural flavour of the almonds.
So, sweet success at last and I suspect, considering the rate at which they disappeared, they are well on their way to becoming home favourites too. Now I just have to hope that it wasn’t a fluke!