By Mary Lou Raposa (@themlfox)
At the risk of sounding like a total plebeian, macarons are one of the fanciest things I’ve ever eaten.
I don’t remember when I had my first ever one. The moment I did I underwent this phase of going on a pilgrimage to Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie every single time I visited The Star Casino. I was like a gambler: I went in with money in my wallet and my dignity intact but when I came out I was broke, crying, and carrying bags of macarons in my hand. I couldn’t help it. The Star was a hotel-casino and I was no crazy rich Asian so I had 0 reason to go there. I’d go months between visits—sometimes a year or more. So each trip to the patisserie was special, especially because they changed flavours. Every box I bought always contained something new.
So, you know, that was all well and good except… the macarons?
Zumbo macarons? An arm and a leg.
After I had spent a grand total of three hundred or so dollars on these luxurious, hotel-casino quality macarons, it occurred to me that I was better off wasting my money on something less expensive—say, macarons I made myself. For the exact same price I could make double the amount at home. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same quality as Zumbo, but I had to start somewhere.
My dad had a fancy stand mixer that didn’t get much love because that household never did any baking. I took advantage of that and made my very first attempt at macarons. When I looked up some recipes the ingredients surprised me: almond meal, icing sugar, granulated sugar, egg whites, colouring, salt. Seemed easy enough. The filling was even simpler: butter, cream, sugar.
I got the ingredients and extra equipment. I prepared myself to have a little Zumbo experience at home.
I’m gonna nail this, young naive me thought.
Spoilers: did not nail it.
To be fair, it was not the recipe’s fault. It was informative. But the title had the word “foolproof” in it and that was me. I was the fool. I thought it would be simple so fools like me could make macarons but the amount of detail was intimidating.
The recipe’s forewarning about the fickleness of macarons made me tense. I was already low-key worried about making a decent batch on the first try. Then, it went on about advising how to do the macaronage, estimating how many folds it would take. It should resemble lava, it said. I haven’t seen lava before. How could I know if the batter was lava? Also, it had tips about whether to use cream of tartar, the weather, what kind of colouring to use, etc.
The pressure was on. Still, I tried making it.
I followed the recipe to a tee. I tried my best to follow the tips. The whites whipped into nice stiff peaks. The ingredients sat in the bowl, sifted and fine. I literally counted every fold, then I got to 45 and lost count because my fool brain got distracted. It was all downhill from there. The consistency ended up more soup than lava.
That wasn’t the end of it. I bought this specially made macaron cookie sheet. It was non-stick. So my dumb self poured the soupy batter in the little shallow cups and whacked it like it hurt my feelings. As the recipe instructed, I left it to sit and develop “skin”.
Another spoiler: did not develop skin.
The batter remained as wet and skinless as when I poured it. It was literally soup. At this point, I knew it was a disaster but I still put that thing in the oven. While it cooked I tried my hand at making buttercream filling. Disaster Number 2. The butter was cold when I made an attempt at creaming it. Instead of powdered sugar, I used granulated. It ended up being the lumpiest, saddest, coldest buttercream ever made in human existence.
Pulling the macaron out of the oven was like limping onwards after tripping only to trip again right after. The cookies stuck to the non-stick cookie sheet. Super stuck. Like, so stuck I had to scrape it off with a knife. That was when I mildly rage quit and chucked everything in the bin. I kept the broken cookies because at least I could munch those miserably.
I resigned myself to buying $40 macarons for the rest of my life.
Many years later, in the middle of lockdown, I decided to try again because … well, what else was I going to do?
Ingredients and filling stayed the same. This time I decided to follow Tasty, which was a straight-up recipe and did not include 10 million tips. Now, I don’t know if it’s the recipe itself or that I am legally dead on the inside so I no longer feel anything but it felt easy this time around. The macaronage advice of being able to write an 8 was much more helpful than counting folds or looking for lava. To my abject shock the batter I piped out looked exactly like the batter in the video. It developed skin. And since this time I used baking paper none of it stuck to the cookie sheet. The shells looked like macarons and I felt so accomplished.
It boggles my mind how I messed up so badly before.
The buttercream? Even better. I warmed it to room temperature and used icing sugar. I piped out the smoothest, creamiest, butter-iest filling and it was oh-so-satisfying. I burst with confidence at this point; I wondered if it was time for me to put an application in for MasterChef.
As of writing this, I had done the recipe thrice. In that time I actually did learn why they said that French macarons are fickle. As ugly as it looked, my best attempt was the first because it had that desired chewy texture. The two attempts after that the shells ended up crumbly and hollow. So, I have more learning to do; I need to sharpen my meringue and macaronage instincts, which I will.
For now, though, I’m taking this as a win.