Conquering Macarons

macaron1.jpg If there is an ultimate test for baking aficionados, it is the very delicate, very complex, and oh-so-French macaron. If you've never had them, here's the best description I can muster: two thin almond-flour-meringue cookies sandwich a restrained but sumptuous layer of cream. The flavor possibilities and combinations are endless. There's something irresistable -- something almost addictive -- about these delicate little cookies, not least of which is the challenge of making them properly. Perhaps that's why I've never bothered to try. Instead, I just take the occasional stroll to Leopold's during my lunch hour, and buy a triple threat -- one chocolate, one pistachio, and one raspberry. Why bother to make'em when they're available down the block?

I'll tell you why. Having read enough posts from other bloggers who make macarons successfully, I've come to understand that there's no greater accomplishment in the baking world than a tray full of perfect macarons. If I'm to consider myself worth my salt, I've got to master macarons. macaron2.jpg

What about making macarons is so difficult, you ask? Well, first there's the batter: it deflates when mixed, yet is meant to produce airy little cookies. Then there's the piping of the cookies onto the baking sheet: perfect circles is a must, ideally perfectly spaced as well. When made properly, macarons should have a "foot" -- a little rim around the bottom of the cookie that looks especially airy and slightly smaller in diameter than the rest of the cookie. Finally, they should, under no circumstances, be cracked on top.

I wouldn't try these on just any old day, and Friday night was anything but. The Masseys invited D and me to a dinner party; also on the invite list were two law professors and their families, one of whom is a very prominent expert on the US Constitution. I know what you're thinking: who are we to keep such company? Don't worry, we've been thinking the exact same thing. We're still reeling from that dinner party -- the food, the company, even the after-dinner concerts by the children (all fabulously talented musicians). An event like this doesn't happen every day. With special company in mind, I decided to try my hand at tackling a very special dessert.

Lest you develop fantasies in your head of everything working perfectly for me the first time around, think again. Just look at the pictures here -- see all the nooks and crannies? My macarons were cracked all over. They didn't really have much of a foot (though it was bigger than on some other bloggers' first tries, which makes me feel a bit better), and I don't think they had quite the right texture, either. I little too crisp, compared to what I'm used to. But this was round one, folks; consider my primed for the next macaron battle.

And dare I say it? Cracks and all, they were ever the hit.