Ah the French macaron. Those dainty little confections with their crisp outer shells and chewy seductive centers. They are a treat to behold, almost too pretty to eat.
But what was once a delicacy found only in upscale bakeries and the streets of Paris, has now become as ubiquitous as The Cupcake. No seriously, they are everywhere, check your local Trader Joes if you don't believe me.
Even though I'm an avid baker, I've always believed the French macaron was a cookie you buy, not a cookie you make. But seeing them here, there and everywhere had me wondering. "How hard could they really be to make yourself?"
Well, I would soon find out thanks to an off-the-cuff comment made by my French husband. The kind of comment that gets under your skin, works you up into a lather, and ties your knickers in a knot! Let me see if I can recall the exact phrasing. It went something like this: "I wouldn't try to make a French macaron, there are certain things better off left to the French."
You never really know how nationalistic you can become until you are provoked.
So with this I pulled myself out of my bed, despite the fact that I was recovering from extremely painful gum surgery and took to the kitchen to prove him wrong. There is one thing we Americans do well and that is pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
I took to this project with great gusto, consulting all the tried and true French macaron recipes I could find; from both French and American bakers, to be fair. But despite my best efforts "The Proving You Wrong" part of this little exercise did not go as planned. These recipes may have been trusted, but I was suddenly realizing they were far from foolproof.
I remained hopeful as I placed each tray in the oven. I imagined the look on my husband's face as I presented him with exquisitely "American-Made" macrons, but unfortunately, there was no victory dance to be had.
Instead, I stood there in horror as I peeked through the oven window and witnessed cookies that were cracked, spread out, and shaped into forms that were a far cry from a circle. I have never felt so defeated, so crest-fallen, so hopeless in my own kitchen, my happy place!
As I examined each failed tray, I stood there starring at theses finicky little cookies, seething. I'd murmur under my breath, "Not again. I loath you, you uppity little French cookie, you mock me with your cracks and ill-shaped shells. You are going down, I will eat you in one bite to remove you from my sight. Crunch!"
Well into the sixth or seventh batch, --it's hard to remember the exact number of botched efforts -- I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I would develop my own recipe, using all my failed attempts as "lessons learned."
After several days of trial and error, of tweaking and re-tweaking, I saw a glimmer of hope. It was a batch late in the day, when I was at the point of almost admitting defeat and conceding to the French, when I saw it through the oven window. Perfectly rising shells, with professional looking feet (those little ridges around the cookie that are the mark of a well-made macaron) and best of all no cracks!
Now I realize these are cookies we are talking about, but somewhere deep down inside I felt giddy with accomplishment and best of all, swollen with American pride.
Let's face it, Americans, we are at our best when we are scrappy, resourceful and resilient. We tend to be the eternal optimists and at times to our own detriment (did I mention the gum surgery?), but it's the thing I love best about our culture. It reminds me of something my grandfather used to say, "Where's there's a will, there's a way" and that is the American spirit.
I allowed my perfect little creations to cool a bit before the formal gloating began. I then whipped up a delicious raspberry butter cream for the centers, sandwiched them together and placed them on my grandmother's antique cookie plate. Perfection. I then casually sauntered into my husband's office; and with a look so smug I couldn't help but exclaim, "Proud to be an American."
And of course my husband replied with the all too familiar Gallic shrug and his endearing catch phrase "C'est pas mal ça," which loosely translated means, "Not too shabby... for an American."
To see Beth's Foolproof French macaron recipe, click here.
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