Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
– Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield
A few people have suggested that I write a book about macarons and what I have learned along the way. Given that I am on my 18th attempt, I clearly haven’t learned much. However, given that I’m in the birthplace of modern philosophy, I should be able to find some deeper meaning in my quest for the perfect (or at least presentable) macaron. Thus, I have armed myself with a copy of W.T. Stace’s A Critical History of Greek Philosophy (MacMillan and Co., Limited, London, 1920), and as I read through it, I will attempt to apply what I learn.
A good place is start is Zeno’s Paradox. The 5th century B.C. philosopher Zeno of Elea posed the following paradox: that to travel a certain distance, you first have to travel half that distance; then, to complete your travels, you first have to travel half of the remaining distance; and then half of that; and so on, which means you never arrive.
This explains why my batter is always under-mixed.
Zeno’s paradox obviously contradicts our daily experience (except, perhaps, when I’m taking the dog to the veterinarian). He wasn’t just being clever, however: his point was that, to resolve the paradox, you have to step back and recognize reality, or “Being,” as a indivisible entity; the idea that we can break the universe down into divisible bits is false. Therefore, my attempt to achieve a specific consistency of batter by examining minutes or beats is pointless: measuring consistency is an inadequate and constructed substitute for understanding an indivisible “macaron-icity.”
This makes sense, yet people make good macarons every day. Zeno must be wrong, then, and it’s time to move on to today’s challenge, the coffee-chocolate macaron.
Because I haven’t aged the egg whites, I’m going to use the Italian method.
- 184 grams of powdered sugar
- 212 grams of almond flour
- 28 grams of high quality unsweetened cocoa powder*
- 82 grams of egg whites plus 90 grams of egg whites
- 236 grams of granulated sugar
- 158 grams of water
- A lot of leftover chocolate ganache
*Twenty-eight grams is one tablespoon. Given how chewy and brownie-like my chocolate macarons have been, I have to think that – regardless of what the recipes say – I’m putting in too much cocoa. Even though this recipe calls for only one tablespoon of cocoa, I’m going to put in just one teaspoon of cocoa, and two of instant coffee, to come up with one tablespoon of flavoring.
Everything gets mixed together in the customary way. While I’m waiting for the sugar syrup to get to 118° C, the egg whites in the Mixmaster begin to look more like a foamy cottage cheese than like a meringue. I shorten the remaining beating time after adding the syrup, but the mixture is softer than usual. The batter pipes out nicely, but I don’t know what to expect.
What came out, though, was pretty good. In the spirit of philosophy, I present appearance …
… and reality.
Granted, there still is room for improvement – there is a little too much air space in the shells and the tops aren’t perfectly smooth – but the victory goes to me. Clearly, philosophy is a worthwhile study.