My history of philosophy moves on to Heraclitus (535-475 B.C.), who famously said “Into the river we go down, and we do not go down; for into the same river no man can enter twice.” For Heraclitus, nothing is permanent; nothing remains identical from one moment to the next. This idea aligns well with the Buddhist concepts of impermanence and the continuous cycle of birth, growth or aging, decay or sickness, and death, but it does not align well with macaron-making. If Heraclitus is right, then once I master a macaron recipe, can I ever replicate it?
Admittedly, I am engaging in a little sophistry here, but only to distinguish between the less useful aspects of the first stage of Greek philosophical thought and surely what I will find as I enter the second stage. The early Greek philosophers were materialists, trying to understand the physical nature of reality itself. The Sophists (see how I worked that in there?) began to move beyond the questions such as whether the building blocks of the physical world were divisible or not, and to understand a more abstract idea of reality.
One of the early Sophists was Protogoras (490-420 B.C.), who said “Man is the measure of all things; of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not.” By this, he means that we can communicate facts, but not necessarily ideas (sensations): I can describe the physical properties of red light to a color-blind person but I cannot tell him what “red” looks like. Hence, every description of macaron batter readiness is subjective: each author knows what he or she means by “lava-like consistency,” but that doesn’t mean that they’re all describing the same thing, or that saps like me will perceive their descriptions in the way they mean.
This seems reasonable. Unfortunately, based on this initial position, Protogoras concluded (at least according to Stace) that all opinions therefore are true, all truths are equal, and knowledge is impossible. Again, this is another school of Greek philosophy that is of limited use in daily life unless you’re a professional climate change denier, and it also is why sophistry has a bad name. So let’s move on to today’s macaron, again made in the Italian style.
- 184 grams of powdered sugar
- 212 grams of almond flour
- 28 grams of freeze-dried blueberries (combined in the food processor with the other dry ingredients)
- 82 grams of egg whites plus 90 grams of egg whites
- 236 grams of granulated sugar
- 158 grams of water
- The same batch of chocolate ganache I’ve been trying to use for the past two attempts
I do everything in the customary way, and try to bake the shells for longer at a lower temperature so they cook evenly, but the oven refuses to hold its temperature – the first tray bakes at 280° C while the next batch bakes at 325° C, even though I don’t touch the dial between trays – so there’s an uncontrolled variable there. The results are not pretty: on the positive side, the shells have feet and they come off the silicone mats without falling apart, but on the negative side, the tops are bumpy and cracked. However, I can use all of them, so I finally use up all the leftover ganache and put the macarons into the refrigerator to rest overnight. And in the morning …
They are a little dense, and no prettier than they were the night before, but they aren’t bad. But although I was inclined to declare a split-decision victory, a friend gifted me some macarons in the afternoon, and when I put the two side-by-side, I realized that while I’m getting better at this, I still have a way to go before I get the smooth shell and light-but-firm texture of a proper macaron. By split decision, the victory goes to the meringue.