My goodness, has it been twenty attempts already? I really must be out of my mind. However, I have finally gotten all the excess sugar out of my blood, so I’m ready to get back into the kitchen. But first, some philosophy.
We finally arrive at Socrates (470-399 B.C.). Socrates dispensed with the materialistic musings of the earlier schools of philosophy and set out a philosophy that was in direct opposition to that of the Sophists. Knowledge – the truth – is based on general concepts, he determined: if people agree that certain things or actions share a common characteristic, that characteristic must be an objectively true (even if not all-encompassing) description of those things. For instance, macaron come in a variety of flavors, but they all are made from certain ingredients, they all have a certain shape, smooth tops, frilly feet, an airy but just slightly dense mouth feel … and if my macarons don’t reasonably fall within these parameters, I can’t say I’ve made proper macarons just because they look all right to me.
Where Socrates went off the rails, however, is that he believed that knowledge led to virtue. He believed that if a person knows what is true, he will do only good, because good is the reasonable thing to do for a person of knowledge, who – by definition – understands the truth of things. By rejecting the Sophists’ focus on subjectivity to the exclusion of objectivity, he didn’t recognize that people may do bad things if they decide those things are right for them, even if they know those actions contravene an objective, societal definition of virtue. Ultimately, Socrates was sentenced to death for blasphemy and corrupting the youth, but it is just as likely that the Athenians put him to death because he kept pissing them off: one of his favorite activities was to engage leading citizens in debate, opening with an obsequious display of respect for their wisdom, but really just wanting to show them how muddled their thinking was compared to his. No one likes a arrogant, self-righteous windbag.
I’ll get to Plato and Aristotle in the next installment, but for now, let’s turn back to macarons. Today’s recipe comes straight out of the Guardian newspaper. It calls for using the French method, which is fine; and better yet, the recipe claims to result in “about 10” macarons, which means that, regardless of how they turn out, I won’t overdose on sugar.
The ingredients are as follows:
For the shells
- 65g ground almonds
- 85g icing sugar
- 25g cocoa powder
- 75g egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 60g caster sugar
For the ganache
- 100g whipping cream
- 100g dark chocolate, chopped
- 20g butter, cut into small pieces
- Pinch of sea salt
This time, I am using the right types of sugar: I ground granulated sugar in the spice grinder to make caster sugar, and I am using icing (confectioner’s) sugar that I bought in the U.S. To eliminate another variable, I also put a cast-iron pot lid onto the bottom of the oven, to ensure that the temperature remains consistent and the heat radiates evenly. (This is a trick my downstairs neighbor taught me.)
The instructions are extremely simple, and, by making a batch that is only about a third of the size that I normally make, the process goes very quickly. If this works out, I’ll have to start doing artisanal, small batch macarons.
So in they go … and out they come.
|They look like they should be good …||… but, objectively, they aren’t quite right.|
Dimpled. Flat. Barely any foot to speak of. They are the fallen arches of macarons. I suspect that I slightly over-beat the mixture. Still, into the refrigerator overnight, and …
They’re not bad, but they’re a little more dense and chewy than a chocolate macaron should be. By now, it’s clear that – perhaps because I’m using dutch-process cocoa, perhaps because of something else – my chocolate macarons come out as chocolate brownierons. This may present a business opportunity on its own, like the cronut, but I’d rather get the macaron part right first. The victory goes to the meringue. Socrates would be proud.