The shells I made in last attempt were a little bumpy, so – after checking a troubleshooting blog to see what the problem was – I decided to use the same recipe and fix the batter. I am still unclear on why the chocolate macarons are coming out like brownies, so I decided to make coffee flavor instead, and focus on one problem at a time. We’ll get to the report first, and then turn to the philosophy.
Twenty-five grams of instant coffee seemed like too much, so I adjusted the recipe as follows:
- 70 grams almond flour
- 90 grams icing sugar
- 15 grams instant coffee
- 75 grams egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 60 grams caster sugar
I also decided to make a white-and-milk chocolate ganache, as follows, based on a Martha Stewart recipe (hence the U.S. customary system of measurement):
- 6 ounces white chocolate
- 2 ounces milk chocolate
- 1/2 cup cream
I beat the meringue more than I did last time, and mixed the dry ingredients in with fewer beats than last time, to get the batter to the right consistency. I also used the same baking trick – 17 minutes at 180° C with a cast-iron pot lid in the oven to distribute the heat evenly. So what happened?
I over-baked them. The shells were smooth on top, but they were dry and bitter, and even tempering them for 48 hours to let them absorb the moisture from the filling didn’t improve them significantly.
With this record of 21 failures, the next step is obvious: it is time to discuss the Stoics.
The Stoic school was founded by Zeno of Cyprus (342-270 B.C.) in about 300 B.C. I will let W.T. Stace tell it directly:
[Zeno of Cyprus] is said to have followed philosophy because he lost all his property in a ship-wreck – a motive characteristic of the age. He came to Athens, and learned philosophy under Crates the Cynic, Stilpo the Megaric, and Polemo the Academic.
About 300 B.C. he founded his school at the Stoa Poecile (many-coloured portico) whence the name Stoic. He died by his own hand. He was followed by Cleanthes, and then by Chrysippus, as leaders of the school. Chrysippus was a man of immense productivity and laborious scholarship. He composed over seven hundred books, but all are lost. Though not a founder, he was a chief pillar of Stoicism.
With a record like that, he’d have to be.
The chief philosophical emphasis of the Stoics was on ethics, the right way to live. The essential nature of man is reason, they said, and the universe is governed by an absolute law that allows no exceptions. Man cannot disobey the laws of nature, since they are immutable, nor should he want to do anything else: “it is given to him alone, not merely to obey the law, but to assent to his own obedience, to follow the law consciously and deliberately, as only a rational being can.” In contrast, behaving according to passion (as opposed to reason) is irrational; man should strive to live dispassionately.
Arguably, therefore, Stoicism means facing the vicissitudes of life without flinching because, rationally speaking, the laws of nature would not permit life to unfold in any way other than how it has, so why complain about it? Optimism and pessimism both are beyond the point.
I keep baking, however, because I think that at some point, I have to get the product right, even if I don’t get it right today. In other words, I’m stoic, but I’m not Stoic. The Stoics would think I was crazy. The Stoics would tell me to buy my macarons at the local bakery or, better, avoid them altogether since I don’t even like them all that much, and find something better to do with my time. And with that …
Irrationally, I decide to try yet another recipe because the author just seems so reassuring and unStoic. I also decide to put in coffee and cocoa powder together, to make a mocha macaron. Finally, because I have too many egg whites left over from making fettuccine (yes, I do that, too), I increase the recipe by two-thirds.
- 250 grams confectioner’s sugar
- 150 grams almond flour
- 2 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tablespoons instant coffee
- 125 grams egg whites
- 60 grams granulated sugar
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- Leftover ganache
I throw the ingredients together, pipe the shells, set the oven to 150° C as per the recipe, turn the temperature down when the oven thermometer reads 180° despite the dial being set at 150° C, turn the dial back up when I rotate the tray halfway through the baking and the temperature plummets, leave the tray in extra time because they still aren’t set properly – can you guess where this is going? – and …
The first batch of shells sticks to the SilPat no matter how long I bake it. The shells themselves turn out to be hollow, so they go straight into the trash. The next two batches peel off the SilPat easily and look very nice, but they have a little too much air in them as well. The victory goes to the meringue.
So, where does this leave me? I think I should have given the mixture a few more strokes to remove a little more air from the batter and make it flow more evenly; I also should have used caster sugar rather than granulated sugar, to achieve a smoother finish on the shells. But is it rational to continue? What would Plato and Aristotle have said? We’ll have to see.