Special holiday double post!

Last week, I wrote to the author of the lemon macaron recipe, to ask for advice, and over the weekend, she wrote back! Did her advice help? In a word, no. 

Se suggested that there might be too much moisture in my batter, so I omitted the lemon juice and the vanilla extract from this batch. The resulting consistency was stiffer than lava, although not quite as stiff as that white arts-and-crafts paste that kids used in the 1970s. Adding the lemon juice back in didn’t help.

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The meringue looked good, but the batter didn’t.

After about 150 stirs (3-5 times the recommended number), I gave up and piped what I had. It was not a success. I probably should have ground the sugar and the almond flour together in the food processor first. The victory goes to the meringue, blah blah blah.

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These are the shells after I hit the baking tray against the counter to flatten them out, and then the shells out of the oven. Smackie wears the Greek mask of tragedy.

Unfortunately, I’m on the hook to bring homemade macarons to a Christmas lunch today, so it is time to surrender my pride and turn to that most clichéd resource for holiday planning, Martha Stewart Living. But first, some philosophy.

After Socrates, we come to Plato (c. 428-348 BC). Plato developed a theory of Ideas: that definitions, or Ideas, are not simply constructs of the individual mind. Instead, they exist in an independent space outside of the individual conception. My idea of what something is must be based on some external object (an Ideal, in other words). “The concept in my mind must be a copy of the concept outside it,” explains Stace, and he goes on as follows:

[If you describe various things as beautiful,] You therefore must have an idea of beauty in your mind, with which you compare the various objects and so recognise them as all resembling your idea of beauty, and therefore as resembling each other. So that there is at any rate an idea of one beauty in your mind. Either this idea corresponds to something outside you, or it does not. In the latter case, your idea of beauty is a mere invention, a figment of your own brain. If so, then, in judging external objects by your subjective idea, and in making it the standard of whether they are beautiful or not, you are back again at the position of the Sophists. You are making yourself and the fancies of your individual brain the standard of external truth. Therefore, the only alternative is to believe that there is not only an idea of beauty in your mind, but that there is such a thing as the one beauty itself, of which your idea is a copy. This beauty exists outside the mind, and it is something distinct from all beautiful objects.

This applies to the world of macarons, of course, insofar as every website claims to have a foolproof recipe for making them, and yet they are all different: different relative proportions of almond flour, sugar and egg white; different baking times and temperatures; pro- and anti-silicone mat camps, and so on. Everyone has an idea of macarons, but everyone’s idea of what it is, and how to get there, is only an equally valid copy of a real, objective Ideal macaron, not the Ideal macaron itself.*

Plato does not go so far as to describe how to realize an Idea. Each Idea is the ideal: the explanation of the macaron is the perfect macaron. His philosophy is teleological, i.e. defined by purpose rather than as a result of causes. In this regard, Martha Stewart is more helpful than Plato, because the MSL recipe, which is illustrated with photographs, provides exactly the causes of the macaron, rather than requiring me to divine the proper macaron from its purpose.  With a simple list of ingredients – ⅔ cup of almond flour, 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 large egg whites (no aging required), and ¼ cup of granulated sugar – one follows these instructions.

smackaron001

I’m making plain macarons with a simple dark chocolate ganache, so there is no special ingredient photo.

Frankly, I’ve never seen such a clear recipe. Look at step 3, for example. The instructions are to whip the egg whites for 2 minutes on KitchenAid mixer speed 4, 2 minutes on speed 6, and 2 minutes on speed 8, and they come out exactly like the photo in step 4.  I beat the mixture for 40 complete strokes, just like the instructions said to do, and put everything into the oven – but instead of coming out like the illustration in the magazine, they came out looking like a Fats Waller number.

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Moreover, the first tray, which I baked at the Martha Stewart-approved 350° F, came out crispy and looking like Wonder Bread inside. The second tray, which I baked at a more moderate 300° F, was still too airy, but at least moist inside.

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So the victory goes to the meringue again, and the recipe itself – for all its helpful illustrations – may be a little questionable, too. Clearly, I will have to delve deeper into Plato, which we’ll do next time. The search for a reasonable copy of the Ideal macaron continues.

*I could go down the wormhole into Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, but I think I’ll save that for a chocolate-chip cookie blog.>

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About cohn17

photographer and baker of macarons
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