Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ispahan, Two Years & Too Many Eggs Later

The first time I tried making macarons was about two years ago, when I first laid hands on Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Desserts. Obviously, I hadn't done enough homework at that point. Or I would have realised two important things:
1) Macarons are tough cookies to master.
2) Chocolate macarons are the toughest macarons of all to master.

As for the unmitigated disaster that ensued - caused by my very own hubris and ineptitude, as opposed to the recipe's or book's soundness, both of which are unimpeachable - I not only wept with frustration, but also there and then swore off ever attempting macarons again. And I am usually not one to be easily dissuaded.

Of course, not everybody is culinarily challenged in the macaron department. Far from being stumped, some are veritable virtuosos. For happy tales of (and expert tips on) macaron making, be inspired by Clement - the blogosphere's very own macaron maestro - or Melissa's mighty macarons (to mighty, add marvellous and magnificent).

This tale, on the other hand, is 99% sweat and tears. Does time heal all wounds? I don't think it's so much a matter of healing but a matter of forgetfulness. For surely the smart of those unspeakably odious first results - clumsy feetless poufs that looked like a circus mirror distortion of the elegant, just-domed, frilly-footed thoroughbreds - must have become a distant fuzzy memory; why else would I have mustered the nerve to go anywhere near a macaron recipe again after all this time?

Then again, pertinaciousness and pride do have a nasty habit of manifesting themselves in an irrational manner. Once bitten, twice apparently not shy. In this particular instance, in a masochistic display of macaron bravado - "I will be the master of the recipe! The recipe will not be the master of me!" Albeit this time round, I've had the uncommon good sense to start with something other than the macaron of macarons, the king of kings, the chocolate macaron. This notwithstanding, I've just spent the better part of two days making batch after batch of macarons, every single one chucked down the chute bar the last. Taste, right; look and texture, all wrong. Chuck. Nice smooth dome; no feet whatsoever. Fold batter one turn too many; dense hockey pucks. Didn't fold batter quite enough; peaked poufs of meringue. Chuck, chuck, chuck. (For yet more examples of all sorts of sticky situations you might get yourself into, and advice on avoiding these pitfalls, see this thread and this thread on eGullet - you'll find almost all you need to get all tricked out, from "ageing" egg whites at room temperature for a day or so to waiting 2 hours for skins to form on the piped batter.)

I was determined not to run out of patience. What I didn't foresee was running out of egg whites. Then suddenly, just as I was resigned to the prospect of dashing out in the muggy weather to buy yet more eggs, with the last batch made with the whites of my last three eggs, the pastry gods finally managed a wicked smile at the self-flagellation wrought, the stars came into alignment, and it all fell into place. I rubbed my tired eyes, convinced I may have been hallucinating at the sight of those little pink babies rising ever so slightly whilst obediently forming the requisite little skirting at their feet - afterall, I hadn't really slept the night before, and not because I was in bed tossing and turning (when I said two days, I meant two days). A macaron puts paid to that old adage that appearance isn't everything. Here, looks speak volumes; the smoothness of the dome, the slightness of its curvature, the formation of feet - all are visual clues that indicate the texture will possess the desired interplay, that between an eggshell-thin crust that's delicately crisp, giving at the slightest pressure, and a crumb that's soft, moist and slightly chewy. All tell you that the batter had been mixed just so, and has thus risen just so.

Tremendously relieved rather than triumphant (ok, maybe just a little...), I've neither been more humbled by a baking experience nor more impressed upon the truism that practice makes perfect, learning a new lesson or two with each and every mistake made. The macaron fancy I had sought to emulate is Pierre Hermé's signature Ispahan - a pair of rose macarons sandwiching a cushion of rose scented buttercream crowned with raspberries and lychees. Having eaten more than my fair share of famously fabulous macarons, I'll be the first to admit that the specimens I produced were far from textbook perfect. That, I have no doubt, will have to be paid for in yet more sleepless nights and trays of eggs. Nonetheless, they were at least of a decency that I wouldn't have qualms about serving friends and family without feeling like a sloppy cook.

The recipe I loosely based my attempts on comes from the Summer 2005 issue of Art Culinaire (in case you're interested, there's also an on-line version), using it more as a template really rather than a straightforward recipe - there's a fair bit of reading between lines and filling in blanks involved. I had flavoured the rose components of the dessert using rose syrup (readily available here; I simply adore the old-fashioned packaging!) and rose water. The macaron and buttercream components tasted plenty rosy by themshelves, but didn't sufficiently stand up to the tartness of the raspberries in the finished dessert. To redress the balance, the solution doesn't lie in adding more rose syrup (which would make things too sweet) or rose water (which would alter the liquid balance). To this end, the next obvious phase in my plan of action, I've just found myself the perfect excuse to go invest in some Sevarome natural rose paste.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, you've done it! you've triumphantly mastered the recipe [no pain - no gain]. Congratulations... well done. You must be feeling on high at the moment - feeling really pleased with yourself! I have never tasted macarons nor Ispahan - i should've been there when you where 'chucking' the uncooperative ones... lol.

3:55 pm, April 04, 2006  
Blogger hinata said...

Congrats!!! Your macarons look lovely and effortless - no sign at all of the ordeal you went through! Kudos to you for your perseverance!

Funnily enough, spent last weekend contemplating making macarons, now I think I'll wait till a long weekend for some extra recovery time :)

6:28 pm, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an ordeal! But the end-result looks wonderful! After reading your story I think I won't attempt making macarons myself.

9:46 pm, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were yum, right down to the very last dewdrop ;) Do you think reducing rose water might result in a more intense liquid that would be usable in this?

11:08 pm, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just gorgeous! Absolutely beautiful :) Congrats, J. - Est

11:27 pm, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So lovely.

So far, I have not attempted macaroons. I'm mulling over the possibilities for falling into a pit of obsession. Probably very high, I fear.

In any event, I think I need rose paste badly. I must find some that can be purchased by smaller quantities than a case, however. (As in your link. sigh.)

1:36 am, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Lord, J ... and I thought I was neurotically obsessive! LOL .. it looks wonderfully ethereal and the stuff of dreams though. I salute you on yet another masterpiece. But I will also say you kinda scare me ... LOL.

2:23 am, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

J - I love the last picture and those unbaked macaroons on the back - sooo beautiful!
I'm still ashamed of my macaroon attempt - the pistachio ones I made a while ago tasted yummy, but were looking all wrong. I did try them again, but failed again. Must come to a macaroon master class in Singapore:) Or just read very thoroughly the eGullet thread again..

3:05 am, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

wow, those look great. i love rose syrup.... can do soo many things with it.

3:49 am, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi j - your blog is beautiful, from the photos to the words. your ispahan is gorgeous, but in case you ever decide to attempt chocolate macarons again, i was wondering if you'd tried david lebovitz's recipe? it has worked like a charm for me every time.

10:10 am, April 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your macarons look fantastic -- delicate and delicious, exactly as they should be.

I think I have no choice but to buy a Pierre Hermé cookbook. He seems to be a very popular choice amongst bloggers.

By the way, do you think you know what you did differently when making the final batch? Do you think you can now reliably reproduce it?

11:37 am, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

They were just exquisite, and as I'm sure S will agree, I still can't get over the dewdrop :-) If only I had your patience and steady hand...

11:52 am, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Bravo, J. They look wonderful - certainly worth all the effort and care that went into them

8:33 pm, April 05, 2006  
Blogger *fanny* said...

Your Ispahan look wonderful. Even better than the actual PH's ones!

And the first pic is gorgeous... Now i can't wait to try making them. Indeed Ispahan is the next on my TO DO list.


5:30 am, April 06, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

wonderful looking macarons and again, what dedication you have for perfection! My undivided admiration :)

6:11 pm, April 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on making them - they look wonderful! The Sevarome is indeed a hefty investment when the recipe only calls for about a tablespoon - but I'm sure you'll be inspired to find many more uses for it:)

10:37 pm, April 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, there was no doubt in my mind that you could do it, and in what spectacular style you have! That Ispahan is simply stunning, and the macarons themselves are picture-perfect, from head to frilly toe. I do know what you mean about the precision required to turn out a consistently good result - when I made them each batch seemed to have a mind of its own. And you're absolutely right that the chocolate ones are the hardest - they very nearly drove me to the brink of insanity! But somehow it always seems worth it when those precious few perfect ones emerge, don't you agree? Someday you and I will have to sign up for some macaron master classes chez Pierre, but in the meantime, I imagine you'll be giving a few lessons of your own!

12:02 am, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Michelle said...

I think that macaroons are my absolute favorite (with madelines as a close second...) and none of those coconut blobs they call 'macaroons' here in the US - NO WAY, just the gorgeous, delicate ones exactly like you just made! They're perfect, just perfect looking, and I'm so impressed. Congratulations! Bravo! Strangely enough, I just bought a rose macaroon at our farmer's market from a bakery here on saturday, and it didn't even hold a candle to the beauty you've pictured above.

8:13 am, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

Oh they're beautiful Jocelyn! Someday I want to make macarons - I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge though. But even more, someday I want to eat a macaron!

9:05 am, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Chanita Harel חני הראל said...

Your Blog is full with beauty ,
It was my pleasure to visit you here , thank you . ;)

3:26 am, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Steffles said...

J, You are such a perfectionist and what persistence - 48 hours for those lovely sweet macarons. Hats off!

3:12 pm, April 08, 2006  
Blogger Steffles said...

J, You are such a perfectionist and what persistence - 48 hours for those lovely sweet macarons. Hats off!

3:24 pm, April 08, 2006  
Blogger So said...

Oooo...i flunked maracon making in school...heheheh
Yours look great!

5:19 am, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Sam said...

that rose syrup - I adore the packaging too - my favourite colours, pink and green.

congrats on your success with the macarons which have just about left me speechless!

8:51 am, April 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joycelyn - what a beauty, you've created even more gorgeous Ispahan than PH's! I know you can make anything (literally) in an elegant and sophisticated manner, but I love the way you've tried so hard to make this perfect piece, great job!

10:50 pm, April 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done Jocelyn. They look gorgeous! The raspberries are a great addition in my eyes!

6:44 am, April 11, 2006  
Blogger Cindy said...

Just one word : gorgeous !

6:09 am, April 13, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

hi j, i havent been visiting for awhile, and i must say i like this white look better. Clean and cheery, very much like the food you cook! keep up the good work.

4:12 pm, April 14, 2006  

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