Sunday, February 21, 2010

You say Macaron, I say Macaroon

When I started this whole cookie project deal I knew there were a few things I wanted it to accomplish.  I think the first was to just get me baking again; something I used to do fairly regularly but had gotten far away from in the past 5+ years, on that front this has been a huge success.  The other obvious goal was to give away the cookies and from my point of view that's been another big win.  Although somewhat chosen by chance, mainly because Gilda's Club and Ronald McDonald House were the only agencies to respond to my email, I personally couldn't be happier with the outlet they've provided me and for obvious reasons also have a strong afinity for the services they provide and the people they serve.  I think if those on the recieving end are enjoying this whole venture even half as much as I am, then it'll be a 'win' all the way around and I'll be 2 for 2 so far.

The last thing I thought about was having the opportunity to research recipes, maybe tweaking them or lightening them up and to try my hand at some new techniques.  I'll confess that the 'research' piece of this has taken on a life of it's own with me.  Along with emails and suggestions from others on what to make I've also spent more hours than I care to admit reading cookbooks and magazines, stalking and talking to pastry chefs and checking out any and all bakerys I may happen upon.  In this regard, I'm happy to report that I've only 'eaten' with my eyes - as I'm saving any and all extra 'points' ;) for my own taste testing.   While it has been a little time consuming, it's also winter in Buffalo and I don't have a lot else I'd rather be doing, so no complaints from me - it's been super fun and very interesting.  I've happened upon some great recipe sites and awesome blogs - to which you'll surely be introduced to in the coming weeks - and am constantly amazed at the quality of the 'food photography' and how that's an industry unto itself. 

Early on when I was complaining about the time required to photograph my cookies for this blog - and my said lack of photography skills; my friend Cindy consulted her daughter Katie for some pointers for me.  Katie referred me to some amazing pictures, including some at the paulette macarons website. Photography wise, one look told me that this was WAY out of my league - duh ...look at this:

While the photographs amazed me, I'll confess that I was more taken by the fact that there is a business built around this single, small confection.  And from all accounts a very lucrative business. Granted it's in Beverly Hills, but even so, how many macarons must one sell just to pay the rent?

The other thing that struck me was the word 'macaron.'  I've only ever known it as 'macaroon' and it was typically preceded by the word 'coconut' and they looked pretty much like the ones below (macaroons? rice balls? you get the idea).  And to this sugar addict they tasted like sweet, sticky, coconutty globs - not bad, but not 'craveable' either, and certainly nothing to build a business around.
So now I have something to confess: I knew nothing of these 'crispy on the outside, chewy in the center, filled with oozing sweetness cookies.'  Egg whites do not scare me, but almond flour and piping and resting and forming 'feet?'  There seems to be a whole macaron underground out there to which I was totally unaware, and now I am totally preoccupied to see what all the fuss is about.  Interesting given that these are actually true 'French Macarons' and I have never even tasted one.   Actually, I didn't really know such a thing existed until I was accidently introduced to them through the Paulette site.

And now, all of a few weeks later, it seems as if I can't get away from them.  For the past several weeks, as I've continued to look for and study cookie recipies these macarons keep popping up at every turn. They are always so beautifully photographed - there is obviously an 'art form' to them.  They can be made with any variety of flavors and fillings and apparently can prove to be quite a challenge to even the most experienced bakers.  While I'm not claiming to be that, I will admit that I'm a bit obsessed with with these now and was feeling up to the challenge.  

So I gathered the few ingredients (egg whites, confectioners sugar, almond flour, white sugar) along with some flavoring ideas and set out to take my first crack at it today - and I failed quite miserably I might add.  I'll fill you in on 'Round One' after this weeks cookies (note: they definitely will NOT be macarons! ...not yet anyway ;)

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