Macaron Madness

I have always loved to cook. I enjoy the creativity and spontaneity of it. During warmer months, I wander the farmer’s market, picking up fresh veggies and herbs, fresh baked goods and home-canned specialties. Once home, I can spend hours in the kitchen chopping and dicing, marinating and sauteing until I somehow manage to combine my market finds into a delicious, light and healthy meal. No recipes, no preconceived ideas as to what the dish should look like. I work by feel and taste, adding here, holding back there until it is just right.

When the weather is colder, though, baking is my vice.  An odd hobby for someone whose diet does not normally include sweets, I suppose, but I like the calm deliberateness of baking. There is a rigidity inherent in combining eggs, flour, butter and sugar into tasty little nibbles that appeals to me. Perhaps it is part of my hibernation process, but as liberating and carefree as my summer cooking is, my winter baking is careful and precise and that is strangely comforting. Since surgery, I might have a little taste of whatever it is I’m making, especially if I’m trying a new recipe for the first time, but mostly, it is the actual tasks of baking and then packing goodie boxes for friends and family that bring the most satisfaction.

And, oh how I love a new recipe! Recently, I agreed to make macaroons for the Bestie’s brother. While searching for a recipe, I accidentally typed macaron into google search and was struck by these gorgeous little french confections. Who knew that missing “o” would become such an obsession? And has it ever! I’ve looked up and printed out every blog, recipe, tip and trick I can find related to making macarons, a task that, by all accounts, is at once tedious and fickle but incredibly rewarding. I couldn’t wait to try them for myself!  The only problem: I’ve never seen one. Nor have I tasted one. There are no bakeries in my are that carry them. I could order and have some shipped, I guess, but how fresh would they be and would I get a true representation of the taste and texture that is the mark of a perfect macaron?  Luckily, my cousin’s wife works not too far from a bakery in St. Louis that specializes in macarons and she graciously agreed to bring me some samples. Whew!

I wasn’t expecting them to be so small, just about an inch in diameter, and they were quite sturdy. But that shell was deceiving. Made of almond flour and sugar folded into stiffly whipped egg whites, the shell is a lot like that of an egg. It feels hard to the touch, but when you bite into it, it gives way to a very moist and delicate interior. Then two shells are filled with buttercream, ganache or jam to create the final treat.

Now that I have my samples (well, had my samples…we finished them off at the office today), I’m ready to try my hand at baking them.  I have my shopping list made and I’m just waiting for the storms to move out of the area so I can get started (apparently, humidity is not my friend). I’ll post pictures of my attempt. Let’s hope they turn out as perfect as the ones from Rue Lafayette.

So, I mentioned earlier that baking might seem like a strange hobby for someone who has had weight loss surgery. And I suppose it is. But for me it is more about balance. Baking is rigid and precise, very much the opposite of my life. I’m impulsive and chaotic at times and baking forces me to slow down, focus on the task at hand and follow instructions. There is a simplicity in that that is calming.  Also, I like making treats for the people I love. It makes me feel less guilty for being a little on the selfish side. Besides, I can’t be expected to live on protein alone, right? One little bite won’t kill me…I’ll just call it a lesson in moderation.

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