Oh Boy, Another Life Lesson: My Love-Hate Relationship With French Macarons

Am I the only one out there who HATES doing things I’m not good at?

Hatesss it, Precious.

It’s the reason I don’t play volleyball. Or badminton. Or softball. No one ever taught me the fundamentals, therefore I fundamentally SUCK at all three. [Softball, are you kidding me? That ball hurts when you catch it wrong! I’ll stick with cross-country, thanks.]

This attitude, I just this week realized, extends far beyond the playing field and into the kitchen. I’ve always shrugged my shoulders at French cooking, after a youthful flirtation with Julia Child. “Too fussy,” I’ve always said. “Too many steps.” For decades, I’ve stuck with American, which in my case means about a third Asian, a third Mexican, and a third Mutt food. [Can you say tuna-cheddar eggrolls with spicy salsa?] 

And dessert? German, baby. Or good old American PIE.

You’ve heard me bitch about the new croissant dough we’ve been making at Holly B’s Bakery. My boss and I have taken to calling it “Croissant-fit” and joking about charging people to come make it for us–free workout, folks! But the actual steps of croissants aren’t tricky to follow. All you need is muscle.

Enter the French Macarons. Not the coconut thingies; these macarons are made with ground-up almonds and egg whites and sugar and human tears. We’ve never made them at my bakery before, and we’re getting a lot of compliments on them. But they make me hate my life.

These little boogers. (photo by Stephanie Smith)

These little boogers. Gluten-free. Also evil. (photo by Stephanie Smith)

They are notoriously, ridiculously, insanely picky to make. The ingredients have to be not just measured but weighed. Don’t even think of starting to beat your egg whites until your boiling sugar has reached 239 degrees–but don’t let it go past 244. And that’s just the mixing. Then the plopping-out-of-the-pasty-bag part (can you tell I’m new at this? I’m sure there’s a French word for it) is the trickiest of all.

Don’t squeeze out too much. Don’t tilt your bag. Don’t hold it too high or press too low. Don’t drag the tip. Don’t swirl. Just…DON’T.

The other day when I got done trying to follow these directions, my boss noticed my face or my body language or my general loathing of existence. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she said kindly. “They’re hard.”

“I just HATE not being good at this,” I blurted. And there it was. Gretchen the Proud Pie Maven has met her match in a crumby little cookie. Steep learning curve in baking? Moi? 

So THAT’s why I’ve avoided French cooking all these years!

Watching the little suckers in the oven, I confess to feeling some pride despite myself. Hey, they’re puffing! They’re not cracking! Okay, most of ’em have “nipples” where I dragged the pastry bag tip, but look, there’s a smooth one! Kinda cute really…maybe a nice lemon butter cream in there…or cinnamon…?

So, yeah. Another Life Lesson, at age fifty-something. If you force yourself to do something you’re not good at, two things happen: 1) you get humble, and 2) you improve. And both of those things are good.

Bring on the macarons. But please let me keep making pie too. A girl’s got her pride.

4 thoughts on “Oh Boy, Another Life Lesson: My Love-Hate Relationship With French Macarons

  1. Point well taken. Gotcha. But beyond that, your modesty overwhelms me. In any case, you didn’t even allude to your writing….not to mention your editing. My story about Eli and Karen benefited greatly from your observations and suggestions. And I am loving your almost done third book, not to mention the other two. Keep on keeping on, girl!!

  2. I just came across this! You read my mind! I love those little cookies but you are so right they make me hate my life! Do you have any tips? I can usually get them but I can never get a hole batch to turn out! Lopsided or my feet explode. I spent 8 hours today making heart shaped and end up with 8 whole ones! I can’t get it to keep its shape!

    • Hmm, shapes sound even more challenging. Only advice I can give: follow recipe EXACTLY (weigh your ingredients if possible), and try using only the outside edges of your baking sheet–no cookies in the middle. Having fewer on the sheet seemed to help all of them for some reason. Good luck with these lil bastards–and thanks for visiting Wing’s World!

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